By Jennifer Johnson
It started as a regular small group. In October 2013, Hasandra Heyward, a member at Burnt Hickory Church of Christ in Marietta, GA, began talking to women experiencing marital issues, job struggles, and parenting problems.
“It burdened my heart,” she says. “I prayed and fasted about it and decided I was going to start a group for women in my home. But it was difficult to find a time that worked, and here in Atlanta the traffic is so terrible I knew some women wouldn’t be able to participate. I thought, what about trying this online?”
Heyward launched the Women’s Online Growth Group that fall, and it took off immediately.
“The Holy Spirit was showing up on every call!” she says. “Women started telling their friends and coworkers—we’ve really done no marketing because the women who participate are doing it for us!”
Heyward and a coleader, Breia Loft, choose the books and topics to be studied and facilitate the online studies held Tuesday and Sunday evenings. Every study is free; participants must simply register online and acquire a copy of the book being studied.
Heyward and Loft use a system to host the study that allows women to virtually “raise their hands” and be acknowledged so each person can comment and share one at a time. Although Heyward initially wondered if calling into a Bible study would seem less personal, she believes the women may be even more transparent in this format than they would be in a face-to-face group. Between 25 and 30 women typically participate in each study, with especially popular topics drawing 50 women or more—from around the country and beyond.
“We have women from as far away as Nova Scotia,” she says. “We’ve also had the privilege of hosting special guest speakers who call in and lead the teaching. We recently studied Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment by Linda Dillow, and Linda joined us for one of the first studies.”
The team focuses on four areas when selecting study topics: faith, forgiveness, marriage, and physical health. Via the website, they also coordinate a group of women reading through the one-year Bible together, offer one-time “dial-in” interviews with authors and speakers, plan an annual breakfast for the local ladies, and are developing a podcast.
“When you read the testimonies of some of the women who’ve been part of the group, their growth and excitement go way beyond what’s being taught,” Loft says. “They feel validated and affirmed. They’re finding a connection that’s feeding their lives. If you’re looking to be enabled and coddled, this isn’t for you. If you want to grow and be challenged, this is the place.”
Learn more and register for upcoming classes at www.womensonlinegrowthgroup.com.