03 February 2015

How To Start A 'Women of Faith Lecture Series'

I once wrote about a 'Women of Faith Lecture Series' that I helped start in Brooklyn. Since starting the series and writing about it on the blog, it turns out there are quite a few 'Women of Faith Lecture Series' being started around the country! AMAZING! I couldn't be more excited. Also, many people have written me to get specifics on how to plan the events. I've been sending out answers, but thought I'd also share them here in case you'd be interested in starting your own Lecture Series.

Do you do it at your church? Yes. But it could be done anywhere if someone doesn't have access to a church. You could also do it in someone's home, which would actually be so nice.

What is the meeting format? One of the women (usually whomever organized it - or any assistants) will lead the meeting, welcome everyone, and introduce the speaker. It would be great to provide a brief bio on the speaker, too. And then the conductor can announce that there will be Q&A afterward if anyone has questions for the speaker. The speaker then takes the floor and shares her story of faith. At the end, she'll usually stay standing and field the questions after. Then the conductor will thank her and close up the meeting.

How can you advertise? You can send emails to the heads of other women's organizations in churches or in the community. You can announce the event on neighborhood chat forums or newsletters. You can set out a sign in front of your venue or church. You can create a flyer and pass it out to anyone who might be interested. You can invite any of the attendees to spread the word and invite people to come. You can announce your event on blogs in your area.

Who gives the lecture? How do you decide who speaks at each one? Anyone from the community can speak, of course. We also had guest speakers from time to time from other communities. The speaker is usually asked a month or more in advance. We just asked anyone who might be willing to share her story of faith, HER TRUTHS - whatever they may be. I think EVERY person has a journey to share. It doesn't matter what her story is - it will always be unique and powerful to hear. And I think it's SO valuable to tell our stories. Especially as women. This is something we can't do often enough.

Is anyone ever offended by the discussion or topics? Our group was extremely open-minded, non-judgemental, not gossipy, etc. The feeling there was just one of love and support and togetherness. If anyone was uncomfortable with a sensitive topic, in my opinion, it was an accomplishment! I feel it's wonderful to have exposure to things that are new to us. It's the silence and taboo nature of some of these faith journeys that we were trying to overcome. There is way too much fear out there regarding sharing REAL LIFE stories. But when it happens, it can turn into something profoundly inspiring, bonding and powerful.

Do you have many older women in your midst? Or mostly younger? Most of the women were between their late twenties and forties. Though we had some women in their 50s and 60s, too, and they have LOVED the series as well. One of the older women said it's the BEST activity she's ever been to in her whole life.

What is your overarching goal for these? We just wanted to hear women's stories of faith!  Sometimes in a church, stories told are too cookie cutter, there may be pressure to conform to cultural norms, or there may not be enough time to really share in detail, or the topics are not ones that you would normally discuss in church. So it's great to hear THE REAL STORY of what a woman has gone through to get to where she is at. We liked the idea of being inspired by each other and hearing about the faith and healing that another woman has tapped into. Though I would say if someone is still trying to find her path of faith or define her own truths- that she could still share details about that journey, too. It certainly does not have to be a display of the perfect journey where one has everything figure out. No matter what, sharing these stories has been unifying, uplifting, and really so, so touching that you wouldn't believe it. 

Has anything happened that you didn't expect? It seems that with each story, there often was an overarching theme that related to the woman's journey of faith. (i.e. a health crisis, family issues, sexual abuse, marriage, suicide, depression, being gay, being single, divorce, eating disorder, the challenge of being a woman in a religious institution, breast cancer, working on a PhD, infertility, living on a budget, being a mother, etc.) So sometimes at the end of the lecture, the speaker would end up educating us further on the topic, based on what she had learned. And the audience would chime in as well. The discussions that developed were amazing. We all learned so much - and had the opportunity to discuss so many important topics openly.

Do you teach about your church at these events? No. Though if the woman speaking is a part of a particular faith, her journey will often reflect that. The ideal would be to hear from many women from different faith practices or paths.

How many speakers per night? Usually just one speaker per night. Though a couple of times we had a panel of women if there were several that had a similar journey (i.e. infertility).

Size of group? Our group was about 30-40 women and it worked so well. Some of the events even brought as many as 60 people! But group size shouldn't matter, I don't think. A very small group would be just as wonderful. Though chances are it will grow as people find out about it. I think people have such a need to connect with others in meaningful ways.

How long do they speak?  The women speak for as long as they want, really. It usually turns into 20-30 minutes (sometimes longer) with a very active Q&A /Discussion after. We had refreshments at the end and everyone stayed as long as possible to continue the rich discussions. The entire thing would last 1 1/2 - 2 hours. We would begin the event at 7:00 pm.

Let me know what you think of the idea or if you have ANY questions! I'd so love to hear if you plan an event like this in your area.  

Much love,


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  1. This is such a great idea! I'm glad you posted this and linked to your original post as I haven't seen that.

    If a person needed some pointers, what would you recommend that they speak on? Or what do you tell them to focus on? Just on what built their faith? And if someone is non-religious, what would they speak about? Healing? Non-faith topics? I can think of a couple of people (an 80-yr old widow and a woman who's had many health issues, financial challenges, etc.) that could probably speak for hours. Does that matter? Did you ever have to cut someone off?

    Also, what about frequency? How often did you do these? Once a month? a week? And who brings the refreshments? Sorry! so many questions, this just made my brain explode with excitement as I LOVE just LOVE learning from people!! :) Thank you again!

    1. Hi! Thanks for great questions. Here are some answers.
      1. We actually never gave topic assignments or told them what to focus on, other than asking them to share their story of faith. But that doesn't mean you couldn't ask for a topic. My thought was that I just didn't want to ask them to speak about X if Y was REALLY the heart of their truth.

      2. If someone is non-religious, you could ask them to share their greatest truths (the word faith I think can still apply here. Though I know that word is synonymous with religion a lot of times so it can be confusing). Or they could speak about how they've learned to heal from an experience. Or their greatest life lesson(s) that they've learned so far. Or how LOVE has played a part in their life. You could still certainly ask them to speak about a specific topic such as any of the topics I mentioned in the post (divorce, infertility, health, etc.) There is just SO much to learn from each other. And if you did a series, I think it would be ok even if each woman had a lecture theme tailored to her.

      -Regarding the time issue, you could have a set time for the evening - say 7:00-8:00 pm for the lecture and Q&A. Then 8:00-8:30 pm for refreshments and chatting. This way the person knows in advance when they need to wrap things up. You could even tell the speaker that you're happy to give them a signal when they have 5 minutes to go or something. However, I would say that EVERY lecture I've ever heard has been SOOOO good and interesting that we pretty much didn't want the lecture or the Q&A to end. BUT, letting things go and go is also tricky because it's hard for the attendees to make plans and schedule a baby-sitter, etc. So it's perhaps a good thing to have a set time.

      -We typically did the lectures once a month. We tried to do them on the same day (i.e. second Wed. of the month or something) so that people could plan on it in advance.

      -The refreshment assignments were on a rotation. Each time, two women were asked to bring some snacks for the group. This way the host is not burdened with it each and every time. Plus I think people enjoy having an excuse to either buy or make something to share.

      -I'll add that if you have these lectures in homes, perhaps the hosts could rotate as well...and perhaps the host then provides the refreshments. Though I would likely not have the host be the speaker as well on the same night, as that would be a lot to manage.

      GOOD LUCK!!! I so hope that you can help a lecture series to come to fruition. It is SOOO worth it and so meaningful, trust me. There is nothing better than connecting with women in real ways. And learning a ton from each other.


  2. This is BRILLIANT! I LOVE hearing others story and I think it is such a great thing to be exposed to the life of a fellow life traveler. I also loved that you said that if someone felt uncomfortable with a topic that it was a good thing. How often do we shy away from others that are different? I think this is such a wonderful idea. Hearing someones story is a great way to open ourselves to others, their life, new ideas, and just topics that are different. Such richness and depth of understanding can develop from an experience like this. Thanks for sharing more details about it!

  3. i wrote to you right after you first posted about this series and you were so sweet to write me back right awayand ever since then I've hosted a much loved WOF lecture series here in tri cities wa. Thank you so much for sharing. It's made a difference in many women's lives. :)

    1. WOW!! So incredible to hear!! Really glad that a lecture series came together. What a gift to everyone in attendance.

  4. Mara - has your group ever ha an agnostic or atheist speak? if yes, how did that go and how did they approach the talk? or is it best to limit the group to people who are specifically talking about their faith in a religion of some sort and how that has affected their lives?

    1. This particular group hadn't had an atheist or agnostic speaker. But I would have LOVED that! I don't think there's a need to limit the group or the speakers to religious followers only. There is just SO much to learn from each other. The main goal is to form a loving community, to provide a platform to hear from WOMEN and hear of their very diverse and incredible life paths. To me there is nothing better. (And thanks for your great question!)

  5. Did I ever tell you that I started it up here in Atlanta? It's been amazing and honestly has been a fantastic way for people to really get to know eachother and learn from one another. Xoxox

    1. That is so, so awesome!! Oh, how I miss you! What I would give to meet up for lunch - and to see those darling girls of yours.

  6. What do you mean by "her truth?" What is the difference, philosophically, logically, and metaphysically, between "the truth" and "x's truth?"

    1. Perhaps it's simply a difference between a "correlated truth", something that needs to fit a particular style of what is acceptable. This certainly isn't the only context, but this was a gathering of woman who often (but not always) shared the same faith background. Sharing that same faith background often means that they are used to telling faith stories in a "normal" way. This was designed to be more free of that. It did not need to conform to the same patterns that might be expected on a Sunday while speaking from the pulpit, or while following a lesson manual.

      It was individual, it was based not on what they were sometimes culturally expected to say, it was based on the reality of their personal experience, whatever that was. In that sense, it was "their truth", their experience, the sum total of where they found themselves right in that moment.


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