Devon Cooper says some of the best parts of her life have also been some of the loneliest parts of her life.
“I was a church planter’s wife in Washington and California,” she said. “Because there aren’t really any churches around, you’re on your own.”
Now she’s in Salt Lake City, where her husband, Michael, serves as church planting catalyst for NAMB and she serves as spouse care coordinator. Twice a month, she visits other church plants in the city to get to know the other planters’ wives and make sure they have support.
“After a while, I realized I know the church planter wives, but they don’t know each other,” she said. “The people we serve in Utah are an unchurched people group, and it can get very dark and very lonely here. And many of our ladies live within 30 minutes of each other, but they just don’t know each other.”
She started getting them together for a dinner or a painting party every now and then, but then Kathy Litton, director of Send Network’s planter spouse development, came out and led a retreat for them. It showed Cooper a whole new way to meet a need for rest and community.
“With it being an overnight event, we were able to have those late-night conversations that are so important,” Cooper said. “You can’t get those in an hour to paint or two hours for a meal.”
She knew that sort of retreat was something she definitely wanted to plan again.
On the other side of the country, Melanie Ratcliffe, women’s ministry strategist for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, had also noticed that planter wives in her area were separated.
“The men would sometimes meet each other, but the women didn’t know each other, and they would live a mile apart,” Ratcliffe said. “I made it my mission to help them meet each other.”
Then she took that to Salt Lake City, a NAMB Send City with which South Carolina Baptists partner. She and a team of six recently went out to Salt Lake City to hold that next retreat for planters’ wives that Cooper was hoping for. It was something she’d done before — several years back, she took a team to Canada to meet pastors’ wives. And she herself knows what it feels like — her husband has served as a church planter both in the U.S. and overseas.
Cooper said the retreat was just what they needed. She and Ratcliffe offered these thoughts for anyone thinking of holding a retreat for planters’ wives.
1. Find out what the needs are and meet those.
If you’re looking to visit planters’ wives and hold an event like Ratcliffe’s, make sure you have a conversation with them up front to see what it is they need.
Cooper said there might be a season in which the planters’ wives in Salt Lake City could use some teaching on how to be a better wife, or how to be more effective in personal ministry — but this wasn’t it. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than anything, they needed rest and to reconnect with Jesus, she said.
“They are trying to start a brand-new church in an unchurched people group, and they need to be reminded that He doesn’t need megachurches in Utah — He just needs them to be faithful,” Cooper said. “They need to be reminded to continue to believe He can do big things in this really tough place.”
2. Have lots of “get to know you” activities.
Cooper said it’s easy to put up walls and say, “Oh, my church plant’s perfect.”
“But your insides are hurting because, perhaps, your core team has left and now it’s just you and your husband hustling to keep your church going,” Cooper said. “Those are some of the situations they face.”
Having an overnight getaway, where the women can stay up late talking can bring deeper relationships, she said.
For the visiting team, that means listening more than talking, Ratcliffe said. They’re intentional to think of meaningful questions ahead of time, and even though she herself is a planter’s wife, she is intentional to listen and not to come in with an “I know everything” mentality.
“That listening communicates love and support,” Ratcliffe said.
3. Get out of their normal environment.
Another way to help get those walls down is to break out of your normal routine, Ratcliffe said. Sometimes it can be tempting to just hold it at a church, but she said she’s found that “the women aren’t able to relax in that environment.”
For the recent retreat, Cooper got an Airbnb for the Thursday night and hosted a smaller group of 10 planters’ wives. Then the next night, they got two more Airbnbs to host a group of about 35 — both planters’ wives and their “top one,” another core team woman who is vital to the effort.
And during the day, they made a trip to a hot spring, where they all just floated, had fun and talked.
“We wanted to foster that care component,” Ratcliffe said.
4. Make sure it’s meaningful.
Try to do something nice for the women, Cooper said. “It needs to be good if they’re getting away from their kids for a night or two.”
5. Consider teaching the women a money-making skill.
Finances can be difficult for planting families. Cooper said most of the planters’ wives she knows have a side hustle.
So, Cooper asked Ratcliffe if her team could teach the women a skill they could use if they chose for some extra income. They did — they taught the group how to make wreaths and do a type of ink art, both of which have been popular and sold well in South Carolina.
6. Rejoice together.
As Cooper herself said, church planting can be some of the loneliest times — but it can also be some of the best times.
“We just had our church plant in Provo, where Brigham Young University is,” Cooper said. “We were so glad to meet that pastor’s wife, and they had just celebrated their first baptism. It was good to get to rejoice about that together.”
Published June 8, 2021