The same year the United States legalized abortion, a small group of women met in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, to affirm the value of motherhood. Little did these ladies know that less than 50 years later, their group would grow to impact hundreds of thousands a year for Christ.
The organic way MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers) began reveals the creativity of the Holy Spirit, who makes connections that further His purposes, said Andrea Jones, MOPS vice president of sales and strategic partnerships.
"In 1973, about eight ladies started meeting together at their local church," Jones said. At the height of second-wave feminism, MOPS moms met to "affirm that it's OK to also choose to be a mom who loves her children and values motherhood ... and talk about what it means to be a young mom."
The first MOPS groups, comprised mostly of stay-at-home moms, focused on how to mother in a healthy way and still "stay sane," Jones said. The ministry was less about telling women how to parent and more about meeting young moms where they were in their motherhood journey.
That goal hasn't changed through the years. MOPS' mission is still to encourage every mom. Jones said: "There is this intrinsic belief that MOPS has—that as a church, the body of Christ, we are invited and called to meet people where they are."
Giving Young Moms a Break
Led by President and CEO Mandy Ariola, MOPS now has 105,000 registered members in 41 countries. Considering those who don't register, though, Jones estimates that the organization impacts 130,000 to 150,000 moms a year.
Just as MOPS started in a local church, the ministry still largely functions through churches to reach women in their own communities.
"I would say 98 percent of our base right now, or our groups, are still located in the local church," Jones said, though some women are starting MOPS groups at community centers or at the local Y. The ministry also recently launched a digital-only options for moms who primarily speak Spanish.
MOPS provides churches with materials to run their groups. Kits include video teachings about motherhood as well as workbooks for further study. But group leaders may determine the structure of their meetings, which could include announcements, a short teaching, food and fellowship, and a craft.
MOPS International recognizes the group must "have the flavor of the local church," Jones said. This structural freedom allows group leaders to get creative with their ideas. Groups often provide a time to make crafts moms can use in their homes, such as gifts, ornaments, home organization centers or decorations for kids' rooms. But Jones pointed out that group activities can go beyond crafts. Some groups may take a trip together to a farmers market and bring home organic vegetables. Some may do service projects for their church or community, while groups for teen moms may offer a class on how to cook basic meals.
Activities like these give moms a break from the frazzled pace of never-ending to-do lists and allow them to care for themselves. At the end of the meeting, they leave with the satisfying feeling that they accomplished something new, Jones said.
"I've visited MOPS groups where they will invite a photographer in who will help moms take pictures," Jones said. "They'll do practical things like that all the way to the more spiritually deep conversations."
Jones said this practical aspect also helps women feel more relaxed and thus more open to talking about deep topics.
Another relaxing element of MOPS groups, Jones explained, is that while moms enjoy their time together, they can leave their children in the MOPS Kids program.
"The kids get instruction and either a combination of board books and Bible stories and color sheets and songs, sometimes videos," Jones said, pointing out that MOPS meetings are some of the few relaxing times these busy young moms get.
No matter how churches or group leaders structure the meetings, the goal is the same: giving moms a safe place to receive encouragement, support and Jesus' love.
"The friendships that start at MOPS have a domino effect on how a woman parents, relates to her husband and how she comes to declare herself a daughter of the King," said Kristie Ritter, MOPS mom, coach and prison MOPS leader.
"A mom needs to be met right where she is," Jones said. "Don't judge her. Don't criticize her parenting. Just meet her where she is and say, 'You are enough. You are going to be enough. You are going to be OK.' And then love her and be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ."
Equipping Leaders to Teach Spiritual Truth
This unconditional love has power to resonate with young moms more than almost any other age group, even moms who are resistant to God, Jones said.
MOPS reaches women in a "unique stage of young motherhood," which tends to be a time when people who have walked away from the church, perhaps in college, are more "open and receptive to spiritual truths and hearing about the gospel," Jones said. "There is this sort of embrace for moms and dads when they realize, 'I am responsible for another thing, a real human being, and not just caring for them, but raising them.' The gravity of that resonates really strong."
Perhaps this is why approximately 3,000 women each year find salvation through these groups, according to an annual MOPS survey. One of the reasons the organization is effective in reaching women, Jones explained, is the lack of overt Christian terms in its marketing and promotion.
"What the mom sees and what the leader sees are very different," she said. "So if you go to our website, you might say, 'I'm not sure I even see a lot of Christian stuff.' There's a reason for that."
This approach lowers the barriers for women who may not be open to the idea of attending church, Jones said. What the mom sees first and foremost is a loving invitation. As new members become more comfortable with the ladies in the group, their hearts open to hearing biblical truth.
"My MOPS meetings were the first times I'd heard and witnessed prayer used as a powerful tool," MOPS mom Gena DiMuro said.
And MOPS experienced a dramatic change last year. The team at MOPS headquarters was shocked to find that the number of salvations in 2017 spiked to 6,346.
"The exciting thing about that number for us that it's almost double what it was the year before," Jones said.
She attributes this increase to MOPS' recent emphasis on equipping leaders to teach Christ's truth instead of only showing it.
"For a long time, I think that we got into a little rut organizationally, if I'm honest, where people could just assume that if they're showing up, they have a faith affinity and so it's OK to have spiritual conversations," Jones said. "So we've been really focused in the last several years to give our leaders a full explanation of our evangelism perspective and how we talk about Jesus and a relationship with Jesus."
To equip group leaders to share truth, mops.org dedicates an entire section of its website to leadership training. There, MOPS provides insight into the organization's view on how to conduct evangelism. As leaders explore this section, they learn how to share the gospel, invite people to their groups and engage in spiritual conversations. If leaders aren't comfortable sharing the gospel publicly, MOPS encourages them to invite their pastor, pastor's wife or women's ministry director to the group to share.
"But we absolutely say, 'Hey, ladies, this is why you're here,'" Jones said. "'This is why you're meeting in a MOPS group.' It is to invite women to take one step closer to Jesus."
Another way MOPS equips its leaders is through its yearly conference, known as "MOMcon." Though the conference is open to all, the majority of women who attend are leaders.
"We invite very cool voices who are resonating with our moms during that season," Jones said. "They encourage them and inspire them, and then attendees can take workshops. We have tons of workshops on everything from topics like soul care and 'How's your heart?' and 'How's your soul?' to a track for mentor moms."
MOPS International has found that equipping group leaders this way not only benefits their groups but local churches as well.
"Because we offer leadership and spiritual training to MOPS moms who start in leadership in their group, we see women rising to volunteer in other areas in the church," Jones said. "Many pastors and church leaders tell us they see those women leading and volunteering in Sunday school, weeknight children's outreach programs and in church food banks. This is super exciting, because the church needs volunteers to ensure longevity and sustainability of programs so generations are reached and God's kingdom grows."
Not only do churches experience leadership growth as a result of MOPS, but also an increase in overall attendance. Jones said as congregations host and support MOPS groups, they see an increase in young families. Moms who join MOPS groups often begin attending those churches and bringing their families.
"We're hearing more and more churches say, 'Yeah, we've got more families,'" Jones said. "'I started a MOPS group, and now I've got young families like they're coming out of my ears! This is great!' And then they're excited, and Mom grows and becomes a leader."
This doesn't surprise Jones, though. After all, "MOPS firmly believes it's a ministry of the local church, so we partner with the church," she said.
Meeting Moms' Real Needs
Jones believes MOPS' combination of words and actions is what changes lives. She recounted her own story as a newlywed in the early 1990s, when her friend invited her to co-lead a MOPS group in inner-city Denver.
Jones' MOPS group was one of the first of its kind in an urban area, as most groups were in the suburbs. This location provided new opportunities and challenges for Jones and her partner.
"We got to walk alongside moms who were really some of the most vulnerable, many single moms, many moms who were struggling," she said. We had a couple moms who were struggling with some mental health issues, definitely what you would consider underserved—some of the most impoverished moms in the community."
Jones will never forget one night in particular when she saw the value of women displaying Christ's love in a tangible way.
Blanca, a group member who had mental health issues, could not get her doctor to give her the medication she needed. She called the ladies of the MOPS group and asked them for assistance. Without hesitating, Jones said, the group rallied to help. One of the leaders went with Blanca to a medical facility to advocate her cause, while the rest of the moms took care of Blanca's children at her home.
Jones marveled at the way each mom shared the little they had in their pantries and refrigerators to make sure Blanca's children ate dinner. One mom grabbed a loaf of bread, another brought jelly, another had peanut butter, and Jones offered her last half-gallon of milk.
After feeding the kids, the moms gathered and cried out to God on Blanca's behalf.
"We prayed and we prayed that she would be able to get her medicine," Jones said. "And we prayed that this mom would know how much we loved her, and we prayed that she would see Jesus in how we were showing up. Those women shone that night."
To Jones, that's what MOPS is really about: being the hands and feet of Jesus. The message that encouraged one small group in 1973 is the same message that impacts hundreds of thousands of women today.
"That's what it means to show up, to be real, to be community and to give and support another mom where she is as a mom in her journey and with her struggles," Jones said. "That testimony lasts so much further than just sitting up and thumping people with a Bible."
Jenny Rose Curtis is assistant online editor at Charisma Media and co-host of the "Charisma News" podcast.
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