As the American church struggles to find its way, it may be downplaying one its strongest assets. Women.

Churches are “leaving a lot of leadership capacity on the table,” according to Kadi Cole, leadership expert and author of Developing Female Leaders: Navigate the Minefields and Release the Potential of Women in Your Church. Though females comprise 61 percent of the typical congregation, they’re underutilized, especially in important staff and volunteer positions.

The issue goes far beyond theological perspectives on women in leadership, Cole contends. Regardless of a church’s theology, practical church culture regarding women often does not match a church’s presumed beliefs.

When it comes to treatment of women, Cole said the church world is behind the business world. Businesses tend to get sued faster than churches, she said. But, increasingly, churches may be at risk for discriminating against women with regard to pay, titles, promotions and training.

Though the typical male hierarchy may, knowingly or unknowingly, create a “stained glass ceiling” for women, Cole said women often hold themselves back from contributing more powerfully in a church. She calls this the “sticky floor.” Many women disadvantage themselves with perfectionism and other insecurities. Cole explains this phenomenon more in this week’s Holy Soup podcast.

Some say the church is already too feminized, and its styles of worship and decor are repelling men. Church membership is dropping a bit faster among men, according to Gallup. But Cole would say that’s not because of too many women in leadership. She said women occupy fewer than 30 percent of the leadership positions, paid and volunteer, in the average church. She advocates that a 30 percent threshold would be a good initial minimum goal for most churches.

Hear my conversation with Kadi Cole on the Holy Soup podcast here:

Kadi Cole is among the women-in-ministry experts appearing at Group’s upcoming Future of the Church summit. You’re invited! See more details on attending here. The changing role of women in the church is a major trend to watch in the next few years.