In the book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them, author John Ortberg shares some Harvard research emphasizing the need for community.

The project, called the Alameda Country Study, tracked the lives of 7,000 people over nine years. Researchers found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections. In fact, the research revealed that people who had bad health habits (such as poor eating habits or obesity), but strong social ties, lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits, but were isolated. As Ortberg suggests, it just might be better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone.

There’s no doubt, developing relationships is important in the lives of women. While men tend to develop relationships through activities, women develop relationships by spending quality time together.

From the time girls are little, they long to share secrets and giggle into the night. Sleepovers and late chats are crucial as girls develop friendships. But as girls become women, relationships with other women can weaken. Whether they are consumed with family responsibilities or career aspirations, loneliness can set in. Pews are filled each week with women who are still longing to be connected with other women.

As Chicago Tribune columnist Marla Paul once wrote, “It seems as though every woman’s friendship quota has been filled and she’s no longer accepting new applicants. How did it happen I could be 42 years old and not have enough friends?” Could the same be said by women in your congregation?

In the next few weeks, women from almost 300 churches across Oklahoma will connect and develop relationships with each other and, most importantly, a relationship with Jesus Christ, at the Oklahoma Ladies’ Retreat at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center. This year’s theme, “Embrace Grace” will encourage women to find grace through either discovering a new relationship with Christ, or strengthening their current relationship with the Lord. But, the retreat also offers an environment of embracing grace through relationships with each other.

Close to 3,000 women will gather in the tabernacle to hear nationally known author, Liz Curtis Higgs. Higgs, a self-proclaimed former “bad girl,” will share God’s desire for women to embrace Him as their Savior. For women who are planning to attend, the retreat is an excellent opportunity to invite women who are seekers. While women will be inspired through Higgs’ teaching, they will also hear a clear presentation of the Gospel and be given an opportunity to respond.

In addition, special music and a Friday evening concert will be performed by The Annie Moses Band. Unlike any other musical ensemble in America today, they are all family, including parents who met as music students at Oklahoma City University. While their background is in classical music with prestigious Julliard training, this group will appeal to women of all ages with their blend of strings, vocals and infectious rhythms. The Dallas Morning News lauded their “restless eclecticism and stunning virtuosity.”

Outside of the general sessions, women will also have the opportunity to learn from some of Oklahoma’s finest Bible teachers during smaller seminars. They can experience missions and prayer through specialized activities on Friday afternoon. But, most of all, they will come to connect women with each other.

Consider the women sitting in your pews each Sunday. Even more, consider the women not sitting in your pews who are just waiting for another woman to invite them to this year’s retreat. It could be an eternal investment in the lives of women in your community. And it just might strengthen the relationships of the women who are already coming to your church.

Just don’t forget to bring Twinkies to share.