An Interview with Mary Graham, President of Women of Faith

I’m a husband to one woman, father of five more, and grandfather to three more (little) women. We also have a number of women in strategic positions at Thomas Nelson, with whom I work on a regular basis. Suffice it to say, I spend a lot of time in the company of women.

Women of Faith Attendees

Here’s something I’ve learned from all that experience: women are different. Earth-shattering, I know. But when it comes to motivating the women in your organization, it’s important to be mindful of that difference. What works for a man doesn’t always work for a woman.

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So I thought I’d interview someone who is an expert on encouraging women, who also happens to be one of my favorite people on the planet. Mary Graham leads Thomas Nelson’s Live Events group, which includes Women of Faith and The Revolve Tour (for teen girls).

More than four million women have attended a Women of Faith event. I’ve been to numerous Women of Faith events and have seen for myself the impact they can have. Here’s how Mary responded to my questions about why these events are so important. (My questions and comments are in bold.)

For more than fifteen years, you have traveled across the country and met women of all ages and stages in life. What have you learned?

Women are a lot alike and at the same time very different. It’s no surprise that women are busy; most women have that in common. You have a wife who is devoted to her family, the neighborhood and almost everyone else she knows. The women I know tend to take on a lot of responsibility and―regardless of how much they do―it’s not unusual for a woman to feel “I should probably be doing more … for my family, at work, at church, in the neighborhood.”

That’s a lot of pressure.

It is. And most of the time, I think women handle it pretty well. But every now and then, we all need a break. We need to sit in a circle of friends and hear how others manage the stress and pain of life. We need to be reminded we’re not alone. And for some reason, there’s something very encouraging for women to be in an environment where they can laugh heartily, cry, and feel understood. God has something to say about how much we need one another, but I think sometimes we forget.

What can a weekend away do to accomplish that?

Sometimes I think the best thing in the world is for a woman to have a little get-away with her friends. I love it when we sit in arenas in that large circle and find grace that’s contagious. Women tell us that’s what they love about Women of Faith. It’s a “getaway” not just physically and emotionally, but spiritually.

Women find it refreshing. In fact, we often hear they find it life-changing. Every year my dentist sends his entire office staff to the Women of Faith event in Dallas. They talk about it all year—not just what it did for them personally, but what it does for their relationships with one another. The women have a wonderful time; it’s a big bonding experience for them, and very refreshing.

I always say about the women on our platform, our speakers and other artists, “They will tell you the truth.” We don’t always want to hear about what they got right in life. We want to know “What did you do when everything went wrong?”

When someone has the courage to talk about that, it gives us all courage to be the imperfect people we are. There are a lot of stories, grace, humor, freedom and love in our circle of friends.

But how do the events like these help women?

As you know, women love being together. Whether we’re going through tough times or we just want to visit, we love talking to our friends. Most women come to Women of Faith with their friends; not only do they feel a deep kinship with the women on the platform, but within their own groups. It always helps to connect with others who are experiencing the same life situations—it helps to know, “I’m not the only one.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had women say to me: “I thought I was the only one going through this or that.” They feel so alone in their struggles, then they come to Women of Faith and find out others are in the same boat.

And trust me, if there’s an issue out there, someone on our team has probably been through it and is willing to talk about it. Our speakers are very honest and up-front about their struggles. It gives the women in the audience permission to be real about their problems, too. And, maybe more importantly, it helps them know they’re not alone.

What is the role of laughter in these events?

As you know first-hand, Women of Faith is fun. Laughter has great healing power. Laughter is good medicine. There is a lot of laughter at our events and that can be very healing for a woman. Our events are all about encouragement.

One thing we are very intentional about at Women of Faith is we do not tell women what to do. The last thing in the world women need is one more item on their to-do list. We encourage them by letting them know they’re not alone and that God loves them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. We talk a lot about God’s love and grace. Grace is something we can all use more of; grace toward ourselves and grace toward others.

Women of Faith events are so much bigger than most people imagine: We’re talking about 10,000–15,000 women in an arena setting, and there are thirty or so events every year. That’s a lot of encouraged women!

It is! But when you think about how many women there are in the U.S., it’s really just a drop in the bucket. We’re always hoping to find one more woman, to help change one more life. Because that woman affects the people around her, who affect the people around them . . . as Andy Andrews explains so beautifully at our “Over the Top” events, it’s “the butterfly effect.”

It’s such a privilege to bring this kind of experience to thousands of women year after year. I love seeing the sheer joy on their faces, or having them come for the first time and hearing them say, “I had NO idea!” I love the changes they begin to see in their relationships and the hope some of them feel for the first time ever.

Now through October 31, 2010, I’m offering you, my readers, $10 off the full Women of Faith event registration price (which matches the per-person rate for a group of 10 or more.)

If you’d like to invite the women in your company or organization to be a part of an upcoming Women of Faith weekend event this fall, visit our registration page or call 888-49-FAITH and use code HYATT when you place your order. This offer can’t be combined with any other offer.

Questions: Have you ever been to Women of Faith? What was your experience like? (Scroll down to leave a comment.)
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  • Cameron Curry

    Thanks for posting. Makes for good reading waiting for my flight. The Catalyst Conference was interesting. Too much hair gel and skinny jeans in one location for sure. The content was good and I was encouraged in my faith and as a business leader. Maybe we can connect when I contract with you again. It’s always fun! Enjoy the fall season!

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  • Kristie Jackson

    Yes, I have been to a WOF event and was blessed. I think, just as Mary explained, that the combination of laughing at our common condition, the willingness of the speakers to authentically reveal their struggles and imperfections, and the absence of "this is the solution" closure is what makes WOF unique. Women walk away sure of God's love and fully reliant on Him as they face their own struggles.

  • gailbhyatt

    What a great interview, Mike. Mary Graham, and Women of Faith, are the real deal and people can see it!

    I've personally attended more WOF events than I can count. They are always fresh and relevant and EXACTLY what I need. There is NO question in my mind that God is at work through the ministry of WOF. I've experienced it and I've witnessed it. It blows my mind. Seeing THOUSANDS of women laugh until their sides split, weep until they're emptied, comforted until they're filled, encouraged until they're empowered. It's a powerful sight to behold.

    I hope I NEVER ever have to miss one. And when I go, I try to take as many people with me as I can. This is the real deal.

  • @stacey29lincoln

    The best part is always laughter through tears! Love Mary and the WOF team, they are doing great work!

  • Golden Keyes Parsons

    So glad to see the interview with Mary Graham. It seems our lives have been intertwined with Women of Faith for many years — our daughter has been with WOF for a total of about ten years. She is now the Operations Manager for Thomas Nelson Live Events. Her husband is Manager of Registration (not sure of his exact title). I worked on the traveling staff for a couple of years myself. And like Gail Hyatt, have been to more WOF conferences than I can number. I just recently took a group from our church that we have joined since moving back to Texas. Of course, they loved every minute of it!

    Mary, I appreciate the high sense of calling, excellence and integrity that I’ve observed in the organization through the years. Much of that is due to your leadership. Thank you!

    P.S. Coincidentally, I write historical fiction for Thomas Nelson. So proud to be a part of this organization.

  • Laurinda

    No, but there's one coming up in Seattle at the end of the month. I think I'll check it out after reading this! Thanks.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You should definitely go. You’ll be glad you did. I promise!

  • Rachel Wojnarowski

    This year I attended WOF in Columbus OH for the first time. The worship time alone was so refreshing and restoring! Then the privilege of listening to the speakers brought joy and inspiration. I left the event with the encouragement to continue to care for my family, a better understanding of the challenges in my life, and a grateful heart to God for the awesome opportunity just to attend. Lastly, I had the opportunity to briefly meet your wife, Gail. How cool was that! Thanks to Thomas Nelson and the whole team. I’m a diehard fan. Hope to meet Mary Graham someday. ;)

  • Cindy Graves

    I have attended several WOF events (always in ATL). The words encouraging and inspiring are the first to come to mind. I also have always attended with a group of friends – wouldn't have it any other way – although I suspect that if I hadn't attended with friends, I would have left with some new ones! It's true that the speakers and others on platform are totally relateable. My friends and I have a favorite game of "Who does she remind you of?" and "Who do you think you are most like?" Me? I'm a cross between Marilyn and Luci! Love those WOF gals!!!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Then you must be an awesome person. Luci and Marilyn are two of my favorites!

  • Patricia Logan

    I have been to at least 6 WOF conferences and I am never disappointed. I have been a group leader for 4 years. It is such a fun and rewarding time to bond with each other, This yeart we had 3 new women ot a WOF event and we gave each of them little goody bags to celebrate their joining us. It is a great place to bring non-believer,s a non threatening envirenment thay can be themselves.

    I love all the speakers and guests and appreciate their opening themselves up and sharing their struggles as well as their triumphs. May God continue to pour out his blessings on you all.

    ps missed Luci & Marilyn this year. Andy Andrews was an additional treat.

  • MaurilioAmorim

    I was invited to attend a WOF event in Atlanta a couple of years ago and was blown away by the quality of the speakers, production and content. Truly a wow experience, even for a guy.

  • Nikole Hahn

    I absolutely loved it! My sister in law came for the first time. I am a Praise and Coffee leader and was offered two free tickets. It was such a blessing! I think this time it was more fun. Last time I went alone and it was a little hard, but this time, I brought a dear person with me and we had such fun!

    I always love hearing Sheila Walsh. But this year, Marcus Buckingham, was such a treat!

    • April Rowen

      I'm glad you posted this because I was thinking of going by myself. After reading of your experience, I've asked my sister in law if she'd be able to join me. I hope she can! It will be our first time =)

  • Mandy

    I have never been to a WOF event – can you come to Northern Ireland or somewhere in UK. (please)

    • Michael Hyatt

      I would LOVE that. Ireland is one of my very favorite countries.

  • Magaret Kirkland

    Just attend the Phoenix event, this was my second year. I was a group leader and brought 25 ladies. We all enjoyed every minute of the conference and will be attending in 2011. Thank you WOF leaders

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thank you so much for bringing those 25. We SO appreciate our WOF Group Leaders.

  • @debjeffers

    Yes, I've been to several WofF events i the NE & have been truly blessed. Only reason I didn't attend this wknd's event in Rochester is because I was notified in june it was sold out. Wish I could have been there but will start now planning for next yr.

  • Rosanna

    Yes, I've been to many Women of Faith events! I attended my 1st in 1999 and have been going every year since. Each year has a different blessing about it. Sometimes I've come with a large group of family & friends. Other times with one of my daughters. The joy, grace, mercy, love and especially the laughter & tears bring such healing to a woman's soul. There is something for every gal's walk of life. The amazing work that goes into putting one of these events on is like a miracle. The interactions of Mary Graham and The Porch makes a woman wish she were part of the team too. Even though Women of Faith is held in large arenas one goes away feeling like it was an intimate time. The stories and lessons learned over this 2 day period are so invaluable. I pray Women of Faith events continue for many years to come. Thank you Michael Hyatt, Mary Graham and Thomas Nelson Live Events.

  • Laurie

    I was invited to go by one of my best friends and I can't thank her enough, I look forward to it every year and wish I could go at least 3 times a year. It is just what I need to renew my faith and the combination of laughing and crying is just what I need!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Oh, I so wish I could go three times a year. I am always refreshed and encouraged.

  • Amy

    My mom bought me a ticket to the August '10 event in Indy. As someone who's been to many retreats and events, I admit I went into it a little skeptical about it being anything that would be different from all the other Christian events I'd seen or done. But by the end of the weekend, I was blown away, breathtaken, and just knee-bucklin' in awe of my Savior and my God. Everything Mary says in your interview here is so true! Too often, we nutty women are clueless to the fact we need a break and we need EACH OTHER. WOF, with the balance of Anita Renfroe and Patsy Clairmont's awesome humor, and even the balance of some man-time with Andy Andrews and Steven Curtis Chapman, was exactly what my fried soul needed! And I didn't even know I needed it until I was immersed in and swept away by the love of Jesus that eminated from the entire WOF crew. Even now, two months later, I listen to my Mandisa CDs whenever I get in the car, and I'm reminded of My Deliverer. Our Deliverer. And for all these reasons and more, I am completely smitten with WOF!!!! Thank you!!!!

  • Tina Freeberg

    My best friend and I attended our first WOF event this year in Atlanta and I have to say it was life changing. It was everything that Mary said in her interview and so much more. We are planning on attending next year with a group. I am also planning in attending in Sacramento next year with my sisters to celebrate my 50th birthday. Keep doing what you do WOF we need you this is our time to reconnect with God, ourselves and our sisters in faith.

  • Larry_Hehn

    My wife and I were at the first WOF conference in Canada many years ago. She attended the conference while I volunteered behind the scenes as a runner for the crew. We both loved it! She says that even now when she hears certain songs, she finds herself right back at the conference. There is something very unique about hearing a room full of thousands of women! I had a chance to listen in on some of the speakers as well, and was very blessed. The people who are involved behind the scenes are just as much a joy and blessing as those on stage.

  • April Rowen

    Yah! This post is so real. As a woman, I felt known and understood. Haven't yet been to a Women of Faith conference, but that is soon to be changed! (rolls up sleeves) WOF… here I come!

  • Mary E. DeMuth

    Having had the privilege of attending this year's Dallas event, I can attest to the quality and heart of this ministry. I loved laughing. And I loved that I could bring my daughter with me, and we could both find something great to take away.

    It was a privilege to meet Mary face to face, one Mary to another. She was gracious and very, very sweet.

  • ThatGuyKC

    Wow! Thank you so much for sharing.

    In the four years I've been married my wife has taught me so much. It's like reading a book that never ends.

    Really wish my wife could make it to a Women of Faith event this year, but the Seattle session is the same weekend as our son's birthday. Maybe next year.

    I don't think we, as husbands, can ever encourage and build up our wives too much.

  • Brad

    Fantastic. Now how about 'Men of Faith'

  • Angela =^)

    This was a GREAT interview! What a fantastic post. I've been attending Women of Faith for over a decade and can honestly say it's been one of God's life provisions for me. Mary knows some of my story, but the short of it is that WoF has been an anchor for me amidst military moves. These women have been my home when I've felt like I have none. They've been my mentors over these 10 years. I attended Women of Faith for the first time in 2000 because another military wife invited me, and by God's grace (truly) I've made it back every year. And now I have friends that go every year because I invited THEM! A butterfly effect, indeed. I almost wasn't able to attend this year's Denver event, and at the last minute was able to go. (And blessed because a friend gave me great seats!!! *wink*) I called my husband from the event and said, "Don't you EVER let me miss this! When the schedule gets crazy and I think I can't go, you remind me that I HAVE TO BE HERE!!!" He said he will. =^) I think HE knows how much I need this almost more than I do. (He's taken vacation before just so I can attend.) This has been my anchor during many a storm. My reminder of grace when I feel like there is little to be found. The filler of my cup when I'm running on empty. I started coming at the age of 23. I'm now 34. And I'm a better wife, mother, friend… woman because of it. Thank you. And thank you to my dear, dear Mary Graham. I adore you. (Which you already know.)

  • Julie Reynolds

    I have attended WOF since 1998 and I can not tell you of all the blessings I have received. I began volunteering for the events in 2000 and did so until 2006 when my husband was paralyzed. It is now more difficult for me to attend but it is ALWAYS a welcome diversion from the everyday. God has blessed me with opportunities to bring friends to these events on two different occasions and both times it was EXACTLY what they needed. God is ALWAYS FAITHFUL!! THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO and THANK YOU TOO MARY GRAHAM!!

  • Kathy Fannon

    Years ago I went to a Women of Faith event in Detroit and had a blast. I'll never forget "Marilyn Ricker, strawberry picker".

    I love the idea of allowing women to be real (hence the name of my business, Be Real…). We all go through hard times and it doesn't do anybody any good to pretend like everything is fine. A fake smile and "I'm doing great" doesn't help the hurting women out there. We need a place to be real and deal with the issues that hurt our hearts.

    PLEASE consider coming to the Van Andel in Grand Rapids, MI; I think it seats 12,000. The women of Michigan need some encouragement. Jobs and the economy are especially tough here so we can't all afford to travel out of state for a conference and it would be great to have one in our 'back yard'. :) (And make sure Tammy Trent is at that one!)

  • Judith Hylton

    I am Pastor's wife who have taken women from our church for three years. I am amazed at how the Lord has used this ministry to touch the lives of so many women in our church. I have now moved to Illinois and to a new ministry and will be planning again for the women of our church to attend this life changing event. My 24 year old daughter just shared last night at a new members event how she recommitted her life to the Lord at a Women of faith conference in Cleveland OH. Little did I know when I was planning these events it was my own daughter 's life that was impacted by this event three years ago. God Bless you all for what you do for women. I am now a prayer partner for your ministry. Thanks to Mary and her team.

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Nope! I haven’t ever been to Women of Faith conference. Icurious like others to know more about the same.

  • Kerrionmarathon

    I attended a Wof F conference in 2010 with a group of women from my church. I for one was disappointed with the experience. One sales pitch after another, stories that were supposed to be unique to our region ( ie weather related, demographic related…) were repeated at the next large city that they went to, only tweeking the fabricated story to fit the new city. ( My aunt attended there…said the same thing). Pushing to recruit a certain number of people for the following years conference, and be awarded an all expense trip
    paid to Tennessee. All the while right outside the arena are the photos of thousands of children that need sponsoring! Attending your conference in not inexpensive, so of course by recruiting more attendees, you all make more money. Instead of the all expense trips, why don’t you donate all that money to the very children you and World Vision sya need our help!!! It reminded many of us…I think one said it was like Jimmy Baker and Tammie Faye. The personal stories were touching, if indeed they were accurate. But we all have our personal stories. With the unfortunate passing of most of my family, and raising children with special needs, I have plenty of personal stories of my own. You are going after the “heart strings” of these women with these stories that you tell. And then of course there were the books that some of your speakers wrote, on sale of course, right there on sight. The amount of time that was spent in actual prayer was about 90 seconds, that was for the entire weekend! It was truly a business, to pad the pockets of those involved, there can be absolutely no arguement to that fact. Spiritual…it is all what one can take away from the experience, some in our large church group came away feeling better than others, many others shared my very views. I know thta my one comment will not change how you all conduct your business, money will continue to pour, you will continue to give away these free trips to anyone who can bring in more business (which translates to more money for you)…World Vision will continue to set up their photo display of the world’s needy children, the rich get richer and some needy chidren will get a sponser…some good can come from it, but there could be SO much more.

  • Jerry masoka

    thanks for blessing and touching many lives across the whole universe. in southern africa in a country called zimbabwe people feel blessed if your songs start playing especially your album outrageous joy. please keep on doing aand raise the name of God high