What is a Sanctuary Sister? {Plus *free* template}

girls smiling

There are many ways to foster a deeper connection among women friends. However, sometimes it takes intention and coordination to cultivate these relationships. A sanctuary sister is similar to the concept of  a “secret sister” or “soul sister” and the point is to get to know and encourage someone in your circle (in this case church, hence the tern sanctuary).

What is a sanctuary sister?

Sanctuary sister – n. a female friend met through church who is now a sister in Christ

Simply put a sanctuary sister is a friend that you are connected to via a sanctuary sister program. The program consist of completing a form, being paired up with another lady in your group, and showering small blessings on one another. The program is given a specific duration of time with the hopes of getting to know someone in your circle a bit more.

How Sanctuary Sisters Came About

I created the idea of a sanctuary sister while planning the annual Christmas party at my church for our women’s ministry. I found myself stuck because the secret sister program we did the previous year didn’t go as well for some. When you are given a secret sister, you know who you are to give gifts to, but the receiver doesn’t know who you are. With this setup you need to have an end date in mind to have a time for everyone to confess who they had as a secret sister, otherwise it is forever a mystery, which is what happened to us 🙁 One way around this is to write out who is paired with who from the start and then reveal the pairings at the close of the program.

sanctuary sisters sitting in field of flowers

Then there was the idea of a soul sister, which I learned through and participate in via my MOPS group. With a soul sister, you are paired with one other lady and you both immediately know who each other is. This is great and really helps women in the organization to get to know one another. In my case, I was paired with someone I already knew, but with the form you fill out it a great way to have a friendship grow even deeper.

While I did like the idea of knowing who your sister was throughout the program, the name soul sister didn’t quite do it for me. Mainly because my hope and prayer was that these pairings would point each other to Jesus. I’m not saying that soul sisters  or secret sisters don’t do this, I was just trying to think of a name that would lend itself more clearly to the concept. So after some research and thinking, I came up with sanctuary sister. It sounded a bit cheesy at first, but then it grew on me.

Sanctuary – n. a place of refuge 


Sister – n. a close female friend or associate, especially a female fellow member of an organization

My plan is have the program run through the year and to check in at the end to see how it went for everyone. I am hopeful as I have been having a positive experience with my soul sister and feel that it will go well.

Is this a scam?

Let me get this out of the way, the secret sister, soul sister or sanctuary sister set up can potentially be a scam if you are not participating in person. Every year around Christmas time there is a secret sister invite that goes around on social media that promises your dozens of gifts for your purchase of one gift. That’s about all I know about it. I’ve never tried it, but my advice is to steer clear of online gift exchange programs unless you personally know the organizer(s) and FULLY understand the set up.

You can know for sure that you are not participating in a scam if you are signing up for being a part of a sanctuary sister exchange in person and with people you know and trust..

How to get a sanctuary sister?

Sister exchange programs are usually hosted by your local church, MOPs group, or other local meet ups. Typically organizers will distribute a form that each participant completes. This form will include general information about you and fun questions to allow who you are matched with to get to know you a bit better.

If you are not a part of a local organization that is organizing a sanctuary sister, consider gathering a few friends and creating your own. If you would like to use the form that I created, you can access it here.

friends sitting talking

What do sanctuary sisters do?

Sanctuary sisters are meant to help women cultivate meaningful relationships. A lot of time at church, especially if you attend a large church, it can be difficult to get to know other women. Church life on a Sunday morning can be so busy, this is especially true if you have children. Trying to mingle with other families can be a real challenge when you have little hangry people to gather and get home.

Sanctuary sisters can do as much or as little as they feel comfortable doing and the beauty of it is it is not limited to a particular day/time.

Ideas include but are not limited to:

  • sending cards
  • praying for one another
  • giving small (inexpensive yet meaningful) gifts
  • getting together for a cup of coffee or tea

Related: 21 Ways to Bless Your Secret Sister

There are dozens of ways to be a blessing to your sanctuary sister. Get creative. It really is the thought that counts!

Don’t forget about your Sanctuary Sister

One of the main reasons that I feel secret sister setups tend not to work is because it is easy to forget about your sister and there really isn’t a built in model of accountability. It’s definitely not intentional but with life happening, it’s just how it is. I suppose someone could take on the lead to remind the group, but with people not at every meeting or even forgetting all together who they were assigned, it can still get lost in the sauce. The good thing about knowing who your sanctuary sister is, is that you almost end up serving as each other’s accountability partner. We humans have this thing where we feel the need reciprocate so when we receive something from our sister we want to return the gesture. Also, just saying hello to your sister or sending them a quick note can go a long way (especially if you sister is new to church or the organization).

Here are 4 tips to make sure you don’t forget about your sanctuary sister:

  • Determine at the start of the program how often you want to reach out.
  • Set a reminder on your calendar.
  • Take a picture of the form with you sanctuary sister’s information so that you have a digital copy of the details.
  • Pray for your sanctuary sister.

What to give your sanctuary sister

If you are unsure as to what to give or say to your sanctuary sister, consider the following as a way to generate ideas on when or how to show your sister that you care:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit what she many need or what gift would be a blessing to her
  • Remember her birthday or favorite holiday
  • Think about what could be a potentially difficult time for them (Valentines Day for singles, Thanksgiving/ Christmas for those with family far away, etc.) and reach out accordingly
  • Pray for her! {I am purpose}

My prayer and hope is that sanctuary sisters would be a source of encouragement and strength for women that are involved. That it would be an avenue for the Lord to use to offer hope, love and stretch our faith when needed ❤️

If you try sanctuary sisters in you local organization, I would love to hear how it goes! Here is the form to print to get started

what is a sanctuary sister

Have you ever participated in a secret sister or soul sister exchange? What did you like or not like about them?

10 thoughts on “What is a Sanctuary Sister? {Plus *free* template}

  1. I’ve never heard about sanctuary sisters. Thanks for your detailed articles! I guess I have a friend like that, although we haven’t met through church.

  2. Thanks for sharing! I once submitted the term Sanctuary Sister to the ladies of a church I used to attend and they acted as though I was speaking something blasphemous. Maybe I can use it where I am now and use your definitions for clarification, if that is okay with you. Thank you and have a blessed day

    1. Absolutely!!! Glad the definition could offer some help! You can print out the template as well for reference. Hope it will work out ❤️

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