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The Secret of Getting Men In Church & On Mission

I was jogging through our neighborhood asking myself the question, “What’s the deal with men and church?” I mean, it’s a real problem.  Men are no longer going to church. Consider these stats: The typical congregation is almost 2/3 women. Only one out of six men attend church on a…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I was jogging through our neighborhood asking myself the question, “What’s the deal with men and church?” I mean, it’s a real problem. 

Men are no longer going to church. Consider these stats:
  • The typical congregation is almost 2/3 women. Only one out of six men attend church on a given Sunday. 
  • Nearly 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands.
  • Midweek services are even worse.
  • Almost three out of every four boys raised in church will abandon it.

Up ahead I saw my neighbor, an Iraq war vet who is a Christian but doesn’t go to church. He was shirtless, leaning against his porch, smoking a cigarette, looking at his phone.

I stopped and asked him, “Hey Jason – I have a question, why don’t men go to church?”

“I guess because there are more hypocrites inside the church’s walls than outside.” 

I asked him why women still go to church.

“Maybe it’s so they can gossip. Church is boring.”

When I got home, I googled it and found out, my neighbor is right! The most frequent answers were

Church is boring

Church people are judgmental and graceless

Men are hurting & bored

It’s not that complicated, if you look at men today, they are reeling from a culture that is toxic in ways the church has few answers for:

No fathers. Strong families have become rare. Divorce shatters many and now there are triple the number of single parent families as in 1960. This article explains it. So most boys do not have a father in the house modeling what a godly man looks like.
Extended adolescence. They are playing video games.
Career-focused. Guys have always had the mandate of protecting and providing. It’s a righteous thing. They just need to listen to Jesus about his priority in their lives more than they listen to the world.
Feminization. Women tend to talk about stuff that other women are going to care about. So if there are four times more women than men on missions, that is what you’re going to hear about.  

Jesus was different

Who can blame them? Men especially are looking for some excitement in their otherwise humdrum lives and they’re looking for a place to belong and be accepted. Would that be true of your church?

Yet at it’s outset, church was nothing if not exciting and grace-filled. 

Look at Jesus – he began his movement with men by calling them out of the church walls, into community, and out on mission. 

And that’s the secret to getting men back into church and on mission. Do what Jesus did. Call them out of the church’s walls, into relationship and out on mission. 

But when we do missions these days, typically it reflects the modern church and men have opted out. 

It’s an issue I’ve wrestled with for 30 years. Adventures has mobilized over 100k to the mission field. But on our best program, the World Race, typically just one out of four participants are men. 
It’s what other mission agencies have experienced. One missionary expressed it this way: “Two thirds of active missionaries are married couples. Another third are single women. The rest are single men.”
Jokes aside, the secret to getting men back in church is to follow Jesus’ original pattern.

Not boring

So what did Jesus do? He didn’t wait to meet up with his disciples at church like we do. He went out to where they were. He developed relationships and then called them to adventure. Read the story of Peter in the book of Luke

Jesus met Peter where Peter worked. He met Peter’s needs. He showed him a different way of living and he called him in to relationship and out on mission – to adventure. He walked with Peter for three years, showed him the power of God in casting out demons, healing the sick, and giving hope to hopeless people.

If we want to put men back in church, we will first put them out on mission like Jesus did. Instead of preaching at them, we will show them what relationship looks like and what the power of God looks like. 

Jesus never intended for his church to be so irrelevant and boring. He called men to adventure and filled them with Holy Spirit authority. And from there they changed the world. 

It wasn’t long after Jesus called out his disciples that he sent them out two-by-two to try out the authority they’d been delegated. How many of our churches do this? How many even try it? 

In all my years of trying to mobilize guys, two things work especially well. If all I’ve got is a long weekend, I want to get them out on a hike with other guys. Something about the out of doors, smoky campfires, trails, and the company of other men does something to activate them.

If guys have a week that they can take, the other thing that works is a mission project with other men. Honestly, there’s something about being in the company of other men working together to build the kingdom that calls the best out in a man.

Messy & Grace-filled

How did we get the reputation for being hypocrites? It’s because we turned our churches into clubs based on goodness rather messiness. 

Whenever religious people showed up in their fine clothes, Jesus showed them their mess. He hated the showy faith of religious people and called out their hypocrisy. 

Why can’t we do the same? Why can’t we lead with our mess and vulnerability? Instead we proclaim a gospel of grace but can’t keep ourselves from judging. It turns off men and women alike.

The best churches I’ve seen are AA groups where grace is a first principle and everyone leads with their vulnerability. Some of us need to take a field trip to an AA group so that we can see an example of what a messy, grace-filled community looks like.

So, here’s the bottom line: If you want to get men back into church, why not get them out on mission and into a messy world that needs them? If your church is boring, maybe you should give Jesus’ method of mobilizing men a try. 

Jesus went after men before he began ministering to women. Men deserve to see that his methods still work if only we will try them. It’s a secret worth discovering.

Comments (21)

  • Keep stirring the pot Seth ;). Good stuff. Men are made for more than being good and aspiring to parking lot attendant one day. They made for more than filling your volunteer calendars up so the church machine can run better. I don’t think church wants to go where men take them…into risks…into leading leaders…into dealing with major BS detectors….Honestly it’s easier to be safe, domestic, predictably risk averse and boring. None of that attracts me as a guy. I don’t think church is reaching in faith for big enough things from God to attract me. Building buildings, so you can fill seats is boring! What is so different than my company wanting to make more money or any other business venture. “The kingdom of God is not a matter of mere talk but of power.” Thus the BS detector…. More of my thoughts on this specific subject in…small ideas and bored men…https://troyandkathy.com/portfolio/small-ideas-and-bored-men/

  • Seth – You are right on target, but for one thing — ‘church’ is not where you show up on Sunday. Attendance is not the goal of a disciple’s life. Church is what happens when you are on mission together. And the occasional gathering for larger group meetings should be more like a pep rally celebrating the success of the mission, then baptising and commissioning everyone to go back out to the world.
    If the people who so diligently show up every Sunday morning took that time to go out and care for the poor, the widows, the immigrants and the homeless, the effect would overwhelm our society. There would be worship in the streets.

  • Hey Seth, I am a world race alumni. Thanks for investing in me!

    What you wrote about in this article is what we are doing in Memphis. We are seeing a massive harvest! The strategy Jesus shows us works well. The World Race taught me a lot that has changed my life forever and I believe it will transform a generation.

  • Thanx Seth, this an eye openner. If we are followers of Jesus then we have to do what he did…. keep them coming brother . God bless you.

  • Good stuff, Troy. I love to see your focus on these issues – we’re going to see breakthrus in a lot of lives because of that!

  • You’re lucky to be married to a guy like Jeff, Alycea. He has a great heart and he loves others well. And Karen and I are lucky to have you both as friends!

  • Hi Ryan…will you please expand on what you are doing in Memphis? How a new (old) strategy was actually initiated? I ask because my church sure needs it, and already-successful approaches save time. Thanks brother!

  • Steve,

    You can call me at 901-650-2165 for more in depth conversation. But in summary…

    I go to the University every day to be where the students are. I’m training groups of students throughout the week to go onto campus throughout the day to ask if we can pray for other students. This opens the door for a few things. It helps students become comfortable sharing the gospel and helps them practice. We share a short glimps of the gospel and build relationship. Then we ask who we minister to if we can meet with them for lunch or coffee when they would already be eating lunch or coffee. We try to meet the students at times that they already spend at the campus instead of telling them to come to church. Students are extremely busy. The meetings have allowed us to share the gospel more in depth, lead people into relationship with Jesus and disciple them. I teach them to hear Gods voice and start asking them to pray for specific things so they can see God answer their own prayers.

    Two other practical needs I address are finances and purpose. Students are graduating with an average of $70,000 in debt. I am working to free a generation from the bondage of debt by training them to manage their finances well. I use Financial Peace University and help them identify their loans. I am also helping them discover their strengths and weaknesses. There’s a purpose for this.

  • Seth
    This explains the situation so well. I can relate to this from my own church and many experiences. We are so traditional and our mind set of church success is not based on Jesus’ model, so I want to introduce change but I’m not sure I know how to introduce it and put it into place.

    I’d really appreciate it if you are someone who has done it would give me a basic outline or step by step way to introduce this to our leadership.

  • Seth,
    I enjoyed this and there are some things that stood out that I would like to see your thoughts on in a future blog. Maybe it could solicit responses and ideas.

    1. You said 1 in 4 people on the World Race are men. If the World Race offers what Jesus calls us to and what you described in your blog, why are men not flooding to do the race? How do we (the men on the World Race and alumni) show that the World Race is productive? I think there are many wrong perceptions that the race is a “diversion” that is “unhelpful” for your future – wife, family, career progression, etc. Especially if you don’t come from a missions-oriented church.

    2. Career focus for men. I believe there is a stigma of “irresponsibility” for taking a year off for men – especially if you cannot fund it yourself. As a transitioning vet without a family, the pressure to have a job lined up was immense. In fact, the Army mandated I have proof I applied for 2 jobs before I could be approved to get my final paperwork. If I had a wife and kids, I can only imagine this is more challenging.

    Thought: Can we capture what how World Race is empowering it’s alumni after the race? I’m not a marketing expert, but career progression has to be addressed to assuage this fear. Especially for those who are abandoning everything. We must show that God does not send men back into society empty handed, but honors men’s obedience to the call.

    Hope this makes sense. Again, great blog with great points for discussion!

    • Charles, in answer to your first question, my answer is that we have to tell a better story. If the guys on the World Race would do what you do and blog regularly, it would make a big difference.

      And your idea of highlighting WR alumni who have benefited from their experience is a good one.

  • The Men’s Travelling Team is a model I’ve seen work in North Africa for many years. One year program, just men in teams of 3 min up to 5 max, (there can also be a separate women’s teams), doing mission (praying, sharing, proclaiming, distributing NTs) in Morocco, Spain/Gibraltar, Tunisia and/or Mauritania. Three weeks traveling, one week of rest, then back out on the road. Lots of fun. Guy stuff. Adventurous. Cheap. Incredible impact. Life changing. Includes small group Bible studies to complete. (The Gospel Project by Lifeway is a good one.) Millions of souls to reach. Never gets boring. Men love it. Risk factor: moderate. (That’s half the faiith fun!)

  • This is a sexist rant that diminishes the contributions of women in the church suggesting that women are boring and gossipers. And Jesus did not go after men before women, that’s just a male supremacist lie and historically dead wrong. And the “feminization of the church” would be a good thing if it actually happened, but articles like this prove that women are still disrespected in the church.

  • This is so helpful as a woman reading this that is married to a man who would rather be out doing what Jesus said instead of sitting around talking about it inside a building. May this article continue to ignite the flame of a movement of men who are tired of a religion without power. My man remarked to one of our heathen friends a few weeks ago that he was reading an amazing book..yep, the bible. The heathen who would never step foot in a church is willing to read this amazing book with my husband because he has built relational capital with this guy on the tennis court, hanging out as couples, and doing very unchurch things like wine tastings. These guys he has played poker with, manski, and tennis, are now choosing to call him in their crisis moments. I am thankful for a man like Jeff and you, Seth, along with Clint and so many others who are willing to be messy in front of a dying world, and who are discontent with a religion without power. As a woman, you can still find me soaking in the worship service and taking notes on a regular basis…for me..it brings life and water to this thirsty soul.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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