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The Secret of Getting Men In Church & On Mission

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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

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.

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