60 – Attracting Men Back to Church
The latest Barna research indicates only 29% of men are attending church on a regular basis – other researchers suggest half that number – compared to 45% of women. That’s 1.6 women for every man. What’s going on here?
Once upon a time there was a manufacturing plant that produced an equal number of trousers and dresses.
It was the best of times. The prosperous plant operated on three shifts. Nearly everyone in town worked there and, of course, wore trousers and dresses. It had been that way for generations.
But forty years ago, when some of the children grew up, they became bored with factory work – especially the ones who wore trousers. They felt most of the trousers and many of the dresses the plant manufactured were out of style – not relevant to the times. So they left to search for a better life.
As there were now fewer people in town, the demand for trousers and dresses began to decline – especially the demand for trousers. Few noticed the change day to day, but after forty years the plant – which had the capacity to run three shifts – was down to a single shift. That left a tremendous unused productive capacity, though few seemed to notice and hardly anyone made a fuss about it. After all, the troublemakers had left, and those who remained seemed content to leave well enough alone.
While the demand for both trousers and dresses declined, the demand for trousers declined much more sharply. In fact, after 40 years of decline, the trouser division was producing 40% fewer trousers than the dresses division.
Since overall demand was off, income was down. Because the demand they did have was heavily weighted toward dresses, plant management, as you might expect, increasingly catered to the dresses division. When management felt they could afford to purchase new equipment, they naturally bought it for the dresses division, since that’s where the sales were.
Dress purchasers insisted the plant keep up with current styles, but management rarely heard from trousers at all. So the dresses division received a large budget for new product design, while trousers hardly received any budget at all.
Since more people worked in dresses than trousers, most of management’s time focused on dresses. Each year they spent less time thinking about trousers, and trousers became terribly out of step with the times. In fact, some of the designs had not changed in decades.
The trousers they did make seemed to be of inferior quality -not able to stand up to normal wear and tear, nor the demands of everyday life. Since the plant wasn’t making as many trousers, there just weren’t enough good ones to go around.
It became a vicious downward spiral. In fact, conditions deteriorated so far that poor trousers sales threatened to bring down dresses too.
Some of the more perceptive people began to ask, “Why can’t they make trousers the way they used to?” Eventually, a few of the more innovative plant managers began to explore ways to solve the problem.
Management realized that if they were ever going to get the factory back to full capacity, they would have to try some fresh ideas to increase trouser production. They would have to design some new products to attract purchasers, stimulate demand for new trousers, re-train some managers, and re-tool the assembly lines to make good trousers.
All they needed was to find raw material that could be made into trousers, get it into the plant, and start producing trousers suited for the times. It dawned on the managers that they would soon have to add a second shift.
THE STING OF THE LACK OF THE GOSPEL
How can we attract men back to church? First question: What kind of church would “a pair of trousers” want to attend? Notice the assumption? That men would “want” to attend. First, let’s remember that we can’t force men to be seekers. We will be most effective when we prepare to minister to men who want it.
How do we get ready for seekers? Well, first things first. Let’s exegete the culture as we exegete our Bibles. That means we have to find out where “our” seekers feel the sting of the lack of the gospel. The spectrum is wide, but the big three these days are marriage (and family), money, and meaning. Find a man’s point of pain and you’ll find an open door.
IS ANYBODY MAKING TROUSERS?
A lot is said about what the church isn’t doing, but let me tell you what it is doing. There is currently an explosion of new men’s ministry in America.
This year the Southern Baptist Convention has men’s ministries in approximately 18,000 of 41,000 churches, and about as many men as women in discipleship groups. The Assemblies of God has 6,000 men’s ministries in 12,000 churches (in 1996 they had 1,200 men’s ministries). The United Methodists have 8,000 men’s ministries in about 36,000 churches. The Church of God has 2,000 men’s ministries in 6,000 churches. And the Evangelical Free denomination has 650 men’s ministries in 1,250 churches (in 1996 they had 312). Many men’s para-church servant ministries report exponential growth as they serve local churches.
Churches are flourishing when they preach Christ while addressing the practical needs of men where they feel the sting of the lack of the gospel.
Should the church try to attract men with relevant topics, contemporary services, and professionally orchestrated worship? We have witnessed a great debate over the starting point in the church growth movement.
Actually, the issue should be the ending point not the starting point. In theology both God and man are valid starting points. Besides, it is a flawed argument to only look at starting points. Ending points are equally important. The issue isn’t whether we “start” by talking about, say, money, but whether we “end” by preaching the Christ of the Bible.
Frankly, I hear a lot of talk about growing churches that have gone overboard and missed Christ, but in my travels I haven’t personally seen any. Have you? I’m sure there are a few, but even then, it’s not fair to judge a principle by its worst examples.
As Francis Schaeffer said, “Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.”1
Could it be time to end this debate and get back to the work of attracting men to Christ – each of us in the unique way God has called and gifted?
The ends never justifies the means in matters of faith, but in the Scriptures we see a lot of flexibility in the “means” of sharing God’s love and grace.
“WWJD”-What Would Jesus Do? – We don’t have to look far to find the Master of Relevance. Jesus healed people if they needed healing, preached the gospel of the kingdom to people if they needed a savior, taught the principles of kingdom living to people if they needed to know how to live their faith, and trained men to be leaders if they needed leadership skills for his calling on their lives.
Paul Was a Chameleon – If ever a man used whatever “relevant” approach would work at the time it was Paul. He taught that circumcision meant nothing, then circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3). He taught against being subject to the law, then observed it to win approval in Jerusalem (Acts 21:25). He said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
A Positive Approach – Also, Jesus and Paul always took the high road. They presented a positive attitude. Paul didn’t curse the Athenians for their many gods, upsetting as it was – he reasoned with them. As always, he took a rapport step with them: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious…” (Act 17:22-23).
Wherever we start, and whichever method we use, our singular goal should be to faithfully present Christ to men. We must lead men to see their own sin and their desperate need for a Savior. Like Paul, let’s use every conceivable technique we can to show, declare, reason with, prove, and persuade men that Jesus is the Christ and that they should make a full surrender of their lives to him.
1. Is your church making enough “trousers” (men disciples)? Why or why not?
2. Does your church need some fresh ideas to make more dependable “trousers”? What is one step you could take to help your church do a better job of making disciples of men?
3. Does your church need some creativity to attract men back into the church? What is one idea your church could adopt to attract more men?
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
© 1998. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved.