Kyle and Bonnie have been married almost twenty years. Kyle hates going to church. Bonnie loves it. This has caused tension in their marriage, as she subtly prays, preaches and prods Kyle toward religion, and he steadfastly resists. But Kyle “does Bonnie a favor” and attends church three times a year: Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday and Mother’s Day. He’s one of millions of men who attend only on these holidays.
Bonnie looks forward to these occasions, and each time prays earnestly that God will touch his heart. But nothing ever happens. Kyle feels as out of place as a ham sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah.
Why are holiday services, which draw huge numbers of irreligious men, so ineffective at engaging them? I believe that holiday services are, by their very nature, poorly suited for men. They tend to hide the church’s greater mission under a mountain of religious tradition and ceremony. Holiday services also give men a skewed perspective on what the gospel is all about.
How so? Let’s look at what happens at these services.
On Christmas Eve, Kyle sings carols and hymns from his childhood. He’s likely to see an adorable children’s choir dressed like little angels. He hears a message about the baby Jesus: sweet, lovable, lying in a manger. Kyle’s conclusion: church is for kids.
On Easter, he encounters a different Christ: nailed to a cross, a helpless victim. Or he meets a resurrected Christ who pops up out of nowhere, more like a friendly ghost than a real man. Kyle’s conclusion: church is for weaklings or weirdoes.
On Mother’s Day, Kyle notices the extra flowers, the sentimental stories, and hears a sermon extolling the feminine virtues of motherhood. Tear- jerking tributes to Mom bring out the Kleenex. Kyle’s conclusion: church is for women.
By attending at Christmas and Easter, Kyle gets the beginning and end of the story, but misses the entirety of Jesus’ dynamic ministry. By attending on Mother’s Day, Kyle gets a blast of femininity that confirms his suspicion: the ideal churchgoer is a woman.
Bottom line: the Christmas/Easter/Mother’s Day lineup all but guarantees that men will find nothing compelling during their visit to church. Holiday worship services reinforce the male belief that church is not for guys.
How can a church do a better job reaching men at the holidays? See these services as a unique opportunity to impact large numbers of unchurched men. They are the “Super Bowl” of the liturgical calendar – so approach them as such:
- Focus teaching on Christ’s power, mission and manhood, rather than his tenderness, meekness and gentleness.
- Feature men up front (not just the pastor).
- Talk about adventurous, dangerous missions.
- Tell the stories of martyrs.
- Promote your events for men.
- Employ masculine imagery and language.
- Play a video clip from an action film as a metaphor.
- Err on the side of professionalism, rather than homespun.
- Avoid cutesy, sentimental moments, including adorable children on stage.
One more tip: plan a January sermon series on a topic men would be interested in, and promote it heavily on Christmas Eve. The more provocative the title, the more likely men will want to come back and hear what you have to say.
Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” The holiday tides wash in large numbers of men who are strangers to God. Make sure your church services are relevant to these men if you want to see them again throughout the year.