Holiday services and men

  • Christmas lightsKyle 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.

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    November 19th, 2013 | David Murrow | 15 Comments |

About The Author

David Murrow

David Murrow is the director of Church for Men, an organization that helps congregations reach more men and boys. In his day job, David works as a television producer and writer. He's the author of four books. He lives in Alaska with his wife, three children, three grandchildren and a dachshund named Pepper.

  • David Murrow

    I’m not saying children should be excluded. I’m saying they should not be the focus. When Christmas services are all about trotting the adorable kids out for a talent show in front of parents snapping pictures, guys get the wrong impression of what church is about.

  • David Murrow

    Wow! What do you think of this idea guys?

  • Des williamson

    Maybe I should add that the beer swap went so well the women came to me and said they would rather have a glass of champagne than flowers so I compromised with a glass of Prosecco with a strawberry in it for next year’s mothers’ day service!

  • will

    A song men can use in Christmas worship:

    Andy Kenway-Am I A Soldiers Of the Cross

  • Agape COC

    In my book, Am I Sleeping With the Enemy? Males and Females in the Image of God, I suggest that the issue is not men feeling that the church or worship is too feminine (although popular authors would suggest this) but that the key points of discipleship are challenging to men. While current male spirituality authors indicate that the church should “masculinize” our worship and liturgy, the Biblical texts suggest that men are called to be counter cultural. The texts also, in light of Roman culture, suggest that Christians not imitate the popular image of masculinity involving power, violence, and oppression. Discipleship involves submission, respect for authority, devotion, peace, compassion, and a focus on social justice–all issues that these authors suggest are more for females. In my 27+ years of ministry to men of all ethnic and economic classes I find that the majority are not hesitant to go to church, they are hesitant to give up a Sunday and be with their family. This, according to Paul in Eph 5-6, is why Christianity and the Church must call men to redefining masculinity in light of Jesus and discipleship. This is also why the infancy stories were not witnessed by the masculine group in Israel but the marginalized shepherds, magicians, and a widow.

  • David Murrow

    I tackle this issue head-on in my book, “The Map: The Way of All Great Men.”

  • Agape COC

    Me too :)

  • David Murrow

    Perhaps you should put this book on your Christmas list…

  • Agape COC

    I have. I have also discussed your first book in mine along with other authors. You are welcome to put mine on yours–or I always offer PDF files to ministers, students, and missionaries. I appreciate what your have written and you make some good points. While I understand your thoughts, as a minister and seminary instructor who works hands on with men both in the church and the community–their response to many of the writings is more negative. I think that attracting men has become more of an emphasis that calling them to be disciples. This is something I have found from my students, the young men who are leaving/have left the church, guys with father wounds, and the many males who are struggling with addictions and cultural masculinity. Our work with the Portland Police is finding this an issue as well. The very reason they avoid church is compassion, and that is dangerous to them. However we have made tremendous headway with them partnering with them in addressing the homeless and the Johns (those convicted of soliciting prostitution). Thanks for what you are writing, while I do feel compelled to speak out, I do know you are trying to help men–and we need this. I’m not some guy who only speaks or goes around the country doing seminars–but a guy who is very hands on with men, as I am sure you are. However, I do believe that the masculinity pushed in our culture goes against the grain of discipleship that the early church emphasized in the Roman Empire.

  • Zeb Edelman

    So men should be the focus? It is disturbing to me that you named your dog in your introduction, but not your wife or kids. The last thing any religion needs is more male participants. Women have so much to give, I hope God will open your eyes.

  • David Murrow

    The title of my blog post is “Holiday Services and Men.” You are free to focus on whomever you want at your Christmas services. I’m just giving tips to anyone who wants to focus more on men. And the reason I identify my dog and not my family members is harassment. I get a lot of opposition (and a few threats) and I don’t need to put them in the line of fire.

  • Michael Daehn

    Great stuff Dave. I feel like the Holiday services are generally not representative of what it is like to attend. Doing something for guys is cool, but if it’s a one time deal they won’t like it when they come back. I’ve been doing a beer and bible study with some guys that don’t go to church. It’s fantastic.

  • Des williamson

    Alex – I don’t think you have heard what was said – The point Dave is making is men find what we do in church culturally difficult so it is our responsibility to make the Gospel culturally as relevant as we can – that is the Christian principle of incarnation. Don’t forget when Jesus said ‘let the little children come to me’ he already had 12 committed men, a handful of committed women but no children – the situations is somewhat reversed today!

  • David Murrow

    Thanks for the backup Des, couldn’t have said it better myself!


    You are going to the wrong Christmas Eve Service. Go to the late night one it isn’t usually focused on children. It’s more adult. It can be really cool too (especially if you go to a music orientated church)

    TBH…. I’ve been to many churches and usually men are in charge of everything but playing the piano and teaching young children’s lessons. I’ve even been in congregations where it was considered wrong for women to lead men so…… there is a lot of variety I think….

    Seriously what church do you not have men up front O.o most churches I go to have at least near half male leadership even if most regular attenders are female. And stories about dangerous missions and martyrs I heard about even as a small girl in the girls bible club. Same with action films as illustrations… since youth group. Also there is such a thing as a church with no all men’s pancake group? Obviously we need to trade churches. Mine is closer to your desires.