Southern Baptists made headlines last week by electing the denomination’s first African-American president, Rev. Fred Luter, Jr. of New Orleans. Luter was chosen unanimously to lead the 16-million member denomination for the next two years.
Many believe Luter’s selection will attract more racial minorities to SBC churches – something the predominantly white denomination needs to do.
But during his years as a pastor, Luter focused on attracting a different minority group: men.
When Luter took the helm of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans in 1986, the church had just 65 members. Most were women and children.
According to an article in the Baptist press, Luter, “thanked them for their involvement, but then set about discovering a way to attract their husbands and other men. By inviting men of the neighborhood to his home to watch a pay-per-view broadcast of a fight between Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, he developed relationships that multiplied into a steady increase in the number of men attending Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.” Some of the men who watched that bout at Luter’s house 26 years ago are still church members today.
“They came with boom boxes and loud music, with a beer can in one hand and a wine cooler in the other,” Luter said. “I appreciated them coming but they were going to have to throw away the beer and the wine cooler,” he remembered. “It was not a problem. They wanted to see the fight.”
According to Luter’s biography on the church’s Web site, “Luter focused his attention on bringing men into the fold. He felt that if you could get more men to attend church, the women and children would follow. ‘The man is the head of the family. If he comes to church he’s going to bring his family with him,’ ” Luter said.
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church is yet another church that proves Church for Men’s key principle: if you focus on men, your church will grow. In 26 years, Luter’s congregation has seen a hundredfold increase, growing to more than 8,000 members.
Like many denominations, the Southern Baptists are struggling to reach the younger generation – particularly men under 30. ”We cannot expect to reach this do-rag, tattoo-wearing, ear-pierced, iPod, iPad, iPhone generation with an eight-track ministry,” Luter said. “Things are changing and so we’ve got to some way, somehow change the methods of how we do things.”
The Southern Baptists are America’s largest Protestant denomination, but membership has plateaued in recent years. Baptisms have been on the decline for more than a decade. I believe the SBC could turn these numbers around with a renewed focus on men. I’m betting Fred Luter would agree.
So here’s my new goal: I’m hoping to schedule a meeting with Rev. Luter once the hubbub over his election dies down. I’m going to propose that the SBC launch a series of regional training events for its pastors, similar to the “Grow Your Men – Grow Your Church” sessions I used to co-lead for Promise Keepers. If Church for Men could motivate and train a thousand pastors (or more) each year on the fine art of reaching men for Christ, imagine the impact this would have on Southern Baptist Churches around the U.S.
Please pray that I’m able to get a meeting with Fred Luter. And if you know someone who knows him, please introduce us.