Gang tagPolice in Los Angeles are battling an upsurge in gang activity. Officer Frank Flores of the LAPD estimates that more than 200,000 gang members call Los Angeles home. Jose is typical:

Jose came from a broken family and joined [a gang] when he was 13. He was arrested three times, the last time at age 19 for killing a homeless man with other gang members and stealing 26 dollars he was carrying.

Jose recently left prison and is trying to reform his life by working for Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles group that provides jobs to former convicts. “I want to change, I want to change,” he says. Then he goes silent. Without his gang Jose seems lost.

Why is Jose so drawn to his gang? “A gang gives you something that nothing in the world or no amount of money can give you: a family, an acceptance,” he said.

The church can learn a lot from gangs. Men join gangs for one reason: they want a father figure. Many troubled men grew up without strong male role models. But these men do not turn to church because the congregations they’ve attended are predominantly female, and the spirit of the place feels so warm, nurturing and gentle. Men need a masculine path to Christ. Young men crave a wilder, more demanding faith, and don’t mind the spur of discipline when it’s administered in love.

What if our churches were structured differently? What if the basic unit of the church were not the committee, but the band of brothers? What if every congregation had men leading other men to maturity in Christ? What if these spiritual fathers were challenging young men, and sending them out on dangerous missions (as a gang leader might send out a young initiate)?

Today, a young single man 18-35 is the person least likely to show up in church. Do you think a church based on spiritual fathering might turn that around?