March madness is going on now, and you can’t help but notice the “men” in the crowds. Painted from head to toe in their teams’ colors, standing – and even hopping up and down throughout the whole game. Leading cheers, chants, claps and yes singing – na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey… the fast fight song and the alma mater and on and on. So you can’t tell me that men don’t have emotions and they can’t cheer clap or sing. They do for all their so-called heroes who are fleeting…
Why are men so effusive in praising a basketball team, but so timid praising God in the sanctuary? Here are some observations about men and sports:
1. Most men don’t go nuts at sporting events. The majority of fans cheer but they don’t paint their bodies or bring signs. The ones who go crazy are a small subset of highly committed young men. They do it to get attention.
2. Sports is ritual combat acted out before a live audience. Spectator sport is actually a stage play. The forces of good (the home team) are battling the forces of evil (the visiting team). Men love this story.
3. Men react emotionally to something surprising. It’s the uncertainty of sports that make them so exciting to men. When my team scores, I offer praise automatically. When the other team scores, I sit and quietly worry. Men’s cheers are an autonomic response as the tension of uncertainty gives way to jubilation. This is why men don’t cheer during a timeout – they cheer when something great happens.
4. Men don’t praise all the time. It goes in seasons. March Madness is so exciting because it happens just once a year. If there were big-time basketball tournaments year round, the Final Four would not be the big deal it is.
What lessons can the church learn from this? First, we need to stop judging a man’s commitment to Christ by how excited he gets during a worship service. Men tend to be less emotive than women, even at sporting events. And young, highly committed men praise more robustly than older men. (Young single men are the demographic group least likely to attend a worship service)
Second, we need to get the big story right in church. In times past, the gospel was a story of good vs. evil. Men could relate to that. Today, it’s about finding a personal relationship with Jesus. Relationships appeal more to women than men, and that’s one big reason more women respond to the gospel.
Third, we need to re-introduce surprise into our worship services. Most churches fall into a numbing pattern of predictability: Three songs. Announcements. Two songs. A sermon. An offering. Two songs. Dismiss. Yet the Bible says of Jesus, “The people were astonished at his teaching.” If we want men to praise, we need to surprise them.
And finally, I think we need to recognize that men will not praise all the time. They need a break now and then to let the anticipation build. This is one reason I discourage singing at men’s retreats. We already sing so much in church – men should get a break from the routine. Instead, we should help men connect with God in other ways. Now that will surprise them!