Sandra raised three boys. She took them to Sunday school every week. Vacation Bible School was a highlight of their summer. She drove the lads back and forth to youth group. She sacrificed time and money to send them to Christian camps. Sandra even helped finance a mission trip to Mexico.

Today, Sandra’s sons are young adults. Not one of them goes to church. There’s no sign of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

At least seven out of ten boys who are raised in church abandon it during their teens and twenties. If it weren’t for marriage and wives to drag them back, many of these men would be lost for good.

What’s wrong with boys?

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with our young men. Maybe they’re falling away because of the way we’re raising them in the faith. Could our Sunday schools and youth groups be unintentionally setting up boys for failure?


Bored boyThink of what takes place in a Sunday school classroom. The successful young Christian must be able to:

  • Sit still
  • Read aloud
  • Memorize
  • Verbalize
  • Cooperate

If this is what we expect of young churchgoers, girls will outperform boys almost every time. Boys absolutely hate to lose, but it happens every week in church. By the age of 10 we’ve convinced most boys that they’re not cut out for church. High testosterone, athletic boys feel particularly out-of-place.

Those boys who are still in church at age 13 have the youth group to look forward to. But in the last 20 years, youth group has undergone a subtle transformation. The emphasis has changed from fun, kinetic activities to singing and teaching. The gurus tell us that today’s kids are no longer interested in fun and games, but are seeking a passionate, intimate relationship with Jesus.

In order to foster this passionate, intimate relationship, today’s youth meetings feature long periods of singing: thirty to forty minutes is not uncommon. Youth stand in a darkened room and sing love songs to Jesus, led by a praise band of their peers. Once the singing is done, they listen to a message from God’s Word presented by the youth leader.

Youth groups are becoming more like this because church is becoming more like this. People expect to feel something at church. So we do subtle things to turn up the emotional temperature. We dim the lights. We slow down the music. We repeat verses. We repeat verses. We repeat verses. We offer more time for sharing. We describe Jesus as a man who wants a passionate, intimate relationship with us.

Girls love this. What teenage girl doesn’t want a passionate, intimate relationship with a man who loves her? Females thrive in this emotional hothouse, but most boys melt and evaporate. Before you know it, you’ve got thirteen girls and five guys at youth Bible study. And there’s not a jock among the guys.

By their senior year, girls are 14 percent more likely to have participated in a youth group. And they are 21 percent more likely to have stayed involved in youth group all four years of high school. Congratulations. The stage is set for the female-heavy church of the future.

* * * * *

Christ left us a dangerous and demanding mission. It’s a natural for young men. Yet the majority of our young disciples are women, because our Sunday school and youth groups eliminate most of the masculine boys during their teens.

By focusing so much on feminine values, strengths, and expression in Sunday school and youth group, we’re preselecting the church of the future. The only boys who make it through this spin cycle are the ones whose skills and personalities match the profile (verbal, studious or sensitive). A few others survive thanks to the intentional discipleship efforts of courageous older men. But the most masculine, aggressive, and athletic boys ages eighteen to twenty-five are long gone. Single women wonder, Where have all the good Christian men gone? We weeded them out of church as boys.

It’s not time to panic—it’s time to pray. Remember, God loves boys and men—even the ones who sleep in on Sunday. For more suggestions on how you can help young men find Jesus, read HOW WOMEN HELP MEN FIND GOD. To get an autographed copy, click here.