Safe for the whole family. How many 17-year-old boys do you think you’re going to attract with a slogan like that?
Christianity used to be a dangerous mission. But today it’s something that keeps people safe. Like a bicycle helmet.
Women and older adults flock to church because it’s built around their values. But men and young adults skip church because most congregations ignore or vilify their values.
What do I mean? Studies show that men and young adults tend to be challenge oriented. Some of their key values are adventure, risk, daring, independence, change, conflict, variety, pleasure, and reward. Individuals in these groups are more likely to seek thrills, take chances, and accept dares. They want to be known as bold, adventurous, even dangerous among their peers.
On the other hand, studies demonstrate that women and older adults tend to be security oriented. Some of their key values are safety, stability, harmony, cooperation, predictability, protection, comfort, responsibility, support, and tradition. Individuals in these groups are more likely to play it safe, seek security, and avoid risk. They don’t mind being known as reliable, practical, and friendly among their peers.
Of course, there are exceptions to these generalizations. There are teens who play it safe and seniors who go bungee jumping. There are practical young men and dangerous old women. But considering the genders as a whole, women are more likely than men to gravitate to venues where they feel safe. And that’s what churches provide: an anchor of stability, predictability, and tradition. In a dangerous and risky world the church is a sanctuary of safety and protection. In a world of conflict the church is a place of peace, harmony, and comfort. It’s the one place where nothing ever changes (and we are allowed to throw a fit if it does.)
When it comes to men, the modern church is dangling the wrong bait. There just aren’t as many security-oriented men as there are challenge-oriented ones. So the church catches fewer men.
Did Jesus intend for His church to become a place of security, free of risk, challenge, and adventure? Did Christ come to tame men or to set them free? Is Jesus looking for docile men or wild men? John Eldredge notes “I think most men in the church believe God put them on the earth to be a good boy.” Be safe. Uphold tradition. Keep your promises. Be nice.
Now, try this on: be dangerous. What if that were our message to men? If churchgoing held the prospect of risk, adventure, and daring, you’d have an abundance of men, teenagers, and young adults signing up. That’s precisely what we find in the persecuted church today. It was also the situation in the early church when Christians were routinely stoned, beaten, or fed to hungry lions. When it’s dangerous to be a Christian, men are more likely to count themselves in.
But today’s church is all about safety. What’s our top prayer request? “God, keep us safe. Keep our kids safe. Watch over us and protect us.” God’s job is to keep our well-ordered lives flowing smoothly.
If we want to shed our reputation as a place for little old ladies of both sexes, we must recapture the challenge of following Jesus. The Christian life is not about becoming a nicer person. It’s a quest. When men see other men living the adventure, they’ll want in. When young adults see church as the place to find abundant life (the challenging life), they will come back.
There are wise churches that are taking risks, dreaming big, and bringing a measure of adventure back to the Christian life. These churches are built on values that men can relate to. They set high standards and ask much of their members. Their people are encouraged to rock the boat, challenge one another, and take risks. In short, these churches have guts. The biblical translation of the word guts is “faith.” Read any book on church growth: the congregations that are reaching the unchurched are sticking their necks out and accomplishing great things. Men are drawn to churches (and Christians) with guts.
– An excerpt from Chapter 3 of the book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. © 2005.