When a man knows what’s going on and is in control of his situation, spiritual growth is nearly impossible. But when he is confused and off balance, he must look beyond his own power and understanding.
Second Chance Church in Peoria, Illinois, a church that publicly and unashamedly targets men, is growing. Pastor Mark Doebler concludes his worship services with something he calls The Men’s Huddle. At the end every service, “Coach Mark” calls the men forward for that week’s game plan. Here’s what Coach Mark has to say about the huddle:
“I must be honest…there are times that you have an idea and you know immediately in your heart that you just have to run with it. The huddle was not one of those ideas! I had a strong suspicion that it might just come off as cheesy, or hokey….I don’t care for either. But, in the spirit of an entrepreneur, I decided to give it a try.
Stop your snickering. This is a serious subject.
In a young woman’s room it’s not uncommon to find various keepsakes of her childhood, including stuffed animals, baby pictures and dolls. Go to a boy’s room and a different portrait emerges: it’s as if his childhood never existed. There’s nary a Lego, Tonka truck or Mutant Ninja Turtle to be seen. Instead the walls are plastered with the images of sports heroes, curvaceous models and alcoholic beverages.
Why the difference?
Psychologically speaking, young men have an intense need to separate themselves from childhood. Women, on the other hand, celebrate their childhoods for a lifetime. No shame accrues to a woman who revels in her youth, but in our society men are supposed to strain toward manhood. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but it’s the way things are and have been for centuries. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Young men are still eager to do this.
So we have another reason men avoid Christianity: there is a strong psychological link between church and childhood. Women, who are free to enjoy the delights of their youth, attend church without shame. But men are wary of an institution that has strong ties to their formative years.
Women’s and children’s ministries flourish in practically every U.S. congregation, but few churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry. For example, there are 35,000 United Methodist congregations in the U.S. but only 6,000 offer a chapter of the United Methodist Men’s Organization.
Furthermore, most attempts to start a men’s ministry end in failure. Why is this? Here’s an example of a typical men’s small group. See if you can figure out why it’s not growing:
Tony went to men’s small group at his church—once. First, the men sat in a circle and sang praise songs for about ten minutes. Tony was asked to introduce himself and share about his life. Next, he was paired with a stranger and asked to share one of his deepest fears. Then, everyone was asked to share a prayer need or a praise report. The men read from the Bible, taking turns around the circle. Finally, the men stood in a circle and held hands for what seemed like hours, while one by one they bared their souls to God. One man was quietly weeping. The guy next to Tony prayed for ten minutes straight, and his palms were sweaty. Once the meeting was over, Tony didn’t stay for cookies. He hasn’t been back.
Men’s ministry so often falters for this simple reason: it’s actually women’s ministry for men. When Christian men gather, they’re expected to relate like women and to enjoy the things women enjoy.
Dan Schaeffer told me the sad tale of his son’s nine best Christian buddies. All were pillars in the youth group, but within three weeks of high school graduation all nine had turned their back on church.
Why is this happening? We work so hard to train them up in the way they should go. How can a boy simply abandon church after 16 years of Sunday school, 8 years of VBS, and 4 years of youth group?
I believe we can combat this widespread apostasy – if we rediscover young male initiation.