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.
Men’s ministry is built around the needs and expectations of women—or more precisely, the older, softer men who show up for men’s ministry events. So the men’s retreat features singing, hugging, hand holding, and weeping. Men sit in circles and listen, read, or share. We keep our conversations clean, polite, and nonconfrontational.
While there’s nothing wrong with men doing these things, it feels feminine to a lot of guys. So they stay home. I’ve heard the same thing whispered about Promise Keepers rallies: certain guys are turned off by the singing, clapping, hugging, and crying that go on there.
This is why men’s ministry tends to attract the sensitive guys and the older guys. These fellows are less concerned about projecting a masculine image to the world. By programming according to their tastes, we make younger, riskier guys disinterested in men’s ministry. Ironic, isn’t it: men’s ministry is driving away the very men we need most in the church!
Sometimes men’s ministry fails because of the labels we’ve adopted. A few years ago I was invited to a “Men’s Purity Conference” at a local church. I did not attend. It sounded like they were trying to turn men into bars of soap. Men don’t want to be pure as snow: they want to be dangerous warriors for God’s kingdom.
Let me be clear: there are few issues more important to men than moral purity. But if that’s the goal we’re pointing men toward, we’re going to fail. Men must embrace moral purity as a means to achieve a higher goal. When we make purity a goal in itself, we lose men. Same when we make “personal holiness” or a “quiet time” or even a “passionate, intimate relationship with Jesus” the primary goal of Christianity. As men, we do these things only to prepare ourselves for the battle.
These distinctions may seem subtle, but they are vitally important. If we want to reach men, let’s start talking like men! Let’s create some men’s ministry that will attract younger, risk-taking men. of their lives.