Much has been written over the past few years about the lack of male involvement and discipleship in the local church. Books on how to create engaging worship services that are gritty and rock n’ roll-ish, or how-tos on organizing “man” events of weight lifting, eating grilled beef, and drinking beer (sorry to my Baptist friends) are in abundance. But where are the men?
One would think that with the rise of church planting and prolific pastors and authors advocating for a type of “strong man” Christianity, we would see a difference in the membership of young fast-growing churches. But from mine and many others’ experiences, this trend of a manless Christianity has not only continued, but gotten worse.
We have done everything we can to open the doors for their acceptance and involvement, but when push comes to shove, the idea of staying at home watching ESPN, designing a logo for a new company, finishing a work project, or merely sleeping in, becomes top priority.
With this sad reality in mind, I want to share what I believe to be the 7 foundational actions we need to take as leaders to successfully engage the men within our churches.
Simply put, the word “acknowledge” means to admit the existence of something or someone.
Men want to be acknowledged. They want to believe that someone knows they exist and cares for them. They have a desire to be known. When they come into church, go to a small group, attend a church event, or anything else for that matter, they are looking for you (pastor) and/or someone within the church to admit their existence.
This does not mean that you personally need to meet and shake hands with every single male in your church every Sunday. However, it does mean that you can and should empower the men already within your church to make contact with other men.
Remember, on any given Sunday there are men (young and old) that were brought to your church by their spouses, a potential girlfriend, the music, your preaching, or many other things. And although they stepped foot into the building, they are waiting to be sought out and acknowledged.
A couple of years ago my wife and I were interning at a larger membership church in California. One day the Senior Pastor of the church and his wife decided to take us out for dinner, hear our stories, pray for us, and offer to mentor us.
I was blown away.
The thought that the pastor and his wife wanted to bless my wife and I with not only a great dinner and encouraging conversation, but also with their investment into our lives, was encouraging. Their willingness to bless us opened my heart to trust them as leaders and fall more in love with their church.
Even though most men won’t often admit it, they crave to be blessed. They are longing to be taken out for a burger, invited to a BBQ or football party, or merely welcomed into your home. But they are waiting for you to invite them. They’re not going to invite themselves. They’re not going to seek after you and ask if they can come to your home, go to a sporting event, or get drinks at a local pub. But they will say “yes” when you take the first step. And eventually, they will say “yes” to being faithful to your church because you have been faithful to blessing them.
This is a difficult topic to talk about because our culture has dumbed down the importance and differences of masculinity and femininity. But the reality is simple and obvious, men are looking to be challenged.They are looking to be given something to accomplish—something that will challenge them.
Now, this does not mean that every man in your church wants to build a new stage in your sanctuary or join a small group that meets at a local gym. It does mean, however, that every man in your church has been intricately designed by God to be passionate and skilled at something (or many things!). And because of this, they have an innate desire to be challenged within the realm of their passions and skills.
So, challenge them with something that will bring them joy and see results. Give them opportunities to succeed and/fail, and hold them accountable.
Here are a few examples I have seen done in different churches:
1) Challenge them to take their wife out to dinner once a week for an entire month and email you the benefits to their marriage.
2) Challenge them to pray with their kids each night for one week and see how it changes their relationships with their kids.
3) Challenge them to renovate the children’s wing of the church and have a “revealing day” where all the children and their parents get to see the renovations and meet the men who worked on their classroom or children’s sanctuary.
4) Challenge them create art, such as painting, photos, graphic art, and post it all throughout the sanctuary during a weekend of worship.
5) Challenge them to open up their homes and host BBQ’ing or renovation competitions for the men within their communities.
Let them Fail
In the process of challenging the men in your church, it is also imperative that you allow them to fail. Much of the reason why men are absent from church is because they are ashamed of their spiritual walks. They don’t pray much, they don’t love their families well, they don’t spend time reading their Bibles or talking with others about Jesus, and when they walk into the church, they feel condemned.
It shouldn’t be that way.
When you give a challenge to the men in your church and allow them to fail, you are in essence, living out the message of the gospel for them. You are saying to them, “I know you can be great. I know that God has gifted you and called you to something huge. And you know what? If you fail, it’s okay! There is grace for you when you forget to take your wife out for dinner. There is grace when you get angry at your kids. There is grace when you fail at a project. There is grace for you!”
When you let the men in your church fail, you are empowering them to experience the message of the gospel, which is often not what many of them experience when they step foot into most churches.
Listen to Them
Everyone man has something to say. And no, I am not talking complaints about how loud the music is on Sundays, or how boring your sermons have been recently. Rather, every man has joys, worries, complaints, past hurts, opportunities, etc., stirring within their hearts, but many of them have no outlet by which they can share these things.
They often hold a position in their job where they cannot speak their mind, and when they are home, they feel uncomfortable sharing what’s going on in their hearts with their spouses or friends for fear of being seen as a failure. However, many are willing to talk with a pastor that they trust and have built a relationship with. And it’s our calling to listen to them and hear them out.
With that said, don’t expect most men who are beginning to trust you and your church to set up a time for “counseling” or a one-on-one meeting right away. This is oftentimes too awkward for them. Rather, expect to spend time with them in a relaxed atmosphere and use that opportunity to ask pointed questions. It may take time, but trust me, they will eventually enjoy your willingness to spend time with them, ask questions, and genuinely listen.
Remember, most men don’t have an outlet for someone to listen to them. So be proactive in creating space for conversation, and rejoice in the small wins.
In a side note, when they share their thoughts about the church, your leadership, or their views of God and Christianity, take note. These are invaluable resources to learn from.
Pray with Them
When you meet with a man from your church or if he comes up to you during a Sunday service or small group meeting, take the time to pray with him. Take the opportunity, no matter the circumstances to let him hear your love for Jesus and offer time for him to pray as well.
Many of the men in your church have never seen Christianity modeled to them by a godly male leader. Besides hearing you or other preacher prays before their sermons, they may never hear another male pray out loud. But when you spend time praying with them, they will begin to see that an intimate relationship with Christ is not only healthy, but the greatest relationship in the world. They will experience fellowship with another man that is often not found in relationships outside the church. And ultimately, when you pray with the men in your church, they will be encouraged to spend time praying with others as well, including their wives and children.
Most of all, point them to the Father.
Every man needs a father. Every man craves the love, acceptance, and approval of a father. But in most situations, the men that are walking into your church are fatherless—both spiritually and literally. They have never experienced the loving grace of a earthly father and because of this absence, they struggle to understand the deep void they feel for a spiritual or heavenly Father as well.
Therefore, above and beyond every other “action” discussed in this post, your goal needs to be to point them to the Father. Point them to Christ Jesus. Point them to the message of the gospel that says they are anointed children of the most perfect and loving Father in the universe. Remind them every chance you get that God loves them, is proud of them, and has gone to the greatest lengths to be near to them.
Even the toughest and most non-emotional men in your church need to hear that God delights in them, is passionate about their lives, and wants the best for them and their families. They need to hear this. They need to see this. And they need to encounter this while they are with you and in your church. Because with out it, they are merely joining a social club that will not satisfy the deepest longings of their souls.