We have a problem here in the West. Our men are leaving the church. Of course, huge numbers of men don’t even come to church. But that too is part of the problem. And for the few that do regularly attend, they are often bored and unengaged.
I called the men of our church together for a breakfast a couple of months ago (that’s about the only way to get men to come to something these days: feed them). When asked who the special speaker was going to be I replied, “I am. I’m going to talk about why men’s ministry has been failing and how we can get back on track.” Over 70 blokes turned up and we nearly ran out of food.
After some food and friendly talk, I got up and addressed them with some sobering news:
“In the UK, over the last 20 years, 38% of believing men left the church. For men aged under 30, nearly 50% left in the same period of time. I suspect the numbers here in New Zealand aren’t much different. We’re in a crisis fellas. And if we don’t do something about it, we’re not going to have any more men in the church – here at Grace or anywhere else.”
Some hands immediately shot up. Here were some of the answers:
- Men often find church a bit of a bore
- Today’s church isn’t built for men, it’s built for women
- Worship songs go too long and are all about feelings
- Men aren’t good at small talk; women often are
- There’s a lot of talk about being loving, caring and sharing and almost nothing about being strong, courageous or risking – the stuff men are wired for
I glanced down at my piece of paper. They nailed just about every point I had down. These guys aren’t dumb, I thought to myself. They see it.
“OK, I said, “So here’s what we’re going to do about it. This isn’t a silver bullet, and it might need tweaking along the way. But we’ve got to try something. Nothing going to change the way we are going.”
I then gave them a vision for a way ahead for men’s ministry at Grace. Big events (like men’s breakfasts, fishing trips etc) are OK, but they don’t transform lives. Nor do they build close community. And if we are going to succeed, we have to build community. My plan was to have small groups of men – no more than four, meeting regularly together in their own time. The key is to get the bible opened – at least for a portion of the meeting. There’s where the transformational power lies. That’s how men’s lives are changed. Meeting together just to shoot the breeze (what we often call “fellowship”) just doesn’t cut it.
It looks something like this:
– Plan a weekly meeting before work, after work or at lunchtime (max. 1 hour)
– Share for a few minutes how your week has gone
– Read a portion of Scripture together, out loud
– Talk about what God is showing you
– Pray for each other and leave
I then had slips of paper distributed to all the guys and had them indicate their preference for the day, time and area they would like to meet as a cluster. About 75% responded. Then, with the help of some others, we arranged all the men into groups. A number of them are now up and running. But the true test of whether it succeeds is time.
I met with my cluster group for the first time after work last Monday in the local Mall. One of the guys, Shane is a new Christian. After some brief introductions and ordering a coffee, we got down to business. I started by having us share our testimonies – the story of how we come to faith in Jesus. Then we opened the book of 1 John and read the first chapter out loud. I gave them a few minutes to look over the passage again and think about what it was saying. “OK,” I said, “so what is God showing you? What is this about?” After some discussion, we concluded the focus was on this word “fellowship.” But in amidst all this, a whole bunch of questions came up (mostly from Shane, who was eating this up) about the Word, the Spirit, the Trinity, the difference between disciples and Apostles – things that matter but we often don’t talk about. It made the discussion come alive and the two other men in the group – Gavin and Vern, were speaking into Shane’s life with God’s truth. I sat back and watched. If I could duplicate this 3 or 4 or 5-fold in our church I thought, we’ll turn this whole town upside-down.
It will be interesting where things might be 6 months or a year down the track. There are no guarantees. All I know is we have to try something.
I went to that cluster meeting a little apprehensive about how things would turn out and left walking on air. In talking about the meaning of true fellowship in the bible, we actually experienced it. I think this is how God intended things from the start.
Especially for us men.