This past Wednesday was my buddy Aaron’s birthday and he invited us to this EXTREMELY out of the way steak restaurant to celebrate his big day. Twelve guys joined us on an hour long caravan to talk, laugh, and have some of the best steak we’ve ever eaten.
Towards the end we each took time around the table to share a blessing with Aaron: something we loved about him, a prayer, or just a funny story. But as we were going around the table blessing Aaron, I realized what an extremely unique thing this was for so many men to be on a spiritual journey together and to feel like brothers.
I say unique, not because it’s impossible for men to be spiritual and like each other, but because statistics and experience tell us that men typically are disengaged from the church. For what it’s worth, church attendance nationally is 39% male and 61% female. My wife regularly tells me about women she talks to outside of our fellowships who wish that their husbands were friends with other men. There are even whole books written about why men hate church.
In our house churches, though, this has never been an issue. We have done absolutely nothing to attract or retain the men in our midst, but despite that fact most of our men our engaged and have their deepest relationships inside the church. What causes that? I have some thoughts:
- Men love risk. For the most part, church as we know it is typical and unpredictable. Everything for the most part continues to happen as it always has. Most church services are clean, tidy, and require very little from them. We, on the other hand, are messy. No meeting is exactly the same as the last one. In fact, a meeting we have one Sunday will be completely different from the meeting we have a year from now. I tell people who are thinking of coming to one of our house churches that fist fights have been real possibilities a couple of times in our history. The ladies (especially my wife) hates it when I tell that story…but every once in awhile when I tell it to a guy, I see his eyes light up. Men don’t want a meeting, they want the real Jesus and communitas. They are looking for a band of brothers who will go with them into battle.
- Men are active, not passive. Deep down, even the most passive, sedentary man truly wants to make a difference. They were made for more than just sitting around and listening to someone else talk. The same reason boys and young men have trouble in school is the same reason men struggle with traditional church. Men want to do something. They aren’t anti-learning, they’re anti-sitting. I often tell people that when two guys go and set out to do something, they call it a “mandate” because men build intimacy through doing things together. Men want to do something significant. It’s written on their hearts by God. And the minute we tell them to sit down and shut up, we lose them. What we’ve done, instead is encourage men to play an active part in our churches: “Teach. Serve. Evangelize. Grow. Lead. Plant a church. We need you.”
- Men actually want relationships, just not fake ones. Frankly, that’s most of what we do around here. For at least seven of our last ten years, most of our house churches have been a part of small, same gender discipleship groups we call 2’s & 3’s. Part of the purpose of 2’s & 3’s is confessing our sins to one another and praying for each other in the areas where we are weak. And while this discipline is just in general good for everyone spiritually, it has actually enabled men to build relationships around Jesus without the pretense of being perfect or all put together. This is a key to true brotherhood that often gets forgotten when we are part of churches that want us to look all put together.
Friends, we need the whole body of Christ at the table to pull off the kind of harvest the Lord has in store for us at the end of the age. This includes men and we simply cannot be content with only 39% of them.
Now, I’m not so naïve to think that these things can’t be done in a traditional church. They absolutely can. And to the degree you can add these elements into whatever type of church you’re part of, I would encourage you to do so. But our current structure is designed to give us the kind of results we are already getting. Don’t be afraid to make a change.
God designed the church to be a place where women AND men can be engaged and fulfilled. To the degree that we allow risk, activity, and true relationships flourish in our churches, I think we’ll see a resurgence of men becoming what God has called them to be.
The choice is ours: will we be the kind of church where men can engage, or are we content to go on without them?