Ministry Monday: Who put the dads off?
Posted by Steve Ransley, 11 Apr 2016
Steve Ransley summarizes some of his conclusions from a research project looking into the significance and effectiveness of men's ministry in the UK church.
Bear with me. As a Liverpool Football fan it fascinates me that - according to an official survey - around 80% of Liverpool fans are male. These men are willing to sacrifice, at least every other week, three hours of their Saturday afternoon, thousands of pounds and have their emotions go up and down like the big dipper. Now journey forward to Sunday. The picture in churches up and down the country is a very different one. Men are sacrificing, singing and following – but statistically only 43% of churchgoers are men. Why?
Those men involved in men’s ministry whom I interviewed for my research project assumed that men’s ministry is necessary simply to attempt to address this gender imbalance: put simply, we are not reaching as many men as we should. But my research suggested a second reason for valuing men’s ministry: the health and growth of the church as a whole. David Murrow in Why Men Hate Going to Church, for instance, observes “if the men are dead, the church is dead.” Pete Alwinson, as cited in Patrick Morley’s book, Pastoring Men similarly writes, “as it goes with the men of the church, so it goes with the church.”
Now I can picture a certain unease as I write this. But the results of having spiritually healthy men in the church speak volumes. James Watts-Ditchfield, a vicar in Bethnal Green over a hundred years’ ago (his book, Fishers of Men, was published in 1899), ran a men’s service attracting 600 men every week. He reported increased regular church attendance, more confirmations and more baptisms. Far more recently, whatever you might think of Mark Driscoll, his deliberate focus on discipling men had a huge impact on church growth. It seems if men are targeted this will significantly impact overall church health and growth.
Some of those I interviewed were aware of this potential benefit, but remained reluctant specifically to target men – I suspect out of fear of being perceived as sexist. Yet if we look at the life of the UK local church, we have to concede that it is heavily stacked towards ministering to women and children. Indeed, churches run weekly activities for such groups – yet not for men. You will often see advertisements for youth and children’s workers and for women’s workers – but how many churches have you seen advertise for a men’s worker?
One might reply that (male) ministers and assistant ministers usually take on leadership of men’s ministry. But therein lies the problem: these ministers have a million and one other things to do, and specific men’s ministry consequently takes a back seat. Men’s ministry is not as significant in the life of the local church as it should be. And the church is suffering for it.
The successful men’s ministries reported in the literature I looked into had one thing in common: weekly, men-only, structured discipleship. In contrast, my findings from the UK church scene showed that men’s ministry tends to be sporadic and unstructured. Most Christian men are discipled only in house groups and one-to-one settings. But in those instances where discipleship occurred within a male-only setting there were many very positive reports and encouragements.
Now I’m going to suggest something that may be a little controversial. Here goes: The most effective place for a man to be discipled is a single sex weekly group. From the reaction I’ve had when I’ve made this suggestion, anyone would have thought I’d suggested throwing women out of the church altogether! Such responses themselves indicate the depth of attachment to current models of mixed house groups. Now I’m not suggesting that you need to abolish such groups and have the men and women meet separately, but what I am suggesting is that serious thought be given to prioritising men meeting with other men, even over meeting in mixed house groups. Men are busy: if there is one activity they can get to outside of the Sunday service, it has got to be the one shown to be most effective for their spiritual growth. I firmly believe this is single-sex discipleship groups. But why?
The church seems geared rather more to the feminine than to the masculine, and house groups ramp that discrepancy up several notches – a place where men and women drink tea/coffee, eat cake and share their lives. I don’t know about you but I have never really felt comfortable about opening up in front of other women other than my wife! The truth of the matter is that men grow better alongside other men as they see one another living for Christ. The church does not seem to be growing on present models, so why not give it a go?
It is no surprise that the men’s ministries I read about that were significant and strategic were also highly effective. The UK men’s ministries I surveyed first-hand were not as successful as they could be – primarily because they did not have regular male discipleship underpinning them. Whilst some excellent isolated events were being put on for men, these were solely evangelistic and required a lot of resources in terms of time and money.
It is especially discipleship among men that is neglected. It is this that leads me to the title of this article – “Who put the Dad’s off?” A popular event run at churches ostensibly for the purposes of discipleship is typically called something like, “Who let the dads out?” This is a time when men bring their pre-school aged children, drink coffee and eat bacon rolls. The intention of such initiatives is laudable. But isn’t this simply women’s ministry for men? Think about it. Events for women at church revolve around chatting, drinking coffee whilst the kids run around, or are looked after. All “Who let the dads out?” has done is added bacon. But men in general do not ‘work’ the same way as women: they need structure. If there is going to be chat it needs to be around a topic, with questions and teaching. I personally could not think of anything worse than giving up my Saturday morning to speak to a bunch of men I don’t know (and probably won’t get to know well) whilst I tell my 2 year old not to slap that other two year old around the face!
If we want to see the men in our churches spiritually healthy, more significance needs to be given to men’s ministry. I would go as far as saying that we need deliberately to target men as we already tend deliberately to target women and children. To do this weekly male only discipleship must be established and men must see the value of this. Discipleship will take time but it will be worth it. Onward!
Steve Ransley is an Ordinand studying at Oak Hill College, about to start a curacy in the Leicester Diocese.
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