GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Imagine you are a man who hasn't attended a church in years. You enjoy such activities as golfing, hunting and fishing on Sunday mornings. You think it's more beneficial to spend time outdoors with a few of your closest friends than it is to be cooped up in a church building.
Now imagine that your wife has asked you to try going back to the local Southern Baptist church one more time. Do you think the average worship experience will entice you to come back?
Upon entering the service, worshippers sing what sound like sappy love songs to Jesus. The lyrics say things like, "Hold me close, let your love surround me," "Jesus, I am so in love with you" and "I'm desperate for you, I'm lost without you."
After the singing, church attendees hold hands for prayer and hear a sermon emphasizing concepts such as a "personal relationship" with Jesus, having "intimacy" with God and "sharing" their feelings with other Christians.
Finally, at the end of the service opportunities to serve in the church are announced. But these opportunities include only such things as singing in the choir, keeping the nursery, decorating bulletin boards and baking desserts for the next church potluck.
Would you, an unchurched man, find a church like this appealing and comfortable?
If you said no, you're not alone. Increasingly, men are not involved in church.
The U.S. Congregational Life Survey says that while the U.S. population is split almost evenly between men and women, only 39 percent of all churchgoers are men. Referring to Americans in the mid-1990s, pollster George Barna wrote that "women are twice as likely to attend a church service during any given week. Women are also 50 percent more likely than men to say they are 'religious' and to state that they are 'absolutely committed' to the Christian faith."
Lance Crowell, a church ministries associate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), said the story is not much different across the Lone Star State.
"Even though there are men attending church, more women are connected to their churches at a level beyond mere Sunday morning attendance," Crowell, who oversees men's ministry for the SBTC, said. "Men are not coming at the same rate as women, but even beyond that a large percentage of those who are coming are not truly connecting, serving, and especially not leading."
Many churches, Crowell said, do not realize their ministry style caters almost exclusively to women. But Baptists must reprioritize to reach men and, in turn, transform the church, he said.
"Several leaders in men's ministry have noted how so many churches have catered to women in their style, look and programming," he said. "This is largely because the ones who care the most in the church are often the women. We need to help churches, leaders and, of course, men, see that they are the first step in changing our churches and making a difference in the community."
Leon Podles, in his book "The Church Impotent," argued that the feminization of Christianity began in the Middle Ages. As a new, feminized piety increased in the church, men began to exit, he wrote. According to Podles, this feminized Christianity is dangerous for both the church and society.
"If the feminization of the Church continues, men will continue to seek their spiritual sustenance outside the churches, in false or inadequate religions, with highly damaging consequences for the church and society," Podles wrote.
Despite its feminization, Christianity has the resources to attract men without compromising its message, Podles said. He suggested that in order to reach men, churches emphasize the struggle of the Christian life and brotherly love.
"Christianity has within it the resources that allow it to appeal to men, to show that not only will Christianity not undermine their masculinity, but it will also fulfill and perfect it," he wrote.
Suggesting guys get together to talk about their feelings won't cut it, according to Navigators leader Geoff Gorsuch.
"The word 'feelings' is a bad word for men," Gorsuch told men's ministry leaders attending a Discipleship and Family Week at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center. "You avoid that word. You just don't go there if you are trying to start a men's ministry group."
Instead, he said, "Give him a challenge. Tell them we are going to meet together because we want to take the Christian life more seriously; we want to build better families or we want to change this community. You can't get them there by saying you want to develop a deep, intimate group."
Men's Fraternity provides one avenue for addressing topics of particular interest to men. Available from LifeWay Christian Resources, the curriculum draws the work of Little Rock pastor Robert Lewis, offering three year-long studies.
At least some Texas churches are catering to the unique needs and personalities of men, with the goal of reaching them with the Gospel and then discipling them.
Buddy Griffin, minister of men and prayer at Sagemont Church in Houston, said portraying Christianity as weak or unmanly misrepresents Scripture, and his church has designed a program that trains hundreds of men each year to be disciples of Christ.
Sagemont strives to gear evangelism and discipleship programs uniquely to men. The church started a Men's Fraternity program three years ago that has ballooned to more than 700 participants. A recent fishing tournament was designed to reach lost men and served as an entry point through which at least one lost man started attending the church regularly. Sagemont has even decorated its men's restrooms according to themes that might interest some men -- including bass fishing, duck hunting and golf.
Sagemont currently has an average worship attendance that is 55 percent women and 45 percent men. But Griffin, who has worked with the SBTC to help other churches grow their men's ministries, has a goal of reducing that gap each year until worship attendance is 51 percent male in 2014. Other goals include filling 70 percent of church leadership positions with men and matching 95 percent of the congregation's fatherless boys with a man for mentorship.
"Where do men go to be cheered on for the noble and righteous things in life?" Griffin asked. "Men always go where the noise is. So we try to make a celebratory atmosphere among our men when they make godly choices."
Rodney Thompson, a layman at First Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, emphasized that a top-notch men's ministry is not only for mega-churches like Sagemont that have a full-time minister for men. First Baptist, which averages approximately 1,000 in worship, began a Men's Fraternity program last year and plans to begin the program's second year this fall. Additionally, the church holds a weekly morning men's prayer time.
Thompson, who serves on the men's ministry leadership team at First Baptist, said the key to reaching and discipling men at smaller churches is the pastor and other staff members. If men see staff members who have a strong work ethic, it will motivate them to join the work of ministry as well.
When men see ministerial staff "doing more than just the normal doing the announcements during the service and leading the music" and "not sitting behind the desk," they will be motivated to make extra effort in church activities themselves, he said.
Scott Moody, pastor of First Baptist Church in Silsbee, Texas, has found Thompson's thoughts on ministerial work ethic to be true. In the past year, Moody has dedicated himself to organizing and starting a Men's Fraternity program at his church, which averages 400 in worship.
After reading an article about men's ministry last summer, Moody acquired Men's Fraternity materials and asked Griffin to mentor him on how to do men's ministry. In the fall of 2006 First Baptist Silsbee launched its Men's Fraternity program with two classes each week.
In response to Moody's work, 27 men finished the Men's Fraternity course in April. The church launched its second year of Men's Fraternity in August.
"We have seen men's lives transformed where they have become leaders of their families and stepped up to the plate," Moody said. "We've seen marriages transformed."
Glenview Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, also has focused much of its men's ministry effort in a Men's Fraternity program. The church, which averages 1,500 in worship, has completed two years of Men's Fraternity, averaging approximately 125 men each year.
"I never have seen anything that really has impacted men and their families like this," said Jim Kendrick, Glenview's associate pastor for pastoral care ministries. "The pastor is constantly having wives saying, 'That's one of the best things you've ever done to bring the Men's Fraternity in.'"
In addition to Men's Fraternity, the church tries to make sure some of the congregation's décor is friendly to men. When a deacon recently enlisted his wife to help decorate the men's ministry bulletin board, Kendrick objected, telling the deacon the bulletin board needed to be designed by a man.
"I said, 'I don't want a men's bulletin board that looks like females (designed it). We want people to look at that and know it's a man's bulletin board,'" Kendrick said.
Glenview also hosts men's movie nights. At a recent movie night men ate hamburgers and watched "Facing the Giants."
Reaching men has not been limited to larger churches. Ridgewood Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas, averages 180 in worship and has launched a thriving men's ministry. Ridgewood offers Men's Fraternity as one option in its Sunday night program of classes, and it plans beginning in August to hold Men's Encouragement Nights in homes periodically. The encouragement nights will involve men and their sons and include a challenge for men to live out God's calling on their lives.
Taking a page from Sagemont, Ridgewood is remodeling its men's restroom in a Western theme.
"A lot of times men come and they feel like there's nothing for them," Kyle Campasi, Ridgewood's pastor of pastoral care, said. "They feel like there's something for women, something for children, something for youth, but nothing for them. This is one small step we're taking right now to make it feel more manly."
One of the biggest challenges for Ridgewood is teaching men to embrace their God-ordained roles in the family and the church, Campasi said.
"We see a lot of women stepping up and trying to take leadership because their husbands aren't doing what they're called to do," he said. "So going back to the teaching of the roles is what we're fighting for.... We're for the teaching of what the Gospel says the role of a husband and the role of a father should be."
At Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas, Pastor Steve Garrick said the church intentionally keeps the number of church activities to a minimum so that men have the time to be "the pastors of their own house." Families, he said, can become splintered among many different weekly church activities.
"We don't want to undermine the family by ministering to its various segments, rather than to the family as a whole." On those occasions when men are needed to assume leadership for particular areas of church ministry, Garrick said the matter is addressed directly at a men's meeting, instructing and encouraging, while not chiding, the men to assume their role as leaders.
Heritage Baptist laid the groundwork for such an expectation of men when Garrick took them through a course from the life of David, emphasizing how he showed initiative and leadership. "This has helped us define leadership, and to counteract the passive role that is often exemplified for men in the world." The concept is also addressed in premarital counseling, he said. "We want our families starting off right."
Churches, Garrick said, must do a better job of teaching the role of men and women in the home and church, declaring confidence in the inspired Word of God.
"To be honest, we men generally don't want to hear this instruction because it goes against the grain of our sinful nature," he said. "Our tendency is to try to be 18-year-old teenagers, and responsibilities only get in the way."
Furthermore, a feminist culture adds some resistance, he said. "Male leadership is condemned as patriarchy, and this makes men hesitant to assert themselves as leaders. We cannot let modern revolt against biblical mores undermine our confidence in the inspired instructions of the Word," Garrick insisted.
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, has adopted a multifaceted approach to men's ministry. A Bible study at 6:30 each Friday morning that reaches 400-700 men weekly, men's small groups and a mentoring program known as Project Timothy make up the discipleship aspect of the church's men's ministry.
An annual sportsman's feast along with regular service opportunities outside the church walls are among the most important evangelistic ministries for men at Prestonwood.
"Our sportsman's feast is designed as outreach," said Bill Borinstein, Prestonwood's minister of spiritual development. "We challenge our guys to buy a table and fill it up with unchurched men. Last year we had 1,400 men come to that. Each year we've had it, we've had numbers of salvations and rededications and commitments."
The men's ministry's mission statement at Prestonwood is "to biblically equip men to be the spiritual leaders in their home, their church and their place of business." Borinstein said the ministry strives to fulfill that mission by preaching the Word of God and exalting Christ.
"We feel like when we start challenging people, we're going to push them away," he said of typical men's ministries. "But I think the exact opposite happens."
David Roach is a freelance writer in Louisville, Ky. This story first appeared in the Southern Baptist Texan, online at www.texanonline.net.
© Copyright 2007 Baptist Press. Used with permission.