The church today faces one of the greatest challenges in Christian history: the mass exodus of boys (and men) from the church. Seventy to ninety percent of all boys will leave the church. Most won't come back. That exit is part of a larger cultural story about our boys.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, many parents and educators grew increasingly frustrated with the gap between boys and girls in school. Boys excelled in almost every area over girls. Because more boys attended college than girls, it gave them an advantage over women in the workplace.
In response to that crisis, the U.S. Government invested over 100 million dollars to give girls equal opportunities and extra attention in schools. In the span of a generation, concerned parents, educators, and the government collectively changed the storyline of girls (and women) in our culture. Though there's still work to be done, a tremendous amount has been accomplished. Girls and women have excelled in areas of life once seen as the exclusive domain of men. As the father of a focused, career-minded, want-to-change-the-world daughter who has a master's degree from London and a law degree from the University of Minnesota, I'm grateful for that change!
But now we face a different challenge. Our boys have been left in the dust. They now lag significantly behind girls in many areas of education, economics, and career. Many boys have no clear idea of what it means to be a man in this new world of equality. While we are able to tell girls a better story about themselves, now it's the guys who are confused about their place in the world. The result is that we're raising a generation of "lost boys," many of whom have no idea what it means to be a man in the church or in culture.
The quest for boys
I have two children: my firstborn, a daughter, and my second, a son. I am also a grandfather of a granddaughter and two grandsons (so far). I have some experience raising both boys and girls. In raising my two children, I recognized their differences not only as a female and a male but also as two unique personalities. It wasn't until recently, however, that I began to understand and appreciate the inherent differences between the sexes. Looking beyond the egalitarian/complementarian conversation (so loaded these days), there are real differences apparent in childrearing—of hormones, interests, and views of the world. Boys and girls are different.
I've been a pastor since 1984. Like the overwhelming majority of church leaders, I used the discipleship tools available through Christian publishing companies for our youth. Most of them did not cater specifically to boys or to girls but offered mixed-gender programs. I didn't think twice about it. I did subconsciously recognize the differences in the ways boys and girls learned when I taught confirmation to seventh graders for the first time as a student pastor. But other than that, I never gave any thought to the differences between boys and girls and what that might mean for their discipleship.
In 2005, I read David Murrow's book Why Men Hate Going to Church. It was a no-holds-barred look at how the church has skewed ministry to the way many women learn and respond, but that as a result, men are staying away en masse. David argues correctly that while men still fill most pulpits, women overwhelmingly fill the pews. Subtly and not so subtly, we have positioned the gospel to speak to the learning and worship styles of women, but we've lost our men.