Reaching the Disconnected Male

Looking back, Larry Kay says his life was "full of confusion, full of lust and pain, and almost completely void of God."

"It impacted everything—business relations, my marriage, my friends," says the 45-year-old Georgia resident who used to work 60-to-80 hours a week.

"We had been attending church for several years but we were in the balcony, sneaking in and out, not being involved, going there because we felt that church should be part of our children's lives. I was going through a lot of pain. My business was doing well because I had concentrated on it; it was my life. My marriage, however, was suffering drastically."

Larry's wife, Meg, asked him to attend a men's conference their church was sponsoring. The father of two teenagers went, but tentatively. After all, he thought, what good is success in business if the life it provides for is an utter failure?

No man fails on purpose. No man wakes up in the morning and says, "Well, I think I'll see what I can do to ruin my life today." But they often do.

And churches that reach such men are few. As one leader puts it, "A man is a hard thing to reach!"

For pastors, it's like the young basketball player who did such a terrific job in practice that his coach put him on the starting team. Ten minutes into the season opener, though, his play was downright terrible. The coach called him over to the sideline and said, "What's going on? You're not moving the ball or scoring."

"Coach," he said, "I'd be doing great if it weren't for all those tall guys out there waving their arms in my face!"

He didn't get it. Getting the job done amid arm-waving opposition is what the game is all about. In men's ministry, likewise, the natural resistance we encounter in reaching men is part of the game.

Yet few ministries have as much potential to revive our families, churches, and communities. When one man turns to Jesus Christ, it breaks a chain of bondage to sin and broken relationships. One changed man can set a family for many generations on a new course of joy, peace, and reconciliation. I know of nothing in this life quite so intoxicating as watching a man come to faith and repentance.

Setting Men in Motion

In business we have a saying: "Your system is perfectly designed to produce the result you're getting." If you are manufacturing cars and every third car rolls off the assembly line missing a front right fender, your system is perfectly designed to produce that result.

The same applies to ministries. If men in our churches such as Larry don't "get it" spiritually, we can assume it's because our ministry system is perfectly designed to produce the result we're getting.

Here's how churches are redesigning their systems to produce men who love God, provide spiritual leadership to their families, and serve the Lord.

It boils down to managing momentum. It's about overcoming the inertia in men and keeping them moving. I would like to give you a system to create, capture, and sustain momentum.

Notice the circle at the center of the diagram. An effective men's ministry begins with a clear understanding of your purpose for men in the church. Everything revolves around this. The first step is to write down what you're trying to accomplish and why. (You'll gain the most acceptance by involving in this process the men you want as leaders for your new ministry.) For example, if your purpose statement is "To reach and equip the men of our church to be spiritual leaders for their families, church, work, and community," you probably wouldn't focus on service projects. Instead, you would focus on discipleship groups.

At the church Larry and his family attended, a core group of motivated men had been gathering and praying for the Lord to bring men to their upcoming momentum-building conference. This small group of men had recently been galvanized by their pastor with the clear purpose of reaching other men in their church. The goal was to offer these men on the fringe an opportunity to re-evaluate their lives and priorities.

Larry was a prime candidate.

Draft the Design Team

Now it's time to begin building your leadership team.

All you need to get started is one man with passion to reach other men. Best if it's you, but you can also select a layman. But here's where many pastors err. You need to put one of your best men on this—someone the other men respect. You need to give him a budget. And you need to give him support from the pulpit. Don't let a man elect himself to leadership if the others think he is (there is no way to say this delicately) a loser.

Most meaningful change takes place in the context of relationships. Men's lives change as they rub up against other men's lives. With this in mind, one way to explore potential candidates for the leadership core is to call four or five on the phone—those you think have potential—and inquire about their needs. Ask questions like:

  1. In what area of your life do you feel the most pressure?
  2. If our church could do one thing for you, what would you want it to be?
  3. What is the most valuable experience you've had at the church in the last year?
  4. What is the worst experience you've had at the church in the last year?
  5. What men in our church would command the respect necessary to help lead a men's group?

Gather the results and then meet with them (for maybe one hour) to explain what you've learned and invite them to help you address these areas in other men's lives.

Encourage these men to invite a few others to begin meeting together regularly for Bible study, prayer, and eventually, strategic planning. In Acts 4:13, we see that each leader was to live his life so others could tell he had been "with Jesus." Your leadership team must be more than a planning committee; it must be a living demonstration of what you want to reproduce.

Remember that men want to be a part of something going somewhere. If you and your team can offer a purpose-driven plan (versus event-driven), other men will gravitate to it.

We Have Ignition

The first challenge in building a dynamic men's ministry is this: "How do we overcome the inertia in men?"

At the right time, when this core group is gelling, begin considering a way to reach the men on the fringes of your congregation.

When NASA launches the space shuttle from Cape Canaveral, they strap it to a booster containing 500,000 gallons of liquid fuel that all burns off in 8.5 minutes. Then the shuttle "coasts" another 4 million miles. Why is that? In physics, you learn that maximum output is needed to put a stationary object in motion. It takes a lot of energy to overcome inertia.

It's the same with men. Creating initial momentum is your first challenge, and often consumes tons of energy by a committed start-up team. Your boosters should first identify men on the fringes who would be good candidates for men's ministry. They probably fall into one of four categories:

  • men who think they've arrived in life and actually believe the rat race is terrific.
  • men just beginning to wonder if the rat race is worth running.
  • men who know by now that there's no winning the rat race.
  • men in the rat race who've crashed and now are hurting.

Many of these men attend your church. Others are acquaintances of your committed men.

Often men like this have a worldview that's a jumbled concoction cherrypicked from church, television, Business Week, positive thinking seminars, and Harvard Business School. They practice "spare tire" Christianity. It's something in the trunk, just in case. These men often need a massive tank of rocket fuel strapped to their backs to get them off the ground.

This is best accomplished by a purpose-driven momentum-building event built around a topic men are drawn to, such as sports, financial success, or fathering skills. We reach fringe men by providing what they need in the context of what they want. Men respond to "how-to" things. These events allow us to show that Christ answers their "how?" with a big "Who."

These upbeat, non-threatening activities put the cookies on an easy-to-reach shelf where disconnected men can get at them. But the event itself is not the most important tactic here: it's men engaging other men that makes the difference.

Several times at gatherings of Christian men I have asked, "How many of you developed a personal commitment to Christ at a crusade like a Billy Graham event?" A few hands go up. Then I ask, "How many of you made a commitment to Christ because someone took an interest in you and brought you to church?" Many hands go up.

Larry showed up at the special event that the men of his church sponsored. Larry admits he was nervous. He didn't know what to expect, but he saw a couple of guys he knew. One was Bill Yates.

"They did more than shuffle chairs and nametags," Larry said. "They took an interest in me." Bill identified Larry as someone he should befriend.

What Happens After Liftoff

It takes an enormous amount of energy to stage a successful event. It is crucial to capture momentum when you create it. There are two common errors that waste momentum. The first is to attempt too little. You wouldn't go to all the expense of cooling your house to a comfortable 72 degrees in sweltering summer heat, and then leave all the doors and windows open. You would try to capture what you've produced. Likewise, an impressive kick-off event, without a follow-up plan, is a waste of effort.

The second error is to attempt too much. You probably shouldn't say to men who have attended the first event of their lives, "Next week we are going to begin a three-year inductive study of the Bible in Hebrew."

Give attendees a definite next step that they can visualize themselves taking. Don't try to shift them from first gear to fourth gear. Offer them second gear—perhaps a small-group study that lasts three, four, maybe six weeks in length. Don't overwhelm them.

In Larry's case, the speaker closed his session by inviting men to commit to a six-week discussion group—nothing more.

Larry signed up.

Again, he arrived at the first discussion meeting unsure of what to expect. Bill Yates was assigned to be his group leader. Larry ended up enjoying the discussion.

By the third meeting, Larry realized just how much he liked being with the other men in the group. By the last couple of gatherings, the men in Larry's group were opening up and talking about their personal struggles.

Larry's Six-Week Orbit

As Larry attended the follow-up sessions, "God slammed me down on the ground," he recalls. "The bottom just fell out of the barrel."

His marriage reached a crisis point, leading to a 90-day separation. Meanwhile, Larry developed "some real relationships with some godly men" who he feels will be his friends for life. They walked with him through his marriage troubles.

"My wife and I both wanted it to work." Larry chokes up as he tells how God saved him and his marriage. "It had to be new. And it is."

When men like Larry experience true Christianity, they become your best examples of the faith to even more needy men. In Larry's case, the very next year he attended another momentum-building men's conference sponsored by his church. And this time, he was a group leader!

"We've gone from two men to 32 in a couple of months," Larry says. "There is no doubt that will happen if you can touch a man's heart and see what his needs are. We've got balcony guys joining the men's ministry. Shoot, I'm one of them!"

Keeping It Going

The greatest challenge in reaching men through your church is, "How do we keep men involved after the novelty wears off?"

Sustaining momentum depends on offering a wide variety of compelling growth and discipleship opportunities. Give men—whether on the fringe, in the mainstream, or leading the charge—every chance to hook into something. Offer Bible studies, book studies, ministry projects, mentoring teens, accountability groups, early morning leadership development with the pastor, prayer groups, issues-oriented small groups—whatever you can imagine—to sustain momentum.

Notice on the chart the arrow goes back to "create momentum." Return to your purpose and repeat your system.

The principle of the parable of the sower is always at work alongside the command to make disciples. We will experience drop-off at every step. That's why it's important periodically to re-create momentum. In the process, lives are being changed for good.

"I still have to pinch myself," Larry says. "I've got a new relationship with my wife. The romance and intimacy that I never had are there. My business is growing. My priorities are straight. I don't worry about work. I pray to God and the work comes in. It's a successful business and it's a God-led business now. I pray every day that he will show me what to do."

Back behind all those "arms waving in your face" sit men who not only will respond to a credible offer of the gospel, but may become your best teammates. Reach them, and you'll reach their families. Reach them, and you'll revive your church.

Patrick Morley chairs the National Coalition of Men's Ministries and is president of Man in the Mirror, a ministry that conducts church-sponsored men's events and produces discipleship materials for churches.

Related Bible Studies

Free Newsletters

More Newsletters

Follow us