The following is a set of excerpts from a fall 2014 interview with David Murrow. The complete interview is available in Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.
David Murrow is an author and speaker who focuses on the gender gap in most of today’s Christian churches. Dave has written four books, including Why Men Hate Going to Church, which was published first in 2005 and then revised and republished in 2011. That book has sold over 125,000 copies and has been published in 10 languages. Dave has spoken on network news segments and at conferences and seminars all over the world. Dave lives just outside Anchorage, Alaska with his wife of over 30 years, Gina.
A Key to Church Growth: Attracting Men
Murrow: A few years ago, I was doing pastor training in Illinois. I always start off with a junk question. I ask, “How many of you have more active men than women in your church?” Nobody ever raises his hand. This particular time, one little hand in the back raised up and, to my surprise, the hand had nail polish on it. This was a female pastor.
I said to her, “What is your name?”
She said, “My name is Jennifer Wilson.”
I said, “You’re a pastor?”
She said, “Yes, I am, I’m the pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in LaSalle, Illinois.”
I said, “Jennifer, you’re telling me that you have more active men than women in your church?”
She said, “Yes, I do.”
I said, “How have you been able to do that?”
She said, “I bought your book, and I did everything you said.”
I looked around the room and said, “Folks, I didn’t pay her to say this!”
After the session I got together with her to talk to her about her strategy. She’s in this little, 160-year-old mainline church in the middle of corn country in a town of 10,000 people. What she did is she took several of the steps that we recommend at Church for Men.
The first thing she did is she changed the decor in her church. Like most mainline churches, her church was covered in quilts, banners, flowers…laced doily on the communion table. These decor items send a very powerful message to men that that church is for women, particularly older women, grandmas, because these are the types of things that grandmas decorate with.
So she very gently and carefully took those decoration items down. She replaced them with some big-screen TVs. She has big-screen TVs in the sanctuary, so people can see the words of the music and stuff like that. She repainted. Pinks and lavenders came down. She used Army green, colors of the field, rust colors and stuff like that on the walls.
She opened an Internet café in the Fellowship Hall and made that kind of a hip place to hang out and drink coffee.
The Methodist hymn book was gender-neutralized a few years ago. She put back the guy-friendly songs: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Onward Christian Soldiers – songs that talk about battle and blood. She also put male pronouns back in the Scripture. She doesn’t read the gender-neutral Bible translations anymore.
She preaches sermon series that focus on guys’ needs. She did series called “Power Play”, “Men and Sex”. She really goes after the things that guys are interested in.
You would think that she’s discriminating against the women, and the women would throw up their hands and say, “What about us?”
The women are delighted because for the first time they’re in a church with dynamic men who really get the gospel and who really want to serve. They’re not carrying the burden themselves.
She’s big on mission. They’ve had several big visions and fundraising campaigns to expand the church and to do a community center for kids. She’s really appealing to that side of men that want to reach out, to expand, to grow, to challenge the community.
The church is growing by leaps and bounds. They’ve had to add a third service. They had to break out the back of their narthex wall because they had to seat more people. It’s just really been a wonderful turnaround story.
The long answer to your question – Can a small church do what the megachurches are doing? – is yes. Yes, a small church can, a traditional church can, but you just have to be very careful about cultivating your men and creating an environment on Sunday morning where visiting men come in, feel comfortable, feel wanted, and feel needed, and then your church will grow.
Changing a Church’s Look and Feel
Bolinger: Let’s take your points one by one and spend some more time on each one. You’ve given concrete, practical, straightforward things that a church leadership team can undertake. It’s not a complete revamping of the church, but it’s some calculated steps with an emphasis on reaching more man than we reach today.
Let’s start with décor. It seems like a fairly easy one, although it could be problematic. You mentioned taking down some of the banners and putting up some TVs so that it’s easy to see the words and easy to have some visuals. A lot of men are visually oriented, so you can give them some man-friendly visuals during the worship service. Who might object to this, if a church decided to make this change?
Murrow: It’s going to be the people who created the banners. Churches tend to be full of passivity activists, people who are in church precisely because they want the church service that they had back in the 1950s. They want the experience that they had when they were young, so they come into the church and expect to see the banners and the quilts and the flowers and the lace doilies. You remove a lace doily from a communion table, and you wouldn’t think that would be a big deal, but the problem is that the lace doily was brought from the Holy Land in the 1960s by Aunt Agnes. By removing that, our dearly departed sister is being dissed. We’re forgetting this wonderful thing that Aunt Agnes brought from the Holy Land. The person who sewed the banner, especially if she’s passed on – these become living memorials to the saints. So yes, there’s always going to be opposition.
I made a film about Pastor Jen and her struggles to change her church. It is called Amazing Grace: A Church for Men. If you just Google that, you can watch it online for free. You can see how she handled it.
She actually went to the women’s group in the church and said, “We’re trying to expand to a younger crowd and get more guys involved. Do you all agree with that?” They all said yes.
She said, “One of the things we’ve learned is that these banners send a message to men that this is kind of a women’s place. They’re beautiful banners, but we really don’t want men to come in and think that this is just a thing for women. We want them to understand that this church is for men as well. So, is it okay if we were to take these down for a while? Maybe try a little bit of a different look here in the sanctuary and see if we get more men involved?”
When she explained it gently and carefully to the women, the women were all on board. They understood. So the banners came down, and they’ve never gone back up. They’re in a closet behind the organ. And guys come to the church.
Men and Music
Bolinger: OK, let’s talk about music in the church. What type of music does Pastor Jen’s church do?
Murrow: Pastor Jen’s church does not have a praise band. They have not gotten rid of the hymnal. There is no drum set in this church. They play traditional hymns on organ and piano. And the church is packed with young families.
I think a lot of smaller churches will think, “We need contemporary worship.” And so what they’ll do is they take several middle-aged and older musicians and try to teach them how to do contemporary rock-‘n-roll in a space that’s not really conducive to that type of music. It just falls really flat.
Well, Grace has avoided that pitfall. They’ve stuck with traditional music – hymns played on an organ and played on a piano – which is appropriate to the space that they are in. And they are continuing to attract young families because they do what they do and they do it well. They’re not trying to be something they’re not. They’re not trying to be a rock concert…
Bolinger: OK, so the church in LaSalle demonstrates that you can have a traditional approach to music – traditional hymns, a choir – and attract men. I presume that men who don’t like to sing appreciate the fact that the words of the hymns are man-friendly, so men can stand there listening while a hymn is being sung and can be reassured and strengthened by that.
Murrow: It’s a mix of hymns and praise songs. They’re just careful that they’re all man-friendly.
They’ve even thought through the projection system, which they use to put the words of the hymns and praise songs up. The projection system puts the words up and then behind it are still images. They used to have flowers and all this “girly stuff”. They’ve taken those off and now they use natural scenes that would appeal to either men or women: mountains, streams, rivers, rocks, hikers. They use the great outdoors. They put an image of the great outdoors behind the words of the song that they are singing. Even that tiny little visual cue is encouraging to men because men are all about the outdoors. They are really intentional about looking at the little things that they really want to send a message to men that you’re wanted and valued, and you’re understood here…
Impact on Women
Bolinger: I watched the Amazing Grace video about Jen’s church a couple of months ago…It was great to hear from the pastor about what she had done and why. But the real selling point for me is about two-thirds of the way through the video where you interview some of the women in the church, and they talk about what it’s like to have their husbands and brothers and others in the church, active in the church. For me, that was the home run, because getting the men involved is not just good for the men. It’s good for everybody.
Murrow: Far from feeling discriminated against, these women were feeling empowered because finally, finally they were not having to drag their men to church. I can tell you, they felt so liberated by this, that they were no longer the spiritual drivers. They and their husbands, they and their brothers, and they and their sons were all following Jesus together, rather than the women constantly having to be, “Come on, let’s go to church, let’s go to church.” No, the men want to go and it’s such a different dynamic in those families now. I can tell you, the women feel supremely blessed and they are more than happy to let the men have their ministries and let the men lead in these areas because it’s caused so much more balance.
For More Information…
Here are Dave’s four books:
- How Women Help Men Find God, 2008
- The Map: The Way of All Great Men, 2010
- Why Men Hate Going to Church, revised in 2011
- What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You: A Guided Tour of a Man’s Body, Soul, and Spirit, 2012/li>
For the rest of the interview with David Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.
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