Reaching Men, Part 1: Why Men Struggle in Church

This series is comprised of excerpts from Chris Bolinger’s interview with David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church and three other books. For the complete interview with Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1. For more insight from Murrow, visit http://churchformen.com or pick up a copy of one of his books.

Part 1 of the series: below

Part 2 of the series

Part 3 of the series


Dave: I’m a television producer by trade and have been working in the TV business for almost 30 years. And that was actually very helpful when I began to notice the gender gap in our churches, because in the TV business you learn that everything has a target audience…The culture of the church is very much oriented toward women. Women seem to get church in a way that men don’t. That’s what started me down this road of researching and writing about men in the church.

Serving as an elder in a Presbyterian church, a mainline church, you learn very quickly that “if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” A lot of our time was spent creating ministries for women and keeping women happy. Most of our ministries revolved around traditionally feminine roles in caring for the sick, caring for children, ladies’ teas, ladies’ scrapbooking nights. It definitely was skewed toward women, in particular, older women.

If you think about a 55-year-old woman with an empty nest, which is our typical Presbyterian layperson today, you know she misses her family. Her children are busy. Her grandchildren are in a faraway city. So we created an institution where every Sunday she can have children in her arms and she can use her gifts.

But men’s gifts lie fallow. The things that guys are into – strategic planning, sports, competition – these things are frowned on in the church. Church is supposed to be a warm, nurturing place where we hold hands and love each other. It’s definitely very much more of a grandma thing than a young man thing. The culture doesn’t really fit men’s culture.

Bolinger: You saw this in your own church, but what did you see when you started doing research in non-mainline churches and churches outside your own area?

Murrow: It was just at the beginning of the third wave of the megachurch movement. The first wave was Saddleback and Willow Creek. The second wave was in the 1990s. I wrote the book in the early 2000s when this third wave – the church planting movement – was getting started. And I noticed that these church plants had a very different culture than our Presbyterian church. They were much more – dare I say? – more masculine in their viewpoint. They were more aggressive about evangelism. They were more into innovation. You didn’t have the traditional ladies’ teas and lace curtains. It wasn’t that sort of a church environment anymore. It’s a much more amenable to guys.

So that was one of the things that I incorporated into my research: how are these churches able to grow so quickly? I realized it was because they were in large part creating an environment where men would stay and be fed and be satisfied and be challenged. Once you have men in the church, the women gravitate to those churches. The more men you have involved in a church, the more likely you are to find growth there. Once a church becomes 70% female, which is what most mainline churches are moving toward, your church is basically going to die. At that point, you’re just performing hospice service for a dying institution.

Bolinger: So you saw a different model, a different approach, with the church plants and some of the up-and-coming large churches or megachurches which you weren’t seeing in the mainline church you were attending. We’re seeing men being attracted to these church plants and megachurches. Are we seeing men attracted to any other types of churches?

Murrow: Primarily that’s the case: the larger the church, the smaller the gender gap. If you have a big church, chances are you’re about 50/50.

Men’s ministry really has not taken off in the local church. In the 1990s there was the Promise Keepers phenomenon. We thought there was going to be a really big movement into men’s ministry. It just hasn’t materialized; it hasn’t been a force like we thought.

There are other areas where men are attracted. We are finding growth in some ministries such as John Eldredge’s Ransomed Heart that is doing well with men. There is a movement toward men dealing with their wounds – the Crucible Project, for example – that’s finding some success. We’re not seeing the big huge numbers, but we are seeing the foundation for some future growth, because men are dealing with their core issues instead of just going to church, and that’s a good thing.

Bolinger: Dave, when you say that “men hate going to church”, what types of men tend to be the most reluctant to go to church, the same church that is attended by their wives or their girlfriends?

Murrow: Let’s look at the problem this way: Think about the skills that you need to be good at being a churchgoer. The person up front, the pastor, is obviously a very highly verbal person. He has to have emotional sensitivity, because he’s got to deal with counseling and chaplaincy type issues. He has to be studious; you have to love to read and study the Bible and other books. The other people who are up front at church, who get a lot of stage time, are musicians – the worship leader and the members of the band. To rise in a church, the big four skills that you need are to be emotionally sensitive, to be studious, to like music, and to be verbal.

If you take those four characteristics and look at the population, there are more women than men in the population who possess those gifts. Now there are certainly men out there who are verbal, studious, sensitive, and musical, but their numbers tend to be a bit smaller. So one of the reasons that we see more women than men in church is because what we ask of churchgoers is more likely to be found in a woman than in a man. The guys that we tend to find in church are verbal, sensitive, musical, and studious.

So it’s really just a numbers game. We’ve created a culture where the gifts that we value are more commonly found in women than men, and that’s why we see more women there.

Bolinger: You’ve mentioned the gifts and talents that we see in the people up front. What about the folks that are sitting in the pews? What are we asking of men who come to church but aren’t up front? What might get them fired up instead of turned off?

Murrow: Let’s look at the basics. Let’s go to a traditional mainline Lutheran, Methodist, or Episcopal type church. What skill set will you need? You’re gonna have to like to sing. You’ll need to be able to read – lectionary readings, responsive readings, read off the screen. If you go to a Sunday School class, then you’ll be asked questions about a text and may have to read a text from the Bible. You have socializing before and after the service – coffee hour and those sorts of things. It’s a lot of soft, interpersonal skills or verbal or artistic skills that a lot of guys simply lack. You think about your average oilfield worker, air conditioner repair man – you know, that blue-collar guy – he often lacks those soft, interpersonal skills. He not quite as good at churchgoing as his wife is, and that’s where you see a lot of the discouragement.

It’s not that men hate God or hate Christ; it’s that they hate churchgoing because their wives are simply better at it.

Bolinger: And given a choice between church on Sunday morning or going out and playing 18 holes of golf  or doing some yard work, a lot a guys are probably gonna choose the alternative to church versus going and sitting and doing things that they’re not terribly comfortable with or that don’t play to their strengths. They’re going to do something that plays to their strengths.

Murrow: That’s exactly right. Chris. The example that I like to give is this: when I was a young man in my early 20s, I briefly took up the game of golf. Now I learned after two or three rounds that I have absolutely no knack for the game. You’ve heard of Tiger Woods? Well, I spent most of my time in the woods, looking for my ball. I just never was very good at golf. I was always in the sand trap, shot a lot of balls in the water – just really wasn’t good. So after two or three bad rounds, I did what most men do when they are not good at something: I quit. I put my clubs away and never picked them up again.

We’ve set up a situation where men try church and they don’t find God there, they don’t find anything that they’re good at there, and they feel like they’re not needed there. There’s really only one man who’s needed there, and that’s the pastor. Since they’re never going to preach, they don’t see a future for themselves within this institution.

They feel that they can connect better with God outside of the institution of “organized religion”. I’ve talked with men who’ve had profound experiences with God while they were out hunting or out on a boat on the water. It sounds like a dodge: “Oh, I can connect to God better out on my fishing boat than in church.” So we say, “Oh, you’re just making excuses.” But it’s true. I mean, these guys have profound experiences with God out in the field, doing things with their kids. They experience God at a gut level. I think it’s because they’re in their area of competence. They feel comfortable there, and God speaks to them in their comfort.

Bolinger: I guess that the picture is bleak, but not entirely bleak because you mentioned up front that church plants and some nontraditional churches and megachurches are having good success reaching men. Some of it may be outside the Sunday morning worship, but if you look at the worship they’re getting about as many men there as women. So what are they doing differently? What are some things that they are doing that a traditional, non-megachurch can do to have similar success with men?

Murrow: That’s the wonderful thing. You do not have to have a 2,000-person church to attract men.


For the rest of the interview with David Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Copyright 2015, 2016 Revitalize Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reaching Men, Part 2: How a Methodist Church Grew by Reaching Men

This series is comprised of excerpts from Chris Bolinger’s interview with David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church and three other books. For the complete interview with Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1. For more insight from Murrow, visit http://churchformen.com or pick up a copy of one of his books.

Part 1 of the series

Part 2 of the series: below

Part 3 of the series


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 the rest of the interview with David Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Copyright 2015, 2016 Revitalize Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved.

How Can Your Church Reach Young People for Jesus?

How do young people come into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ? The research is clear: the vast majority of people (young, as well as old) come to faith through a relationship with a Christian friend or relative.[1]

Jesus often modeled the process. To the demon-possessed man (Mark 5:19) he said, “go home to your friends and tell them what wonderful things God has done for you…” When Zacchaeus believed, Christ told him that salvation had also come to his friends and family (Luke 19:9). After Jesus healed the son of a royal official we learn that the Centurion, and all of his family and friends, believed (Mark 2:14-15). Jesus knew that the way the Gospel would travel around the world would be through relationships.

How to Get Started
The foundation of an effective outreach strategy for young people is building relationships with them. How do you start building relationships? C.S. Lewis gives us a wonderful insight: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.’ ”[2] To reach young people, we must create times and places where friendships can grow between Christians and non-Christians. Think of these as “relationship greenhouses”.

How do such friendships flourish? Two ingredients are required: (1) time and (2) common interests. In other words, young people need to spend time with Christians with whom they share things in common. Once you have these two ingredients, you’re well on your way to effective outreach.

These days, finding one of those two ingredients — time — may prove difficult. What do you do when people tell you that they can’t make it because they don’t have time?

Change the Question
The leaders of a Lutheran church in Burnsville, Illinois encountered this problem. They conducted small group meeting after small group meeting but had few attendees. The common excuse? “We just don’t have any time.” Then an insight hit them and they solved the problem. Rather than asking, “Would you attend our group?”, they started asking, “What kind of a group would you change your schedule to attend?”[3] When they found people’s “hot buttons” for which they would make time, they solved their small group attendance problems!

There are two categories of groups for which young people will change their schedules to attend: recreational and developmental. The first category relates to how young people like to spend their free time. The second category relates to dealing with major life concerns, such as health, finances, relationships, and employment or school.

To attract young people, you need to build your “relationship greenhouses” around felt needs. If the attraction is strong enough, the promise appealing enough, and the first step small enough, then young people will come.

From Felt Needs to Deeper Needs
But focusing only on felt needs limits your potential for nurturing deeper relational and spiritual growth. A good “relationship greenhouse” moves from felt needs to deeper needs. What are the deeper needs of young people where real relationships will grow? Young people are looking for five things:

  1. a place to belong
  2. a sense of balance
  3. authentic relationships
  4. help through transitions
  5. spiritual answers

If you can provide for these deeper needs, then you will see people coming back even after their felt needs have been met.

From Deeper Needs to Eternal Needs
Ultimately, the “pilgrim’s progress” will move from deeper needs to eternal needs, and the pilgrim will develop a relationship with Jesus that fills the God-shaped vacuum inside every human being. But young people won’t make those jumps from felt needs to deeper needs to eternal needs with people they don’t know or trust. Disciple making is a process. And such journeys take time. I recommend Bob Whitesel’s book, Spiritual Waypoints,[4] for a helpful discussion on facilitating people’s journey from ignorance to intimacy with Christ.

What’s Our Product?
A marketing executive with Ford Motor Company once said to me, “I’ve often imagined what it might be like if our church were a business. What would be our product?” He went on to answer his own question: “I think our product would be ‘relationships.’ A relationship with God through Jesus Christ, relationships with others in the body of Christ, and, finally, relationships with people in our community.” Hmmm. That’s a great product, isn’t it? And there’s certainly a need in the “marketplace”!


[1] See Side Door: How to Open Your Church to Reach More People by Charles Arn, Wesley Publishing House, 2013, p. 9.)
[2] C.S. Lewis. The Four Loves. Harcourt, Brace, & Company, Orlando, FL: 1988 p. 247.)
[3] David Stark. Growing People Through Small Groups. Bethany Press, 2004, p. 94.
[4] Bob Whitesel. Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey. Wesley Publishing House, Indianapolis: IN, 2010.

Baby Steps toward Church Transformation

A few years ago, there was a television commercial promoting Fram Oil Filters. While the spokesman walked around an auto repair shop, a mechanic overhauled an engine in the background. At the end, the spokesperson held up a Fram Oil Filter and said, “The choice is yours. You can pay me now, or you can pay me later!” The message was simple: If you spent a little more on a premium Fram Oil Filter now, then you would avoid the much bigger expense of an engine overhaul later.

If your church is declining in size and vitality, then you have a similar choice. Will you chart a new path now, or will you continue to do what you have been doing until you run out of options and face a major overhaul, or worse?

After over a decade of working with hundreds of churches, we have found a way that churches can “pay now” and avoid disaster later.

Transformation

The dynamic power in this change process is rooted in the word transformation. Transformation, by its very nature, requires deep and lasting change (Romans 12:2). Such change rarely occurs quickly, easily, or without significant sacrifices. At its core, it requires repentance.

To repent simply means to turn around, to change directions. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for repentance is shuv, which literally means to turn around. If a farmer is plowing with a team of oxen, when the animals would get to the end of a furrow, he would yell, “Shuv,” i.e., turn around, go in the opposite direction. Thus, to repent means to turn away from what you are doing and move toward another option.

Declining churches need to turn away from inwardly-focused, self-protective behaviors and turn toward loving God and loving others. They need to adopt activities and behaviors that take them out into their communities with the Gospel.

The transformation of a church occurs when a plurality of people move from being primarily a spiritual club for church insiders to being both a caring assembly and an externally-focused ministry serving others in the name of Jesus Christ. The church therefore seeks to emulate Jesus by serving others rather than being served (Matthew 20:28).

Merely doing “church” better or getting more people in the pews is not the goal and is not acceptable. Nothing short of deep change or transformation is the true goal. When that happens the church will be different, behave differently, be renewed, improve the way it lives out its calling, and ultimately bring more people to Jesus.

Transformation of Patterns

Practically speaking, the transformation of individuals and of churches involves the transformation of patterns. For instance, if you try to lose weight, stop smoking, or change an addictive behavior, it’s not enough to depend upon will power or making a New Year’s resolution. Yes, it begins with commitment and resolve, but there must also be corresponding life pattern changes. Simply wanting to do the right thing is not enough.

David Maister, in his wonderfully-titled book, Strategy and the Fat Smoker, makes this powerful statement: “The primary reason we do not work at behaviors which we know we need to improve is that the rewards (and pleasure) are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate. To reach our goals we must first change our lifestyle and our daily habits now. Then we must summon the courage to keep up the new habits and not yield to all the old familiar temptations. Then, and only then, we get the benefits later.”1

So how do we change our bad habits now so we can gain these wanted benefits later? One way is to begin taking some baby steps!

Baby Steps

Dave Ramsey, the personal finance guru, talks about getting out of debt in “the same way you learned to walk—one step at a time.”2 For instance, it is much easier to take the baby step of starting a $1,000 emergency fund than to take the giant leap of removing a $100,000 of debt. Therefore, start with small, relatively easy to do tasks, like starting a small savings account for emergencies, and eventually you will be able to completely change your lifestyle and reach your ultimate goal of having financial peace.

What would be some meaningful baby steps related to transforming your church and ministry? To put it another way, what can you do now to begin opening doors to your community with the Gospel?

One way to jump-start the process is to take advantage of the expertise and experience gained by others in similar situations. Instead of reinventing the wheel, use something that is tried and true, and you will begin to establish a clear path for your baby steps.

To help you get started, we have developed a workbook entitled Skill Builders: Leadership Tools for Opening Doors to Your Community,3 which provides practical skills to help churches engage their communities with the Gospel. These are skills that can be applied in any kind and size of church.

Consider, for example, the case of a small, stagnant church located on the far western edge of the Ozark Mountains. With an average age of 72, the congregation was known in the community as the “church for old people.” However, after taking some baby steps, the congregation took up the challenge of reaching young families with the Gospel. They planned a special week of summer camp activities for children. The members developed their own lessons and activities. To help ensure maximum participation, they provided meals and snacks. The summer program concluded with a Mexican dinner and mariachi band concert. The whole community was invited.

To prepare for the crowd, members were asked to park in a vacant field across the road. They used golf carts (one of the perks of having elderly members in your church!) to ferry members to the door. The paved parking lot at the church was reserved for guests. When a local restaurant heard of the event, they volunteered to donate the tacos, rice, and beans for the meal. The members donated the dessert. With over 500 people in attendance, this was the single largest event in the church’s history. Over 80 prospects were identified. The congregation is building on this success with a weekly afternoon camp experience for children. More than that, the church is now thriving and growing and is no longer viewed as just a “church for old people.”

Resolve to Start the Process

Taking baby steps like the ones mentioned above is a great way to begin breaking old patterns and start revitalizing your church and ministry. Certainly, there are others as well. (Check out the other articles on this website for more examples!) What’s really important at this point is that you simply resolve to start the process.

Back when I was growing up on the farm, my dad used to say, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” The point is clear. If you want to accomplish anything worthwhile, you have to get started doing it. And what could be more worthwhile, indeed eternally important, than being instruments of Christ in opening doors to your community for the Gospel?

The tendency, of course, after reading an article like this is to put it aside and not really do anything differently. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the dozens of books and binders and CDs that you have in your office, church, or home right now and then mentally make a list of how they fundamentally changed your life. The reality is that probably none of them made a significant difference. This article won’t either, unless you allow the Holy Spirit to spur you to take action and start doing some things differently.

The choice is yours. Do you want to pay now or pay later? Will you take seriously Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” and experience the joy the angels feel whenever even one sinner repents? By investing yourself and your congregation in a church revitalization process now, you can be sure that, by God’s grace and power, there will be those who will not have to pay later for their sins in hell, because they will come to know the One who has paid for everything by giving His life for us all.


1 David Maister, Strategy and the Fat Smoker (Boston: Spangle Press, 2008).

Dave Ramsey, “Take Control of Your Money One Step at a Time”.

3 Terry Tieman and Dwight Marable, Skill Builders: Leadership Tools for Opening Doors to Your Community (Cordova, TN: Transforming Churches Network, 2012).

Fixing the Leaks in Your Church

Imagine you and the rest of your congregation are on a boat. The boat may be large or small. It may be powered by wind or motor. You might know where you are headed or you may not. However, if your church is struggling and in need of revitalization, then your boat is certainly taking on water, sinking into the deep.

Chances are that, if your church has been struggling for any amount of time, you have several holes in your boat where water is entering. Signs of leaks in your boat may include:

  • Your worship tastes like two-day-old fast-food fries.
  • Your nursery and restrooms look like a truck stop.
  • Your building has an odd musty church smell (you know the one).
  • Your theology has some elements that are debatable or even errant.
  • Your pastor retired ten years ago but told no one.
  • You have a conflict rooted deep into the bedrock below.
  • Some of your communication leaves people guessing rather than informed.
  • A few difficult people have completely handcuffed your leaders.
  • Your discipleship is stuck somewhere in the 1960s.
  • Your community outreach is on life support.

Too often in struggling churches, our response to taking on water is to try to get more resources – particularly people and finances – to help bail water from the boat. There are two major problems with this response:

  1. It focuses on dealing with the results, not the causes, of the problems we have created, so it is very likely to fail.
  2. It doesn’t attract new people, because no one wants to jump onto a sinking ship, so it weighs down the existing congregation.

Instead of focusing on the getting more resources to help manage the result of your problems, you must now identify the actual problems that have led to your church’s decline. What is making your church take on water and sink? Where are the holes? Where are the leaks?

Don’t go at this task alone, as your perspective is too limited! Seek the help of the most spiritual and/or influential in your church, enlist help from outsiders, and look to God’s Word prayerfully. Read through Jesus’ letters to the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3. What kind of letter would Jesus write to your church today, and why? Be sure to guard your heart, as this task can easily lead to despair.

After you’ve made a master list of your church’s needs, the next task is to categorize these “leaks”. Try three categories based on the difficulty of fixing the leaks.

Some leaks are easy to fix. Rooms can be painted in a day or two. Church communication can be improved immediately. Denominational resources may be readily available. Your building can be cleaned well in a week. Begin by fixing these areas as quickly as you can, creating momentum. This momentum will be helpful as you address more challenging leaks.

Some leaks are harder to fix. They require significant change to the church’s culture. They necessitate the church’s influencers to be on board. They require funding that may not be available. Prayerfully begin taking small steps in the direction of addressing these issues, preparing yourself for when the opportunity is right to fully address them. I can tell you of the times when the right family moved to our church at the right moment. I can tell you of the times that God dropped thousands of unexpected dollars into our offering plate at the right time. I can tell you of the time that difficult person approach me to complete the very task I thought he would be the hurdle to complete.

Some leaks seem impossible to fix. They require major change in the church’s structure. They require new staff that you cannot afford. They may require a significant property upgrade. Instead of letting these issues constantly eat at you and consume your emotional energy, make these issues your top prayer priority, turning them over to God. Apply the truths of Philippians 4:4-9 to these leaks. Trust in Christ and ask for his peace. After all, he walked on water and can keep your church afloat!

Methodist Church Grows by Reaching Men

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>

Dave’s blog is at patheos.com/blogs/churchformen. You can find him on Twitter: @murrow5. His website is  churchformen.com, and his Facebook page is facebook.com/churchformen.


For the rest of the interview with David Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Copyright 2015, 2016 Revitalize Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hope for Your Church in Prayer

“In order for the church to be revived, it will demand a mighty work of God’s Spirit.  Following a particular methodology or program does not guarantee success.  One might greatly desire for the church to revitalize and grow, but genuine church growth calls for more than personal passion.  It requires the Spirit of God.” [1]

The sad truth is that most of our churches rarely pray. We may hold prayer meetings. We may take prayer requests. We may have prayer lists, chains, and newsletters. We may talk about prayer. We may hold Bible studies on the topic of prayer. We may spend a few minutes in our worship services praying. Yet, we are far removed from the early church’s commitment to prayer: “And they devoted themselves to … the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

If there is hope for our churches and if they are to be revitalized, then we must become serious about prayer. The time for talking about praying is over. The time for merely studying prayer is past. The time for prayer meetings with little prayer must cease. We must truly, deeply, and passionately pray. We need to pray.

When my church bottomed out sometime in 2008, the list of administrative tasks to be performed, decisions to be made, and meetings to be held seemed beyond number. The juggling act of trying to determine which ministries to keep and which to let go was all-consuming. The task of caring for a demoralized membership was exhausting. Every numerical category by which we measure a church was sinking.

In the midst of these troubles, I led my church to pray:

  • What do You want, Lord, from our church?
  • Do You want us to keep the doors open?
  • Will You meet this particular need? That particular need?
  • Will You give us the strength when our strength has disappeared?

So, I began praying with everyone, all the time. I would pray to open and close meetings, as well as any time in the middle of a meeting the discourse became difficult, challenging, or uncertain. I would pray with my leadership team, with individuals, and by myself. I would pray with anyone in the church who was willing to meet me for that purpose. I would ask anyone outside the church who was willing to pray for our church.

I would love to tell you that I began praying because I am a super-spiritual Christian. Truth be told, however, I had no choice. I had nowhere to go. I had nowhere to run but to the Lord. I had to pray.

For the very first time in my life, I learned what it meant to truly depend upon the Lord. Our church was broken. Our church attendance was dismal. Our ministries were on life support. I had no idea where to go. I was uncertain about the future. However, I had Jesus and, for the very first time in my life, that was enough.

As I prayed and as our church prayed, God slowly began to renew our hearts and renew our church. He began to show us a new path. He began to help us renew our strength in him. He began to give us hope.

I firmly believe that none of this would have happened if we hadn’t prayed.

If our churches are to have hope in the midst of despair, we need prayer, because the work of revitalization requires the hand of God. We don’t need to talk about prayer. We don’t need more studies on prayer. We don’t even need more prayer requests. We need to pray.

There is a vinyl wall cling in my office that highlights two verses from Proverbs, which serves as a reminder of what God taught me about depending on him in prayer during this season at my church. The wall cling reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).

We need to pray.


[1] William Henard, “Can these Dry Bones Live” (prepublication book presented at Southern Seminary’s Intro to Church Revitalization Course, Louisville, Kentucky, 2014). This work has since been published, available here.

Is There Hope for Your Church?

God is in the practice of restoring, renewing, and revitalizing people and churches, if they are willing to follow him and pay the price to see it happen. There is hope for your church![1]

Given the point to where God has led your church today, do you see any hope? Perhaps the downward trend has been a slow, demoralizing road. Perhaps the stagnation has you longing for something greater. Perhaps your church imploded after a season of conflict. Maybe your church’s struggle is different altogether. Yet, is there is hope for your church?

As I launch my small corner on Small Church Center, I want to begin, in a series of entries, telling you my story, as pastor of First Baptist Church of Aurora. I believe that many of you will be able to identify with the struggles I have faced, with the despair that I have felt, and with the hurt that came into my heart. If 80% of churches indeed have a flat or declining attendance and if 5,000-7,000 churches close each year, we and our churches are anything but alone in our struggles. However, I also believe that my story will help you to see that there is still hope for you and your church.

My first vocational ministry, at the not-so-ripe age of twenty-three, was at First Baptist Church of Aurora. After earning my undergraduate degree in theology, I accepted bi-vocational role in 2005. As I had grew up in a church that experienced several demoralizing cycles of conflict, First Baptist was a breath of fresh air. The church had been growing at 7-8% annually the previous two years, we had a new facility, and, most importantly, there was life. When I first arrived average attendance was just over 200. Eighteen months later attendance swelled to nearly 250. The church was growing financially as well, as the church was able to transition my part-time position to a full-time position in those eighteen months.

However, between mid-year 2007 and mid-year 2008, our church went from an average attendance of 250 to an average attendance of 50 people. Our budget was slashed by 2/3. All staff members in the church had left, with the exception of me. Conflict was everywhere. Blame filled every corner of the facility. The resulting demoralization was thicker than morning fog. The situation in the church was so bad that our youth pastor divorced his wife, yet nearly no one in the church even knew it happened.

At twenty-six years old, the church asked me to lead the church in the interim, following the departure of the lead pastor. My job for a year was to try to figure out everything that our church could not do anymore. The list of what we couldn’t do was larger than what we could still do. At twenty-seven, they removed the interim tag. Despite the pastor search team’s encouragement, I knew I would be held responsible to lead the church back to some sort of past glory.

Where was there hope for my church?  Where was there hope for me? Is there hope for you?

[1] Gary L. McIntosh, There’s Hope for Your Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 24

Feeding Hearts

Late last night I headed to the grocery to pick up some needed items.  As I was leaving the store’s parking lot, a car came roaring through the lane next to me.  I say “roaring” not because it was speeding, but because the car’s windows were down and the ground was shaking with the emanating […]

Why Churches Don’t Grow

Healthy people grow. Healthy animals grow. Healthy trees grow. Healthy plants grow. Healthy churches grow. Growth is a characteristic that God breathed into all living things. And the body of Christ – the local church – is a living thing.

So, when a church is not growing, it is helpful to ask: “Why not?”

Here are five “growth-restricting obstacles.”  My purpose is not so much to describe the solution, but to help correctly identify the cause. If we understand the reason for non-growth, it is easier to accurately diagnose and prescribe the cure.

Obstacle #1:  The Pastor. One of three pastor-related reasons may stunt the health/growth of a church:

  1. The pastor does not have a priority for outreach. Churches grow when they have a priority for reaching the unchurched. When the pastor doesn’t, the church won’t.
  1. The pastor does not have a vision for outreach. Lack of vision for outreach is as much an obstacle as lack of priority. Pastors of growing churches believe God wants to reach people in their community and assimilate those new believers into their church.
  1. The pastor does not have the knowledge to lead the church in outreach. Working harder is not the secret to effective outreach. The secret is working smarter. Unfortunately, little is taught in seminaries or Bible schools about how to effectively reach and assimilate new people.

Obstacle #2: The Church Members. There are often competent and skilled clergy in non-growing churches, because the problem is in the pews. Church members can keep a church from growing when…

  • Members have no priority for reaching the lost. “Sure, our church should reach people,” some will say. “But me? I’ve got three kids, a job, membership at the health club, and a lawn to mow. Someone else with more time should feel compelled.”
  • Members have a self-serving attitude about church. If people believe the pastor’s primary concern should be to “feed the sheep,” the flock will never grow, and will eventually die.

Beyond the pastor and members, there are other barriers that keep churches from growing…

Obstacle #3:  Perceived Irrelevance.  Growing churches start with the issues and concerns of the people in their community, and then relate the Gospel to those points of need. Non-growing churches are seen by the unchurched as having an irrelevant message to their life.

Obstacle #4:  Using the Wrong Methods. Any farmer knows you can’t harvest ripe wheat…with a corn-picker. Using inappropriate methods can be worse than no methods, since they create resistance to the Gospel. A bull-horn on a street corner…tracts in an urban neighborhood…youth outreach methods in a senior adult community… None of these methods are wrong. They are just inappropriate for the harvest field.

Obstacle #5:  No Plan for Assimilation. Over 80% of those who drop out of church do so in the first year of their membership. A new member does not automatically become an active member without an intentional plan by the church on how to assimilate them into a caring, loving, Christian community.

There are many reasons why churches don’t grow. But there are no good reasons. Healthy churches grow. God wants your church to grow. He created it to grow. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding out why it’s not growing, and removing those obstacles. What about your church?