Are you looking for a church that understands men? Do you want to help your congregation become a guy magnet?
A number of studies have revealed the kinds of churches that tend to attract men. Based on this research, I’ve identified twelve characteristics of a man-friendly church.
Before we begin: a caveat. No single model of church will appeal to every man. As you read this article you may shake your head and think, “I can’t stand those kinds of churches,” or “My husband visited a church like that and he hated it.”
I must also mention that none of these 12 things matter as much as the authentic presence of God. I often tell groups, "If the Spirit of God is moving, it won't matter to men if the pastor is wearing a pink ballerina's tutu. Men are drawn to the real Jesus."
But the research is clear: the churches that draw a healty percentage of men tend to exhibit the following twelve characteristics:
1. Look for Large
As a congregation grows, its gender gap shrinks. Churches that draw thousands on a weekend are the most likely to approach gender balance. Meanwhile, the statistically average church of fifty to one hundred is the size most likely to experience a shortage of men.
Large churches have many advantages. Probably foremost is quality. Most are led by gifted pastors who are compelling speakers. The music is polished. The facilities and grounds are well-kept and impressive. Men can invite their friends without fear of embarrassment, confident that the service will proceed with professionalism and good taste. Men are less likely to leave a large church thinking, Well, that was cheesy. What a waste of my time.
2. Look for Nondenominational
For decades, nondenominational churches have grown, while name-brand churches have shrunk—both liberal and conservative. No one is sure why this is happening, but there’s little doubt about who’s leading this exodus: men. The National Congregations Study of 1998 found that denominational churches were much more likely than nondenominational ones to report a significant gender gap.
3. Look for Strict Adherence to Scripture
I’ve heard it said that men have an instinctive BS detector. Men want proof. They’re natural skeptics. They not only want to know what to believe, but why to believe it.
Churches that attract men have a bottom line: the Bible. Multiple studies have shown that churches that hold their members to scriptural standards (particularly in areas of personal morality) tend to grow faster than those that don’t. The National Congregations Study found self-described liberal churches were 14 percent more likely to have a man shortage than conservative ones.
4. Look for a Young, Multiracial Crowd
A study from Hartford Seminary finds a statistical correlation between a younger crowd, the presence of men, and church growth. Meanwhile, an abundance of members over the age of sixty and a surplus of women is associated with decline.
The same study found a strong correlation between a racially diverse crowd and church growth. It’s not enough to preach racial diversity from the pulpit; the people in the seats must represent many tribes, tongues, and nations. Look for a multicultural congregation when trying to attract men.
5. Look for a Congregation That Is Itself Young
Recently founded churches do better drawing males. The National Congregations Study found that churches in existence less than thirty years are measurably more effective at reaching men.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that church plants do quite well with men. Newfound churches are desperate to grow, so boldness, strategic planning and external focus are part of the culture. These needs jibe with men’s interests and gifts.
New forms of church are enjoying some success rounding up guys. One example: Cowboy churches are popping up all over the United States. Worshipers meet in barns, sit on bales of hay, sing country songs, and enjoy a simple sermon targeted at working men and women. Some cowboy churches have lassoed lots of men—running 50 percent male (or better) on a typical Sunday.
6. Look for Energized Men in the Pews
When you walk into a church, look around at the guys. Do they look like they want to be there? Or are they just fulfilling an obligation? If the men seem to have been dragged to church by wives and girlfriends, forget it. Find another church.
Enthusiastic men bring vigor to worship. Plus you get a snowball effect: guys start inviting their friends, who show up to see what the excitement is about. They get engaged and transmit their fervor to the next group of men.
7. Look for a Man in the Pulpit
If you’re looking for a church your man might like, improve your odds by choosing one with a male senior pastor. Churches with a female senior pastor are 20 percent more likely to experience a lack of men in the pews. Why is this so? Men follow men.
Pastors who cut a masculine figure from the pulpit also seem to be more popular with men. Guys are drawn to men who exude a healthy masculinity, but are turned off by softies.
8. Look for a Pastor Who Is Astonishing and Authoritative
At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, eyewitnesses said this of Christ: “The people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matt. 7:28–29) If you want a pastor who teaches like Jesus, find one who’s both astonishing and authoritative.
As a man, I love being astonished in church. I light up when a message challenges me to think—or better yet, to take action. An authoritative teacher is one who is resolute and consistent in his beliefs. He tells it like it is, even if someone is offended. Nothing disappoints me more than a sermon that does not challenge. Even worse is a message composed of familiar, comforting religious jargon.
9. Look for Informal Dress
For years, getting dressed up has been foundational to the churchgoing experience. When I was a child, no one would dream of entering God’s house unless clothed in his Sunday best.
Fortunately, this is changing. Most men don’t like getting dressed up the way that women do, so many growing churches encourage their members to dress informally. Some pastors are even dropping the ministerial robe, collar, coat, and tie in favor of more casual attire.
10. Look for Modern Technology
Churches that reach men (particularly young men) do so with modern technology. They use slides and video during the worship service. They invest in a professional, easy-to-use Web site. Some churches distribute restaurant-style pagers to parents in case they need to be summoned during the sermon.
Of course, some folks dislike technology in church. The new wave in worship, known as vintage worship or emerging worship, drives technology into the background, employing acoustic instruments, candles, and iconography to help worshipers connect with the ancient divine. But even emerging worship uses much more technology than a traditional congregation; it’s just kept under wraps.
The lesson is clear: churches that deploy modern technology will have an easier time engaging men, because men think technology is cool.
11. Look for Fun
Men are the biggest market for humor videos, Comedy TV networks and the late night comedians. And thanks to the popular VeggieTales video series, a generation has grown up with the expectation that church can—and should—contain an element of fun.
A church service needn’t be frivolous, nor should it be focused on entertaining the audience. But a little humor really helps men drop their guard. The Hartford seminary study also found that a reverent worship climate was associated with church decline (and a lack of men). So might we assume that a slightly irreverent climate actually helps men connect with God? This squares with men’s taste for parody and self-deprecating humor. A funny skit, video clip, or a pastor who pokes fun at himself will score big points with men.
12. Look for a Clear, Unique Mission
Men love churches that make the mission clear. They focus on the basics. This is what our church is about. Here is our mission. Here’s how you can become a part of what God is doing in our congregation.
But this is rare. Few churches have a unique mission. Most are focused on dozens of different goals. Believe it or not, fewer than 10 percent of pastors in the US can articulate the vision toward which their congregation is moving.
So men come to church, but no one ever tells them why they are there. Men sit on those cushioned pews and ask themselves man-type questions: What are we trying to accomplish? Is all this activity really achieving anything? How do we know if we’re winning?
But when a church’s vision is clear, men invest themselves wholeheartedly. Why do you think purpose driven churches are doing so well? Men need purpose, and a church that clearly articulates a mission will be a magnet to men.