Engaging men in men’s ministry is challenging, so how can we do it better?

How do we get men engaged in church? In this Resolute Podcast, Vince Miller is joined by the pastor and author Roger Thompson from Man In The Mirror Ministries. Today they discuss the why men have trouble engaging and how to think about engagement and attraction differently.



Vince: This is Resolute and The Resolute Leadership Podcast. I am Vince Miller, your founder and host. And today we’re in a series on men’s ministry. Discussing the topic of engaging and attracting men in the church.

Welcome to the program. If this is your first time tuning in, well thank you for joining us. Our mission at Resolute is to disciple and develop men to lead. And if you’re looking for content for your men’s group or men’s ministry – then you need to go to our website today at beresolute.org. We have a number of great tools for men who are leading other men. Also if you want to follow us, you can find us on Facebook or LinkedIn. And if you prefer to listen, you can find us on every major feed – including iTunes and Soundcloud. You can follow along right there. Or also in our app. But now gentlemen, let’s dive in.

Well guys, I’m excited to introduce to you today, Roger Thompson. Roger is a good friend, and a Pastor who has worked in ministry over 40 years. He brings with him a lot of wisdom, and he is the author of a fantastic book called, “Do the Next Right Thing.” He currently works with Man in the Mirror Ministries. Which works to equip men in churches to develop their men’s ministry. Roger, thanks so much for being with us again today.

Roger: Great to be back with you Vince.

Vince: Okay. So I don’t know where we’re going to go with this one. Which makes it probably pretty fun. But I know that sometimes men don’t like to go to church. I know that’s true. I know that sometimes they don’t feel welcome at church. I know that David Morrow and his famed book, which has been a big seller for men’s ministry and men in general that work with men. He – the title of his book is, “Why Men Hate Going to Church.”

Roger: Yes.

Vince: Which I feel is a little strong. Because sometimes I want to say, “Well men don’t hate going to church, but he– But some men do, I guess. And there’s lots of reasons for this. But he – he puts up a good argument for why men don’t like to go to church necessarily. And all these obstacles. And much of his book is about the environment that men walk into.

For example, if we were just to walk into church for the very first time – he suggests, David Morrow suggests that some men are going to see environments that aren’t all that welcoming to them. That aren’t fitting for them. Or aren’t like most places in their life. And he spends a lot of time talking about how to create an attractive physical environment for guys. I’m wondering your opinion about this. Because to be quite honest with you, environment does make a little bit of a difference to me. But is it just about the physical environment? Is it maybe about other components within the church that make it difficult for guys to engage?

Roger: Well I think some guys are oblivious to their environment. We know some guys like that. They just don’t care. But I think there are many, many sub-signals that we send. Let me share a wake-up call I had. I was standing at the gas pump a few years ago. One of my first experiences with – the video screen lit up, and showed me a little 1 minute television show.

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: While I’m pumping gas. And it was high definition. They told me I could be friends with them on Facebook.

Vince: Yeah, right.

Roger: I don’t know who does that, who wants to be friends with your gas station? But it was a wake-up call for me, because I’d had men telling me, “The technology at our church is really tacky.”

Vince: Yeah. Or dated, yeah.

Roger: And I – it was a wake-up call to me saying, “All around me – men, women, children are being schooled subtly in a culture that is getting more and more high-tech, more high definition. Everything is cleaner and crisper. And if a guy walks into a church and he has the sense from the environment that something died here–

Vince: Yeah, yeah.

Roger: And again, I don’t want to get into a race to the top. I don’t– We can never quite keep up technologically.

Vince: No.

Roger: But there are signals that send to a man that – whoever’s doing this is really not current. So that’s I think one of the signals. I think the signage is another. I think speaking in plain language is something that we need to do. I kind of bristle when I hear people using the word blessed and blessing and– Sort of stained glass wordage. If we’re going to use a theological term in our preaching, I think we should explain what it means.

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: And do it without shame. If we’re going to use the word sanctification, I think we should say what that means – and not assume what people have. If we’re going to quote a verse, now we can throw it on the screen, so that guys aren’t fumbling around looking for it.

Vince: Yeah, yeah.

Roger: Now some of that may keep people in some spiritual infancy. But I think it also creates an environment of comfort. Where a guy says, “This is like the old Vince Lombardi speech. This is a football–”

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: “Let’s all start with the basics.”

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: And I think we have to send that message, in particular to men every time they walk in the building. “We’re all on the same footing. You’re welcome here. We’re going to go somewhere.”

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: “And we’re going to go somewhere at a pace that you might find challenging. But you’re going to know why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Vince: Yeah. I like that. That’s – and maybe later you could explain to me what sanctification means.

Roger: Yeah.

Vince: But I think that – the interesting part is that it is important to pay attention to the symbols. To the signals that we’re communicating to people – whether intentional or unintentional. And that they sometimes communicate to different audiences that you’re in or you’re out. You probably had this experience as well. I’ve gone to the country club before or visited people at a country club. And I sometimes feel like I’m on the outside there.

Roger: Oh yeah.

Vince: And not welcome, by how I’m treated at the door. The exclusive language. The way people dress, or the way that they talk. The expensive cost of things. The way that people engage in relationships immediately and leave me on the outside. That can be damaging for how people engage, or maybe for some people can be very attractive. But it doesn’t matter, we’ve got to pay attention to it.

So I’m hearing you say – environment does make a difference. And that we’ve got to help people to kinda move down the field like Vince Lombardi helped them to do, right? Or any of the great coaches of all time. They just kinda help people to understand the first steps, help them to take those steps. And then challenge them along the way. But not challenge them with how they engage initially.

But let’s jump into this other topic now. Where I’ve heard David Morrow say that maybe church has been a little bit effeminate for men? I don’t know how I feel about that in particular. But I can say that maybe at times it does feel a little effeminate. Do you agree with David Morrow’s assessment of the church?

Roger: Well I think it can easily get that way. I mean, if you look at just demographics and he– He does a wide overview of churches where he says, “Many, many church cultures are 65% women.”

Vince: Oh yeah.

Roger: Including in most of the leadership positions.

Vince: Right.

Roger: Well I think then it does become effeminate. And by the way, I’m all for feminine persons.

Vince: Yeah, yeah right, right, right. Yeah.

Roger: I love women. I love being around them. I’m around some of the best women in the world. But when men sense that they’re being feminized, they don’t like that and–

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: So I think it can happen. And I think it happens kind of subtly.

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: And–

Vince: More than directly, right?

Roger: Yeah, more than directly, yeah.

Vince: Yeah. I agree with you on that. And sometimes I’ve heard people talk about church decor being too feminine. Or singing and the way we do it is too feminine. Or kind of the style or the approach that we use to engage people is too feminine. And I think we’ve just got to pay attention to those things. But let’s move away from some of these physical features, and talk about how do we create an environment for men in how we think, and how we address men. Even how we create an environment for them spiritually. How do we do that, Roger? How do we help guys to engage with a culture that feels maybe a little bit more masculine than feminine?

Roger: Well I think it – we’ve started kind of talking about the sociological environment.

Vince: Right.

Roger: And I think that’s super important and very important. But I – I think it leads us – your last question leads us into what I think is even more important. That the sociology, that we don’t create sociological barriers is important. So that we can challenge men to the depth of their soul with the message that we have. So it’s not about watering down the message, it’s about putting the message in the language that will confront men.

Vince: That’s super clear.

Roger: At their deepest heart.

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: So it does include – obviously, the preacher. It includes the music. It includes the way it’s presented. And so I think if men are invited into an environment where they know they are going to be challenged with things that are deep and lasting – they’re going to have to walk away thinking about this. Men want a challenge. They don’t want to be coddled. They don’t want to be a project.

Vince: Right.

Roger: They want to be challenged to something. So for example, if we have a preset mentality that every mature Christian man looks like St Francis of Assisi.

Vince: Yeah, right.

Roger: He’s friends with the birds and the lambs. That he’s this relational sponge. That he’s there to help and nurture and relate and do all these things. And there’s everything right about that. But many men also relate to excellence and efficiency and a challenge. And seeing results for their investment.

Vince: Right.

Roger: Well there’s nothing wrong with that either.

Vince: Right.

Roger: Because the gospel teaches that, the Apostle Paul modeled that. So I think we have emphasized the former set, which is basically feminine values – and nothing wrong with those.

Vince: Right.

Roger: In fact, Jesus modeled that.

Vince: Right.

Roger: But we have often not modeled for men’s ministry or ministry to men. The other side of the equation which says, “You know what? God wants you to have goals and purposes in your life that will challenge you to the depth of your shoes, and take you someplace you’d never anticipated.” We’ve got to challenge guys at that level too.

Vince: Yeah, this makes me think about – and I don’t know really where I want to go with this. But this makes me think about all the things that made Jesus Christ a very challenging person. Like he stood up for his faith.

Roger: Yeah.

Vince: That’s something that we can accentuate, right? Or he called Zacchaeus out of the tree, right? Or when he was being persecuted in front of the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin, he said the truth in a challenging moment.

Roger: Yes.

Vince: That cost him his life, to be bound and beaten. Or he’s – he doesn’t do necessarily the comforting thing by showing up at the grave of Lazarus before Lazarus dies. He allows Lazarus to die. Allows people to experience pain. And then he says, “But I told you I’m the resurrection in life. Let me show you all the wonderful things that God could do.” I think we sometimes don’t – we paint a picture of this nice, soft Jesus – maybe in our churches? And we theologically expound things. And we dig into the text. But then maybe – I wonder if we miss this like– What – some people see as a soft side of Jesus, really is a strong, challenging, in your face side of Jesus. Right? Did we miss that?

Roger: Well that’s – isn’t that the challenge? I mean, we’re forever going to be pointing out new facets of Jesus.

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: Because neither is Jesus the MVP quarterback.

Vince: Right, yeah.

Roger: He’s not the macho man either. In fact – I had a man in our ministry, I was very grateful for his comment. We were planning an event. Kind of a kickoff event. And he was on our men’s team. And he said, “You know what? I have to say this.” He said, “I’m a – I’m in a middle management position. I’m in IT. I deal with people all day. I’m in an educational institution.” And he said, “I’ve heard enough quarterback stories.

Vince: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Roger: Let’s bring somebody who can challenge me in my world.

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: And in my – my need. So it’s both sides – all – it’s both ends. But I think – again, if we lock our assumptions about what it looks like to be a disciple into an artificial framework – then we lock out a whole bunch of men.

Vince: Okay, so maybe let me start to summarize some of the ideas that we’ve shared today as we’ve kinda – tried to navigate this touchy subject without offending women or-

Roger: Yeah.

Vince: Over – making men’s ministry over-macho, right?

Roger: Right.

Vince: It’s trying to navigate a sensitivity for men. Like we would do anything. Addressing guys that are young in their faith, by being sensitive to those guys. Guys that are old in their faith that is looking for something maybe more deep and challenging. It’s addressing maybe the natural tendency to be effeminate, maybe in our churches?

Because there are more women leading and engaged. And the tendency of being too macho on the other side. It’s ignoring. It’s only seeing the cute side of Jesus, and the soft side of him, right? Versus not seeing the maybe challenging and – let’s say the aggressive side of him walking to the temple and breaking out a weapon, slapping some people upside the head.

And it’s navigating these challenges by keeping men in mind. If we really want to engage them, then maybe the environment just isn’t about physical things. It’s about us having a sensitivity to that. I know that what I’ve done in recent years is paid a lot more attention, Roger – to my teaching and preaching.

And one of the things I’ve paid more attention to is how I use practical, everyday stories that aren’t just about sports. That isn’t just about hunting. I get kind of fed up with that. Because we need to help the guys who are leading. Who own businesses. Who are facing challenges, career changes, depression, marital issues? We need to engage a broad sense of the masculine heart. And create an environment where all guys can be engaged. And yeah, your IT guy feels like he’s at home too, right?

Roger: Right.

Vince: Are we getting somewhere with this, does–?

Roger: Well it goes back to what we said in our last podcast. And that is that – don’t think that we have to do everything in men’s ministry that only the church corporately can really accomplish.

Vince: Yeah, that’s good.

Roger: So we want to affirm all these different aspects in our specific ministry to men. But we also want to say that not everybody’s going to be a part of that. So don’t try to be a home for every type of man at your pancake breakfast.

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: It’s just not going to happen.

Vince: That’s great, yeah.

Roger: We need to affirm the overall ministry of the church. The Pastor’s ministry. The ministry of preaching, the ministry of worship, and the ministry of serving. All these are places where men can engage and–

Vince: Yeah.

Roger: And become their true self in Christ.

Vince: Oh that’s really good. Thank you, Roger, again for being with us. And we look forward to seeing you soon. Well, that’s the show. Thanks for listening. As we close, I want to remind you of 2 things. First, Roger Thompson is hosting a “No Man Left Behind” seminar in the Minneapolis, St Paul area. So if you live around here, and you’re looking for a tool to equip you to lead the men of your church – you have to go to this event. It’s called, “No Man Left Behind.”

It’s a one and a half day seminar that will train you, and give you time to plan, discuss and consult with your leadership team. And it will leave you with a game plan to reach all of the men of your church with a powerful vision and a sustainable strategy. There’s nothing like this on the face of the planet. It is fantastic. It’s like drinking from a fire hose of leadership. It’s going to equip you and inspire you to lead the men around you. You need to attend it. If you want to find out details about this event that Roger’s hosting, just go to beresolute.org/nomanleftbehind. It’s /nomanleftbehind. Go there today to get tickets, or to register. And I would highly encourage you to bring a man or 2 with you to this event.

Also, if you’re looking for men’s content, we have great content for men on our website for you. Excellent small group videos and participant handbooks that will empower the men of your church to lead. Go to our website today – beresolute.org, and find out more. And with that, I hope you enjoyed this podcast. But please know – that the time that we spent together today is worthless unless you choose to act on it. So do something today. By getting off the bench and into the game. And I’ll see you right back here next time for another edition of The Resolute Podcast.