The Five Reasons Men Don't Join Small Groups

Few things have a positive impact on us more than healthy relationships with other Christian men. And yet still so few men are engaged in a small group community. As a pastor who used to oversee small groups in one of the ten largest churches in America, Eagle Brook Church, in the Twin Cities, I can attest to the fact that involving men in small groups is the greatest challenge men's leaders, directors, or pastors will ever face. And we know that engaging men is a critical target market, that often goes untapped.

David Murrow, the author of “Why Men Hate Going To Church,” said in an interview with CBN,

"The pastorate is a men’s club. But almost every other area of church life is dominated by women. Whenever large numbers of Christians gather, men are never in the majority. Not at revivals. Not at crusades. Not at conferences. Not at retreats. Not at concerts.”

While I think David’s, title book title is a little extreme, the reality he paints in this statement is spot on.

But I think more needs to be said about the root causes mostly because we get disillusioned about the involvement of our men without understanding the real reason behind diminishing male involvement. Here are five reasons I believe men do not join small groups.

They Deal With Personal Shame

The first reason that men don’t join is that men deal with a lot of private and personal shame. While most men are not eager to talk about it, one of the primary reasons men do not connect with men's ministry or men's small groups is that they are embarrassed to admit that they may not have the answers. Men are sensitive, whether they admit it or not, about being made a fool of in a group meeting. They also do not want to be the outcast in a group setting. And in moments of confession, I have heard men say personal shame or an immature faith is a valid reason for avoiding small group engagement. While some people might want to shout "man-up and get in a group," working through this issue is a real challenge. This is because men prefer to play on teams where they can win, do work they excel at, and be a part of group experiences where they can feel some measure of competence. So, do not ignore the power of shame by providing them with a safe and caring environment.

They Don't Respect The Leader

A second reason that men don’t join is that men don’t respect the leader. While this is a tall order for any leader, this is a common reason for the lack of participation and followership. Men willingly and recklessly follow men who are perceived, strong leaders. They want to learn from them and want to sit at their feet. I have found that if someone like John Piper, Matt Chandler, and Tim Keller walked up to you and said to you join my group, you would probably follow. Because the character, wisdom, and leadership of the man make all the difference. There is no church with an army of Andy Stanley's leading the way, but there is usually one man who everyone follows. He is the one I would challenge to lead and replicate the men's efforts in my church, assuming his character is one that is biblically grounded and willing to lead.

They Don't Like Other Men In The Group

The third reason that men don’t join is that men don’t like the other men in the group. Now, this is a typical chemistry problem. I have heard this excuse several times and have even had people leave groups I have led because there is some other man in the group that they do not like. I have also asked men to leave a group for the benefit of the group itself. This poses a unique challenge for any leader. We have to remember that we will not always anticipate these issues, and in some cases, we cannot avoid them. However, my solution has been to create groups with a broader reach. Here is what I mean, I have found some of my best groups have been groups of men that do not know each other very well. While most churches focus exclusively on having their congregation in a small "church" group, I've found that this is not always the best option for men. Groups with higher anonymity often have higher male participation at first, because they can share more openly, and there is less risk with issues like chemistry. Just think about it, if rather than having men exclusively from your church, how about having men from the many churches. Consider how this might increase the vulnerability and lower the risk for men who are not familiar with small group dynamics to begin with.

It Doesn't Address Their Life-Stage Challenges

A fourth reason that men don't join is that the group does not meet their current life stage challenges. A single man is going to self-opt out of a group for married men, and a group on fathering is going to exclude men who are not. While life-stage groups are helpful, they also create an issue for churches and ministries that are trying to get going. Often life-stage groups are challenging to begin with unless you have a large ministry with a lot of good curriculum access. If you don't, then I believe focusing on common discipleship paths is much more effective. I have had hundreds of men join our program and use our small group curriculum for this reason alone – it attracts men of all ages, and all walks of life, with an extensive discipleship path.

They Are Too Busy

The fifth reason is the killer, and as a leader that wants to see men mature, this one drives me crazy—men are too busy. This is because life is busy. But I know one thing that life will never move as slow as it does today. Therefore, I believe the excuse “too busy” is another way to say one of two things; either they did not want to mention one of the reasons above, or they prefer status quo because life is fine as it is. What they are saying is that don't need it or want it right now. But I have discovered when the pain is high enough, they will reorder their priorities and consider that community, relationships with other like-minded men, and a regular dose of God’s Word is just what they need.

Five Solutions For Your Men

So in conclusion, while the obstacles are numerous, I think the solutions are out there because we cannot just give up. And by the way, I have already given you a few great solutions to consider.

  • For shame – give men the promise of a safe environment.
  • For leadership – give them the strongest male leader in the church.
  • For chemistry – give them, groups that are more anonymous and community-focused.
  • For life-stage – give them general discipleship with a clear path.
  • For busyness – give them the challenge of a community, so when pain strikes, they know where to go.

If you are looking for material for your men’s group, or are looking for help with your small group leadership, reach out to us a or send us an email.

Vince Miller is an authentic and transparent leader who loves to speak to men’s audiences and has a deep passion for mentorship and God’s Word. He has authored ten books and small group content for men. He is the primary content creator of all Resolute materials. Reach out to him today if you need a men’s speaker or content for your men’s small groups.