Building A Men’s Ministry That Grows and Sustains
A New Way To Think
I love men that want to build a men’s ministry in their church. The heart and passion is something to celebrate. And everyone in your church will notice right away that every other ministry flourishes, however, the engagement of men, across all age groups, is notoriously weak. And if you don’t believe me, here are the facts.
Fact About Men In The Church:
“The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories.” (“U.S. Congregational Life Survey – Key Findings,” 10/29/03.)
While some will find, these facts disturbing this has been true for centuries. It is not a new phenomenon. But I, like you, believe we can change this. Here are some thoughts and learnings on this topic that have helped me build a men’s ministry in the last few years that is growing, vibrant, and healthy.
First | Remember Your Men May Not Be “In” The Church
You are reading this because they are not there!
You must begin by changing your thinking about ministry when building a men's ministry. An adjustment is needed because men’s ministry does not play by the rules of every other effort in the church. I watch as ministry leaders frequently assume, like the women’s ministry, that men will just show up. And this is not the case. For men, you are going to have to work a little more strategically. And before you do anything, consider this fact about your market audience and what it teaches you about your men's market.
Fact About A Man's Engagement With The Church:
“More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.” (Barna, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America.”)
So, you may need to read that a couple of times, because this single fact gives us clues to at least two marketing challenges. The first challenge is that Christian men are fine with “things as they spiritually are” (the status quo, which leads to the greatest sin of men - apathy). The second challenge is that marketing to men during weekend services will reach only 1 out of 6 in attendance, and even then, it might fall on deaf ears. Embracing this hard reality is important because this is where we must begin to work smarter.
If you are going to build a men's ministry, you must remember you are working with these facts - with the rare exception of some church that is killing it with men. So maybe consider that comparing your efforts to that of women's ministry might be a poor comparison since their audience is much more engaged because they come to church and hear the weekly announcements. But if men are not coming, you are going to have to think about ways you can reach out to them as a market.
One solution that I have seen work is designing you men's effort toward becoming more inclusive to Christian men in the community. One way to do this is to build a broader brand. One group that has been very successful at doing this is "Leading With Power," based out of La Crosse, WI, led by Tony Szak. They have hundreds of men in attendance, with a simple model. And here it is.
Each month men are invited to join other men from all walks of life for a free meal for first-time attendees. Enjoy an excellent sit-down meal while hearing from men who will motivate you on topics of leadership, marriage, and family. The speakers they host are men who have a background in business, entrepreneurship, and are recognized leaders in the community. And this all happens in a one hour experience. And while this is an event, that requires a lot of work and planning, they have experienced massive success in reaching Christian and pre-Christian men in the community around a broad leadership brand.
Second | Make The Acquisition Funnel Smaller & Flip It
So do somethings differently.
In the sales and marketing world, customer acquisition funnels are used to clarify the process of acquiring clients and building a client base. They attempt to capture potential and turn them into first time and repeat customers. So, they start with a broad pool of potential customers and funnel them into a sales cycle, one step, and one decision at a time. While this works in most situations, this is very challenging for men’s ministry inside of the church with a small team on no budget, which is the case 90% of the time. And here is why. A robust funnel requires an in-depth strategy which involves a ton of time.
But volunteer men’s teams and leaders tend to default to a large funnel event because they seem to work in every other context. An example of "broad funnel events" are your staple Men’s Breakfast or Men’s Retreat, which churches do a few times a year. And I believe there are times and places for these, but they also consume a lot of time and financial resources and are not as successful as we want them to be at moving men down the funnel toward more in-depth engagement.
For evidence of this, I speak at and attend Breakfast Events and Retreats for men almost weekly throughout the year, and I can tell you first hand, that even with tons of marketing and effort, rarely do these broad funnel events break the 100-attendance barrier, unless it is a huge church. Most of them are between 40-50 men in attendance, and they are marketed internally. And two things are detrimental to the ministry. First, when the leaders get done, they are worn out and have little left to give. Second, often they lack the next steps for the men who came.
One solution that returns much higher engagement; costs less, requires less time, and keeps men engaged longer is a leadership themed small group. This not only makes the funnel smaller, but it also flips the funnel the other direction.
If I were a senior pastor in a situation with limited resources and a small force, I would recruit my most capable Christian man and have him lead a small group focused on leadership development with a team of men that you want to attract to the ministry. Yep, pick your most prominent male leader in the church and have him develop a group of men. This is very biblical, and I know of one example in the Bible. And while this is slower to build momentum, it is right-sized for a volunteer team, with limited resources. I then would tend toward materials with a general discipleship and leadership focus, (not life-stage based material,) and spend time turning those men into leaders in your church.
One Solution: Pick your biggest male leader in the church, and have him develop a group of men
If you ever want more in-depth advice on this, send me an email. I have seen 98% success in recruiting to this type of model, and 87% total engagement over one year with groups taking this approach weekly. Yep, not a joke. And it is much easier to deploy.
Third | Think Deploy Not Retain
Don't gather them send them.
Okay here is where things get interesting. I think men’s ministry as it has been done in the past, is not a good idea.
Now, before you get too frustrated with me, let me tell you what I mean.
I think too often we look back to the Promise Keeper’s years with Coach Bill McCartney and wish we could manufacture that moment again. We think, “Let’s gather men, have them all at a stadium event, and we will show the world what God can do!” And while the enthusiasm is to be celebrated, the approach is not going to work like it used to.
So, why not stop frustrating yourself?
Just stop trying to retain men. Stop it all together. They aren’t coming anyway. Here are the facts.
Fact About Men in the Church Activities:
“Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.” (Barna Research Online, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America,” 4/6/2000.)
Since these men are not coming to weekly activities, they must be doing something. But what are they doing? Well, they are busy. They work. And I know one thing, they want to do this better as men. So maybe instead of fighting against our market, we need to join with them. Instead of trying to lure them to “our” stuff, we need to help them succeed with “their” thing, in their “way” on their “terms.”
And rather than letting a lack of engagement frustrate us, I have found the phrase “deployment of men” to be life-giving. While this is a missional idea and more descriptive than prescriptive, I have seen deployment success stories that thrill me on three levels. First, on a low level, the man who is now leading devotionals with his kids, praying consistently with his wife, and reading his Bible for personal devotion. Wouldn't it be more exciting to have every man in your church doing this, rather than attending your event anyway? Second, at a mid-level, I love it when men are deployed into other ministries of the church and serve in youth ministry, education ministry, or even on a committee or board. Wouldn't this be helpful for church health? Third, and my favorite sign of high-level deployment is when a man leads ministry efforts in their business or decides to mentor a group of men on his own. This is where replication becomes biblical. So rather than retaining men, I think a focus on deployment could be very life-giving to your men and ministry. And again this is biblical and requires a change of mindset.
One solution toward making this move from retainment to engagement is to start equipping your men with tools for deployment. This little spin in thinking is very freeing. But it is going to require some thought.
I think one ministry that does this well is ours - Resolute. We have no desire to retain our men. We want to deploy them. And we hope that our content will so impact them that they will want to use it with other men, or will take on a leadership role in the church. If we can be responsible for discipling and developing in a way that serves a pastor, I get excited.
And FYI, retention of men, by the way, is a fallacy. We cannot retain them, because they do not belong to us, only to God, and they are called to serve his mission.
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 www.beresolute.org or send us an email.
Vince Miller is an author and speaker to men around the world on topics that include manhood, masculinity, fatherhood, mentorship, and leadership. He has authored 16 different books for men and is hosted on major video platforms like RightNow Media and Faithlife TV. He hosts a weekly podcast, writes weekly articles, and provides daily thoughts from God's Word all just for men. He is a 27-year ministry veteran and the founder of Resolute a Men's Ministry Platform that provides bible studies aimed at building better men found at www.beresolute.org