Building A Men’s Ministry (That Grows and Sustains)

Here's something to think about...

I love it when men want to build a ministry to men in their church. The heart and passion is something to celebrate, not something to quench and set aside. People within the church notice right away that almost every other ministry flourishes (i.e. children, teens, women, and even the quilting club) however, the engagement of men, across all age groups, is notoriously low. 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's not a new phenomenon. But I, like you, believe we can change this. Here is some of my thinking and learning on this topic from my last 28 years of ministry that has helped me build a ministry to men that grows and sustains.

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First | The Men You Want May Not Be In The Church

In fact, you're reading this because they aren't there.

We must begin by changing our mindset about ministry when reaching men. 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 when invited—and this is not the case. For men, you need more strategery. And before you start devising a strategy, consider this fact about your market audience and what it teaches you about men.

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 better 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.” (FYI, status quo, 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 men in attendance. Even then, it might fall on deaf ears. Embracing this hard reality about our market is essential because this is where we must start working smarter.

If you are going to build a men's ministry, you must remember you are working with these facts. And they're facts; you cannot change them. You can only change how you work knowing them. So if men are not coming, you are going to have to find creative new ways to reach them as your market demographic.

Here's an idea—Lead With Power

One solution that I have seen work is aiming a men's effort at becoming more inclusive to Christian men within the larger community. This builds broader awareness, is naturally more inviting, and sometimes gets churches working together in their efforts for men. One group that has been very successful at doing this is Leading With Power, based in Wisconsin, founded by Keith Tompkins. They have hundreds of men in attendance at several in-state and out-of-state locations using a simple model that is attracting men. And here it is.

Each month men are invited to join other men, from all walks of life, for a gathering around a meal. They enjoy an excellent sit-down meal while hearing from male speakers who will motivate you on topics of leadership, marriage, and family. The speakers they host are men who have backgrounds in business and entrepreneurship and are recognized leaders in the community with either spiritual undertones or a direct gospel invitation. And this all happens in a one hour experience. And while this event requires a lot of work and planning, they have experienced massive success in reaching Christian and pre-Christian men in the community.

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Second | Flip The Acquisition Funnel

So try something different

In the sales and marketing world, customer acquisition funnels are used to clarify the process of acquiring clients so that you can build a client base. They attempt to capture potential at more significant events and turn them into first time and repeat customers. I know this is a lot of business thinking.

Simply put, they start with a large pool of potential customers at partner events and funnel them into a sales cycle, one step, and one decision at a time. While this works, it is cost, time, and energy prohibitive in most church situations. Especially given that you probably have a small men's team with a $200 /annual budget, which is the case 90% of the time. And let's be honest, building a customer acquisition process for men is going to require a large men's team, a $100k/annual budget, and a ton of time.

But when planning to build our men's ministry, we tend to default to the large event (acquisition funnel events) because they work. An example would be your staple Men’s Breakfast, Men’s Retreat, or Men's Conference, which men host a few times a year. Now, these events do work, and if you have the team, time, and money to do them—do them! But be intentional and strategic because they are not as successful as we always want them to be at moving men down the funnel toward more in-depth engagement.

Here's an idea—Develop A Small Movement

One solution that returns much higher engagement and costs less, requires less time, and keeps men engaged longer is a leadership themed small group. This flips the funnel in the other direction.

Fact About Small Group Explosion
"With 1 small group of men, I was able to build a ministry to 480 men in 40 small groups over 9-months. I did not think it was possible as a 20-year ministry veteran, but I had never tried it before. Why are we so surprised? Jesus's ministry still continues to grow using this model."—VInce Miller

If I were a senior pastor or men's leader in a situation with limited resources, I would recruit my most capable Christian man and have him lead a small group focused on mentorship, discipleship, and leadership development with a team of men. Yep, pick your most capable male leader in the church and have him develop a group of men. This is very biblical; Jesus did it. And while this is initially a slower process, it's right-sized for a volunteer team running on limited resources. I would tend toward materials with a general discipleship and leadership focus and spend time turning those men into leaders in your church—that build the acquisition funnel with you.

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 an increase of 87% total engagement over one year with groups taking this approach weekly. Yep, not a joke. And it is much easier to deploy.

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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 olf movements like Promise Keepers 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 defeating 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. So what are they doing? Well, they are busy. They work. And I know one thing, they want to do this better. 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 stuff in their way on their terms—but still with God's truth.

And rather than letting this lack of engagement frustrate us, I have found a focus on deploying men to be life-giving. Now this is a missional idea and more descriptive than prescriptive, I have seen deployment success stories that thrill me on three different levels.

  • First, on a base level, a man is deployed when he 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 larger events 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 balance, engagement, and expansion?
  • Third, and my favorite sign of high-level deployment, is when a man leads ministry efforts in their place of business or decides to mentor a group of men on his own. This is where replication becomes biblical.

So rather than retain men, maybe deployment would be life-giving to you and men's ministry. And again, this is biblical and requires a new mindset.

I think one ministry that does this well is ours—Resolute. We have no desire to retain our men. We want to deploy them into your church and the world. 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 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 me and I will help in any way I can. I would even be willing to come out and train your team. See more here: Men's Training

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