Churches nationwide are fretting and sweating to reel men into their sanctuaries on Sundays.
Women outnumber men in attendance in every major Christian denomination, and they are 20% to 25% more likely to attend worship at least weekly.
In an effort to but male butts into the pews, 121 Community Church has geared everything toward men.
Women are welcome, but the tone is intentionally “guy church” for a reason, says Ross Sawyers, founder and pastor of 121.
“I have read that if a child comes to Christ, 12% of the time the whole family will follow,” Sawyers says.
“If the mom comes, there’s a 15% chance the family will. But if the man comes to church, 90% of the time the family will come along behind.
“That’s the reality, and that’s why we do this.”
The rest of what they do sounds pretty seeker-sensitive to me. Change the window-dressing, and that’ll solve everything? David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church and keeper of churchformen.com, says “Blame the church, not the men,” because “We’ve wrapped the Gospel in this man-repellent package.” I guess if church looked more like a beer commercial, if they gave some real market-segment consideration to potential “usherette’s” uniforms and instead of bad coffee and a stale doughnut afterward they handed you a plate of hot wings and read you the list of what’s on tap… yes, I’m quite certain more guys would show up. They’d most likely hit a quite unchurched demographic, in fact. It’d be anything but a man-repellent package — as long as we’re doing stereotypes.
David Fitch weighs in on this item. Calling it a contextualization of the gospel, he writes, “Contextualization extracts the gospel message (like a concept), reduces it to a narrow point of contact and seeks to attract people via this appeal to this contact. Contextualization by its very nature is attractional.” The problem here, he says, is that “contextualization makes it almost impossible for the church to be transformational.” Saying that contextualization is only possible in the realm of modernity which “stresses the gospel as a translatable trans cultural (as opposed to intra cultural) concept,” Fitch hits the nail on the head (in my ever-so non-humble opinion to which all are welcome) when he says that contextualization in this sense “makes the church susceptible to the territorialization of the market, where everything becomes splintered into market niches inevitably separating us from one another.”
The alternative, Fitch suggests, is — wait for it — incarnation, which “seeks to incarnate the gospel over long periods of time culturally within a context [by entering] into a culture as a communal presence.” Incarnational models are of course the missional way, and are effective in modernity or post-modernity or elsewhere. But as Fitch notes, “Evangelicals, uncritical of their modernist bias, are addicted to contextualization.” Sadly, this drives them to an attractional model rather than an incarnational one. Remember I said it sounded pretty seeker-sensitive to me?
It’s just target-marketing the gospel. Once again, the market — the unchurched male — is a target, a market demographic, not an individual. Not even a person. “Guy church” is an example of something I suggested last week, the church’s penchant to respond to groups rather than individuals. (I was suggesting this was partly due to size and scale, but here we have modernity as another contributing factor.)
The goal is to gather men together to present them with a customized contextualized message, but here’s the rub, which the business world realized a decade ago… markets are conversations. Yes, that’s thesis number one of ninety-five in a life-changing manifesto I have loved always. Read it online for free or in dead-tree sandwich format for easy note-taking. The second thesis is this: “Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.” The third follows on these, “Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.” Allow me to quote thesis numbers thirty-three through forty:
Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can’t be “picked up” at some tony conference.
To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
But first, they must belong to a community.
Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.
Human communities are based on discourse–on human speech about human concerns.
The community of discourse is the market.
Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
Do you see where this is going? When you stop listening to the community outside your walls, you fall out of touch, and out of favour with the community. The way to endear yourself to them once again is not to contextualize your message and market it to them as your target… ultimately, that just further distances you. (And you know you’re in trouble with this when you begin with statistics on your market size.) Try discoursing with the community, and things will come back in line. Slowly, perhaps. The problem wasn’t created overnight and won’t be fixed overnight. Incarnation is for the long haul… but it works. Where did all the men go? I quote thesis number eighty-seven. “We’d like it if you got what’s going on here. That’d be real nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we’re holding our breath.”