5 Hot-Button Topics for Reaching Men

5 Hot-Button Topics for Reaching Men
Brian Mavis

Video. Sports. Adventure. Sex. Cars. There’s no question that men’s magazines have caught onto what appeals to men, but has the church?

I used to think that male ministers were weak. They all seemed to be the type who liked cats more than dogs, and cardigan sweaters more than old sweatshirts. That some of them sported robes didn’t help their cause either. I figured these “men” became ministers and hid in church because they couldn’t hack the real world.

Even though I didn’t actually know a minister, that’s what I thought of them. Growing up, I had all the “culture” that comes from living in a non-Christian construction family. My dad was a carpenter, a tough guy. In the summers I worked with other tough guys who were fluent in French (as in “excuse my French”), got all their carbs from beer, smoked “homemade cigarettes,” and who talked about sex more than Oprah talks about feelings.

But one summer Dad hired a new guy named Mike Breaux. Though he didn’t do any of the above, I didn’t hold it against him. He seemed cool. In fact, I liked him more than the other guys. I even wanted to “be like Mike” before Nike made it popular. But then tragedy struck.

I can still remember the night Dad revealed to me that Mike was a minister. I couldn’t believe my ears. The world didn’t make sense. I felt deceived, even betrayed. How could Mike be a minister? He didn’t seem like one. He seemed like a regular guy, just better. My wuss antenna must have been on the fritz.

The next day I confronted Mike about my Dad’s accusation, expecting him to somehow explain it away. But he just came right out and confessed it, no shame. He said he was a youth minister. I thought: Well, maybe there is still a chance to save him before he becomes a real minister.

Then he asked if I wanted to go to church. I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I did the honorable thing and lied. “Yeah, sure,” I said, which translated means, “You’re joking right?”

The next week and the week after that he asked again. So I lied again. Then Mike threw me a curve ball. He asked if I was interested in going to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. Now we were talking. I had a good time at the game, but when it was over, it dawned on me that I owed Mike one. So I decided to go to church once to even the score.

Since I’m now writing an article for a Christian magazine, you can probably figure out the general direction of how this story ends. The point is (in case you missed it) it took an invitation to a non-church-guy-thing to get me started on this journey of following Jesus. What does it mean to be a man, and what does it take to reach him for God? The world has messed up what it means to be a man, and it certainly doesn’t care about reaching him for God. The construction guys I knew thought being a man meant talking tough, getting drunk or high, and getting lucky. Other worldly definitions of manliness include athletic ability, getting rich and having power.

The world tries to fix the sometimes vulgar side of man by taming him. As Garrison Keillor says, “Guys are in trouble these days. Years ago, manhood was an opportunity for achievement, and now it’s just a problem to be overcome. Guys who once might have painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling are now just trying to be Mr. O.K.”

In many cases the church hasn’t done much better than the world at “fixing men.” They’ve put a 21st century spin on a similar first-century problem. Two thousand years ago, there was some confusion about what it took to become a Christian man. Some people believed that Gentile men had to be circumcised to be real Christians. Today the church has moved the knife a few inches, no longer performing a circumcision but a castration. I’m speaking metaphorically of course. But the problem is real. Just like the world, the church often tries to take the “manliness” out of a man instead of taking his God-given strengths and finding their rightful use in the kingdom. God wants man as He made him. Man isn’t meant to chase skirts, but he’s not meant to be in one either (unless you’re Scottish, and it still looks weird).

There are some churches today making the decision to give more attention to men. These churches are leveraging the same “hot button” topics your average men’s magazine covers every month to meet men real, tough-talkin,  football watchin’ men where they are.

1. Video / Film

The average guy in your neighborhood may not know who said, “Behold! I am coming soon,” but he knows who said, “I’ll be back.” He may not know the verse “And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.” but he knows the line  “Go ahead, make my day.”

Regal CineMedia distributes to 25 percent, of the videos in the United States and reaches 22 million moviegoers. If half the country is male, and Regal reaches one quarter of the country, that means (if my math is right), a whole bunch of guys are watching movies. (I asked my statistics professor brother to check my math, and he said it was right).

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Pay attention, this is pretty deep stuff. When millions of guys are interested in something, that’s a good clue you should consider using it as an outreach.

A few years ago, Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston clued into using movies to reach guys. Each month, a group of men in the church get together on Sunday afternoon to see a movie their wives wouldn’t particularly see. Often, they invite their unchurched friends, co-workers and family members.

“We tend to see ‘guy’ movies more,” Pastor Woody Berry says. “Sometimes there’s no redeeming religious value, but we know the value of getting together with guys.” Berry shares a tip: “You don’t ever want to announce something as being men’s ministry, whether you’re trying to reach churched or unchurched men. Simply call it “guys going to the movies.”

2. Sports

In the past year, I blew out my quadricep playing arena soccer, pulled my hamstring beating out a throw to first base in softball, and wrecked my elbow playing tennis. I am (with ace bandages and icepacks) the poster child of the sport-loving guy in America. When guys aren’t playing sports, they’re reading about it or watching it. Sports Illustrated is read by 19 percent, of the 109 million American males. An ESPN survey estimates that 11.7 million men aged 18 to 34 access Internet sports, sites several times each month. Remember the secret I shared about movies. The same holds true for sports. They also qualify as a good way to reach out to unchurched guys.

Each year New Venture Christian Fellowship in Oceanside, Calif., capitalizes on the Super Bowl and hosts a communitywide celebration. Super Bowl XXXVIII’s gathering featured big screens, popcorn and nachos. In the fall, the church takes advantage of football.

“Our members invite their male co-workers and friends to come to our church to watch the game and eat hot dogs,” Senior Pastor Shawn Mitchell says. “For a lot of these men who wouldn’t think about coming to church, it’s a nonthreatening way to introduce them to New Venture and ultimately, Christ.” Known for its focus on reaching unchurched men, Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, Ariz., offers men an opportunity to be more than an armchair quarterback. The church, which was founded on sports programs, offers volleyball, softball, basketball and golf leagues. Each team leader is a church member and is required to attend a training sessions to learn about the leagues vision and purpose.

3. Adventure

I used to lead wilderness trips for youth groups and juvenile delinquents (is that redundant?) in the High Sierras. Last year, the National Sporting Goods Association surveyed men in America on their outdoor sports participation. Look at what they came up with:

* Fishing: 26.5 million
* Bicycle riding: 20.4 million
* Camping: 27.1 million
* Hunting with firearms: 15.8 million
* Hiking: 13.2 million
* Downhill skiing: 3.1 million
* Backpacking: 8.4 million
* Boating: 14 million
* Kayaking/rafting: 2.8 million

If you could reach just 1 percent, of these guys, you’d have a gigachurch (much bigger than a puny megachurch). Here’s how some churches are using outdoor adventure to reach guys.

In Spokane, Wash., where hunting and fishing are part of the culture, Fourth Memorial Baptist Church put together a men’s outdoor adventure fair in its parking lot. Men of all ages walked through various stations of outdoor sports, participated in a fly tying workshop and casting clinic, and fished from a pond stocked with 1,000 trout. The event helped men to think about reaching other men, says Pastor John Respold. “We had a number of guys and their kids who weren’t church people, and the soft evangelistic approach opened people up to getting involved in their area of passion. Guys really connect with men outside the church in their area of passion.”

A few years ago Church of the Highlands Pastor Leighton Sheley determined to find out about guys, interests in San Bruno, Calif. He asked a female choir member, “What things does your husband like to do?”

“He loves to hunt and fish,” she said.

Thus was born the original Sportsmen’s Fellowship at the church.  “We had 60 or 70 guys show up for breakfast, many of them non-church guys, who simply wanted to know what was going on,” Sheley recalls. “It gave us opportunities to build bridges to the community.” For 10 years, he says, Church of the Highlands has been doing men’s outreach by accident. “We cluster leadership around men’s passions with five or six guys in each group. It’s a matter of taking hobbies and interests and systemizing them into an outreach.’

4. Sex

Ahem. For the sake of my employment, marriage and self-respect, I will edit out the humorous anecdote for this section. (It’s quite a trick to write a Focus on the Family meets Maxim article.) And do I really need to give you stats to verify that guys are interested in sex? I didn’t think so. Unfortunately there’s plenty of evidence that shows men are “mis-interested” (interested, but messed up) in sex.

According to a survey of 9,000 online users conducted by Alvin Cooper, a San Jose cybersex expert, five out of six users who cruise the Internet for sexual material are male. More than half the men surveyed admitted to downloading adult-oriented material. And it’s not just the unchurched that visit pornographic sites. A 2001 survey by Leadership magazine found that 21 percent of pastors had visited pornographic websites “a few times a year.”

Your church has a golden opportunity to be a much-needed resource to its community. Think about it. How many places do you see offering free counseling for sexual addiction? Here’s your chance to connect to men (and their wives) through a very real problem and offer a Christian perspective.

Instead of ignoring a growing problem, Crystal Evangelical Free Church in New Hope, N.M., stepped up and took action after noticing a trend in its marriage counseling sessions. “The wife had found cookies on the home computer referring to pornographic websites,” says Dale Telle, director of the church’s purity ministry. “At first, the husband denied it, but eventually he admitted it.”

Crystal Evangelical launched a program, “Every Man’s Battle for Purity,” based partly on Stephen Arteburn’s book Every Man’s Battle. Initially, only a few men signed up, so one Sunday during the service, church leadership put on camouflage shirts and stood up with the senior pastor to talk about the issue and the upcoming boot camps. “When those men stood up, registration shot up from around 20 to 300,” Telle says. Members began to invite their unchurched friends and co-workers they knew were also struggling.

After boot camp, the men enlisted in purity platoons, eight to 15 men, and met weekly for 16 weeks. Each group went through a curriculum of memorizing verses and establishing a tremendous amount of accountability. After 16 weeks, the men graduated.
“Not all were walking in purity by then,” Telle recalls. “Some got a handle on things; others were white-knuckling it. There’s a powerful bond between men who share a secret that you thought you’d go to your grave with.”

“I think sexual impurity undermines every aspect of a man’s life, whereas sexual purity strengthens every part. It’s a tremendous transition to men’s ministry where men see and learn in a practical and biblically based way how to be godly toward God, toward men, women, work, possessions and finances and the church.”

5. Cars

A study took a group of 2-year-olds and recorded them at play. The study reported that almost 100 percent of the girl sounds were understandable verbal expressions, while around 50 percent, of the boy sounds were unintelligible noises, like “vrummmm” and “eeerrrrr.” That’s one way to look at it. Another way to see it is that the girls had no car noises, and the boys had a savant-like, bilingual automotive language. Conclusion: Boys are hardwired for car talk.

In 2003, the top four vehicles preferred by American men were high performance cars: the Dodge Viper, the BMW M5, the Porsche 911 and the Audi A8 with No. 5 being the GMC Sierra pickup. Thinking of that list of cars just makes a guy want to say “vrummmmm, eeerrrrr.” Here’s how one church uses cars and men’s innate enthusiasm for the topic to reach motor heads.

For the past seven years, Opportunity Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Wash., has sponsored the “Car-b-que,” a classic car rally and (you guessed it!) barbecue for the community. Last spring, the event drew more than 100 entries. “It’s given guys in the church a reason to get together and build relationships with unchurched men around them,” Pastor Craig Hall says. “It served us very well on our recent building project. The men who were most involved in the building project came from the guys who get together with the cars.”

Through the car connection, Hall has forged inroads with a group of men who have very few ties with any faith community. “I’ve become their token minister or chaplain,” he explains. “When tragedies happen in their lives, they start to open up. These are rough, tough guys with grease under their fingernails who don’t trust Christians or the church. But they seem to feel less threatened when they see that there are people of faith who are interested in the same things they care about and that it’s, OK to come into worship and begin to talk about spiritual issues in their lives. It’s an absolute revelation to them that men who have committed their lives to Christ can understand how they feel and what they think.”

Brian Mavis serves as the executive director of the Externally Focused Network of LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colo. He has written curriculum for Bono’s “One Sabbath Campaign”;”The Passion of the Christ; World Vision’s – Faith in Action” and The Hole in Our Gospel.

This article “5 Hot-Button Topics for Reaching Men” by Brian Mavis was excerpted from: www.outreachmagazine.com web site. November/December 2004. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”