Don’t Write Off The Men’s Group
By Lyle E. Schaller
“You do have some good ideas occasionally, Char-lie, but this isn’t one of them,” declared Jack Spencer. “I’ve been a member for more than twenty years, and we’ve never been able to have a men’s group. About fifteen years ago we had a minister who really pushed it, but it didn’t go. That may work with some other churches, but not here.”
“Television has killed the whole idea,” agreed Stanley Winter. “In the church where my wife and I were married, we used to meet on the second Mon-day evening of every month for dinner, Bible study, a program, and fellowship. Sometimes we would have thirty-five or forty men turn out, and we must have averaged between twenty and twenty-five. Television has made that a relic of the past.”
“But it’s also the quality of the alternatives,” observed Bill Edwards. “Why would anyone come to church to hear a layman stumble through a devotional lesson when you can stay home and watch a religious program that’s professionally done?”
“It’s not just television and Monday night football that killed the men’s club,” argued Ned Vernon. “It’s the competition for people’s time. People have too many things to do. Half the mothers have a job outside the home. A lot of men work a full day and moonlight on a second job at night. There are dozens of civic, professional, social, political, and hobby clubs that want a chunk of your time. The men’s club belonged to an era when it helped fill up what otherwise could have been empty evenings for a lot of lonesome men. It’s like your appendix, obsolete. Times have changed.”
Do these comments help explain the demise of the men’s fellowship in so many congregations? Is the men’s club a relic?
There is only one thing wrong with these comments and reactions. They represent the 1960s and the early 1970s, not 1986. While the all-male fellowship operates under a variety of names in different denominations, it is making a comeback in thou-sands of places. Hundreds of new congregations founded during the past decade report the men’s fellowship is a vital element of the total program and the entry point for many new male members into the church.
The number of United Methodist Men organizations has increased by fifty percent since the low of 1977, and new groups are being chartered at the rate of a hundred a month.
The Southern Baptist Convention reports an enrollment decline in the Women’s Missionary Union since the peak years of the early 1970s, while Brotherhood enrollment, which peaked in 1963 and then delined for seven consecutive years, has been climbing during the past decade.
Why The Increase?
There appear to be six distinct reasons behind this trend.
The first, and by far the most important, is the religious revival currently under way on this continent. One expression of this is the tens of thousands of men’s Bible study and prayer groups meeting during the week, usually early in the morning. These groups are responding to the need once met by men’s fellowships in the churches. Now new men’s clubs are being organized in response to that same need.
Second, excellent planning has been going into the creation of the new groups. The United Methodist Men, for example, are now organized around a three-point purpose of fellowship, outreach, and witness rather than simply “getting together once a month.”
In general, the greater this emphasis on outreach or on a distinctive purpose, the stronger the men’s group. In some regional judicatories, men’s fellow-ships have become the chief resource for establishing and financing new congregations. In several congregations the distinctively male organization is built around a men’s and boy’s choir.
Third, in many congregations the men’s club provides a “sense of belonging” to match that offered by other specialty groups in the church: the choir, the women’s fellowship, the teen group, Sunday school classes for children, and a ministerial fellowship for clergy.
Fourth, the gradual movement toward larger congregations (eight percent of Protestant churches now account for one-third of all Protestant church members) requires an improvement in the quality of group life in the church. The men’s group is one response to that need.
Fifth, the shift away from the overwhelming family orientation of society of the third quarter of this century has created a need once again for a group the single adult male can join without feeling out of step because he does not have a wife. The all-male group offered that sense of inclusion to the single man and the widower in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the 1980s.
Finally, in many congregations, opening the door to permit women to hold any church office appears to have led some men, once members of an all-male governing board, to seek an all-male enclave.
While this may strike some as another example of male chauvinism, it is an especially significant consideration for those church leaders who are concerned about the gradual feminization of the church. In thousands of congregations, women now out-number males at the Sunday morning worship service by a three-to-two or even two-to-one ratio.
What Makes Them Thrive?
A review of vital men’s groups in churches reveals a series of characteristics that stand out repeatedly:
* The strongest men’s groups have a clearly de-fined purpose of mission or service. It is rare to find a strong group today built solely around entertainment, fellowship, and recreation.
* The strongest groups usually benefit from the leadership of two to four men who have made this a high priority in their own lives. They work hard at the job and are completely convinced of the unique role of a men’s group. Frequently these leaders have a strong entrepreneurial spirit; they are self-starters, they are persistent, and they follow through on the details. It is not unusual for two or three of these to be part of the leadership team for several consecutive years.
* The strongest groups usually enjoy the unreserved support of a pastor who believes in the men’s organization and who affirms and supports it from the pulpit.
* The strongest men’s groups are most likely to be found in congregations with two hundred or more members.
* The most cohesive men’s groups usually have at least one major project annually that requires people to work with their hands. This normally requires more hands than are readily available in the group. Thus the project serves as an entry point for new-comers, the young, the aged, and more introverted men. It also may offer a unique opportunity to affirm those with nonverbal skills.
* In one form or another, there is a strong emphasis on meeting the spiritual needs of the men and providing opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. These often take the form of Bible study, intercessory prayer, mission work trips, special inspirational retreats, witnessing ventures, or week-end camping experiences. It is difficult to overstate the value of the annual national rally that brings together several thousand men.
* Many of these groups plan an annual social event to which wives and sweethearts are invited. This may be the only major “dress-up” meeting of the year, often built around a meal and a special program.
* Most of the strong men’s groups express in three or four ways their relationships to the regional and national organizations of their denomination. These may involve participating in the regional fall retreat, supporting a major mission project, securing a charter from the national office, using denominational program resources, helping to sponsor new congregations, sharing in a work camp experience, participating in a witnessing program, or sponsoring a local cable TV religious program.
* The strongest groups usually have their own treasury, treasurer, and financial program, including a special mission pledge. In 1981 the typical mission pledge averaged between $20 and $35 per man.
* The most cohesive groups eat together at least seven or eight times a year. One of the most effective ways to kill a men’s group is to eliminate that monthly meal!
* Many of the men’s groups reinforce their sense of identity and cohesiveness through a special insignia or emblem that is reproduced on a lapel pin, cap, T-shirt, or banner. Symbols are important in today’s world.
* Frequently the men’s group serves as the adult sponsor for the youth group, the weekday nursery school, the Sunday school class for handicapped children, the boy’s chorus, the church softball team, the annual all-church picnic, the world hunger crusade in that congregation, the adult camping week-end, or the Sunday morning outdoor service at the drive-in.
This article “Don’t Write Off The Men’s Group” written by Lyle E. Schaller is excerpted from Family Ministry: Leadership.