Fellowship: Not Just a Hall Your Men Meet In
By Rebecca Barnes
Some 96 percent of Americans say they believe in God, according to a recent Gallup poll, and 84 percent describe themselves as Christian, according to Barna research, but only 41 to 45 percent of men report attending church.
What is driving Christian Men away from church? Or, perhaps the better question is, what will draw them in?
A new study by Gallup suggests that something as simple and as universal as friendship may be the key. The research revealed a direct link between male friendships and spiritual maturity.
Further, the research showed that men who have close friendships in their church are “very satisfied” with their congregation, less likely to leave, and more likely to also have a strong friendship with God.
“Men who have a best friend at church are 21 percent more likely to report attending church at least once a week and 26 percent more likely to report having a strong, more active faith in God,” reports Michael D. Lindsay, sociology research affiliate at Princeton University. “Male respondents with a best friend at church were also more likely to say their faith is involved in every aspect of their lives and that they have a close friendship with God.”
From the beginning of creation, solitude has never been aligned with happiness: “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18).
If for no other reason than practicality, male friendship is esteemed: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
But how do friendships foster a spiritual connection? And how do churches foster friendships among their men?
Connectivity and food
Probably no one requires more research than thousands of years of human history, to prove that food brings people together. But the research Group commissioned by Gallup also connects faith and food. According to the results some 77 percent of highly satisfied members have eaten a meal with people in their congregation (who are not members of their family) at some point over the last year. Only 56 percent of somewhat satisfied or dissatisfied members have shared a meal together.
Tom Schultz, CEO of Group Publishing, points out the strong connection between mealtime fellowship and congregational satisfaction. He writes in the book, “The 1 Thing,” which he co-authored with his wife, Joani, that “1 Thing churches understand the natural bond between food and male relationships. They acknowledge that Jesus often delivered his message in an atmosphere of food and drink.”
Group’s latest small group curriculum is based around this idea. Friendship First offers three levels of learning that all begin with eating together before delving into Bible study, prayer and discussion. It is a church-wide program that uses the proven magnetism of food to teach your men how to make friends with each other and with God.
“Friendship First helps you and your church men grow in friendship with each other and with Jesus,” says Schultz.
Group also offers church leaders a free booklet of ministry application ideas derived from the Gallup study. “Friendship: Creating a Culture of Connectivity in Your Church,” is a practical guide to all things relational.
According to Dr. Thom Rainer connectivity can be THE indicator for church health.
“While the idea of connectivity is simple, it is a remarkably telling indicator of your church’s fitness,” Rainer wrote in the Church Health Encyclopedia. Facilitate connectivity, Rainer says, and you facilitate growth; falter with connectivity and your church falters.
Not only does connectivity include attention to visitors, it includes what Rainer terms, “in-reach events” to reach men who are only marginally involved in church activities.
Rainer also advocates small groups, a part of church life that evangelicals in particular have found appealing. According to George Barna, in his The State of the Church 2005 report in the last 12 years the greatest growth in small groups has been among evangelical men from 42 percent participating in 1994 to 61 percent in 2005.
“Small groups provide a setting where male members can develop relationships and enjoy fellowship that many times is not available in the larger worship setting,” Rainer writes. While church-wide events are important for meeting new people, Rainer notes, “close friendships will be built over time in small men’s groups.”
Large church or small, those close friendships within the congregation are critical to spiritual growth and church health.
“The connections we’ve discovered between human friendships, spiritual maturity, church satisfaction and even feelings of intimacy with God are absolutely remarkable,” said survey researcher George Gallup.
Friendly greeters may begin the process of church growth. Visitor follow up and assimilation of new members creates that crucial connectivity. But it is the friendships that form within a vibrant men’s group that can foster spiritual growth among your men and a vibrant church life.
By Rebecca Barnes, editor 02 Aug 2005
Copyright 2005 Church Central Associates. All rights reserved.
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.”