Transforming lives on four continents

Why men don't go to church

When there’s football, cars and beer to enjoy, why should chaps care about Christ? Steve Legg believes men really are asking life’s big questions – but traditional church may not be the answer


Being a real bloke in the 21st century is difficult. We suffer with man flu, own a pair of lucky underpants and many of us cried when England were knocked out of Euro 2012. 


My dad knows how to tinker around under a car bonnet and change a wheel on the car. I don’t. I call out the RAC. I’m a disaster at DIY. Some men use moisturiser and eat fancy sandwiches with rocket in them. We’re all different.


But being a Christian bloke is even harder. It seems to me that church these days is mainly geared for a particular type of person.


I used to say women but my wife assures me it’s not her cup of tea either. Whoever it’s aimed at, men don’t come and that’s a tragedy; because most men don’t want anything to do with the church.


I think part of the problem is that we run meetings in buildings with embroidered banners and nice flower arrangements.


Many men just don’t feel comfortable in that sort of environment with lots of singing, sitting down for ages and listening to long talks in a building that looks like something out of a Laura Ashley showroom. They feel uncomfortable with hugging, holding hands or sitting in circles discussing their feelings in a church context.


We also seem to have turned Jesus into a wimp with a beard. You know the sort of thing: gentle Jesus meek and mild, long flowing hair, blue eyes and wearing a M&S white negligee and sandals.


He’d be nice enough to present Songs of Praise alongside Aled Jones, but he wouldn't turn the world upside-down.


Statistically we’re told that the Church is made up of 70 per cent women and 30 per cent men, with 90 per cent of boys leaving the Church by the time they hit their late teens.


I guess church didn’t quite match up to their spirit of adventure and turned out to be less Bruce Willis and more Bruce Forsyth. Men are looking for a challenge; they need the gauntlet to be laid down in front of them with a strong, motivating message that relates to their everyday life.


Jesus was a powerful, amazing, revolutionary bloke – and the first thing he did when he started his public ministry was to choose a bunch of lads.


They weren’t professional, well-spoken good boys; they were a bunch of working class, down-to-earth blokes who constantly put their foot in it. But he chose them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.


It’s just a case of connecting with men where they are at and showing that Christianity is worth following...


Some 150 years ago, the Industrial Revolution meant many men went off to find work in mills, mines and factories leaving mainly women, older people and children in church so ministers adapted services to suit these new congregations and the Church began to change.


Add in a bit of Victorian respectability, send the men away again to a couple of world wars and Bob’s your uncle – but Church is no longer a place geared up to meet his needs. 


The wars are over and men are back but they’ve found a Church that they don't feel at home in. They just don’t do it that way, so they choose to opt out altogether. It’s like going shopping with my wife – I just don’t want to do it.


To get men back and involved we need to change the way we run church. Men often struggle in a classroom environment so that’s why Jesus didn’t sit them behind desks or hand out study guides.


They did stuff together and learned along the way. He taught Peter how to step out in faith by getting out of a boat and walking on water – not by listening to a CD series, hearing a sermon or watching a documentary on God TV. That should be a valuable lesson for starters.


Guys don’t often follow programmes well – they react better when they follow other men – mentors, fathers, coaches, great leaders. Think The A-Team, The Great Escape and Oceans 11, 12 and 13!


Men are looking for a strong, motivating message that relates to their everyday life.


When it comes to reaching men for Christ, well, men love doing stuff together – team sports, fishing, pub quizzes, paintballing, DIY projects, curry nights, bowling. Clay-pigeon shooting and going out for a beer.


If we build genuine relationships with men through active events we’ll put ourselves in a position to introduce them to a God who never sits still and who is relational to the core.


But I don’t think it’s about trying to create a masculinity that’s more to do with John Rambo than Jesus Christ, because we’re all different and that’s where some churches and men’s groups get it wrong. They forget that, although Jesus sat round fires with fishermen, he cried with them too. 


The thing we do have in common is that all men crave warmth, honesty, openness and authenticity. Most are genuinely interested in spirituality, meaning and purposes and are asking deep questions. They want to know how to become better dads and husbands.


Why do men you know not go to church? Email or tweet @bmsworldmission and we’ll choose five responses at random to win a copy of Steve Legg’s latest book, Paper thongs and other misadventures, published by Canaan Press.


As a magazine, Sorted surveyed hundreds of Christian men and asked them what subjects they’d most like to see tackled in church. Family issues were top, followed by money, anger, sexual purity, addictions, pornography and gambling.


It shows men are looking for answers to important questions – but this doesn’t have to be on a Sunday at 11.00am in a cold building with a tall steeple.


It can be conversations whilst doing sports, walking together or over a pint in a pub. Men like to discuss, argue, challenge, disagree and be given the opportunity to ask questions – but this needs to be done in an environment with other guys that they feel comfortable with.


It’s just a case of connecting with men where they are at and showing that Christianity is worth following, has real answers to tough questions – and isn’t just for girls.


Steve Legg is the founding editor of Sorted Magazine: a new lifestyle magazine for men. He’s authored 13 books and created the kids cartoon, It’s a Boy! Steve is married to Rebekah and they have six children.


The seed fell on good soil: connecting with men in Uganda 

The majority of families in Gulu, northern Uganda rely solely on the land for all of their requirements.

When crops fail, animals die and there’s illness, people fall into the spiral of poverty. Our new vision is Farming God’s Way’.

Already successful in Zimbabwe, it’s a way of farming based on Christian principles that is practical and directly relevant to daily life. Baptist churches here are dominated by male leaders yet many churches have more women in them than men.

Farming God’s Way therefore helps men see a relevance to faith and how it can be part of everyday life. It makes church more accessible. It enables men to take their household responsibilities more seriously. It helps them understand that farming is an honourable occupation that gives them a good living and restores hope and dignity. 

This could be really transformational for men and their families. 

Alex Vickers is a BMS agriculturalist in Uganda. He’s married to Jackie and they have two daughters.


Image credits: Shaun Wong (Bruce Willis); Tony Case (BA)


This article first appeared in Engage magazine, autumn 2012


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