Why “Men’s Ministries” might save the church

Saturday, 27th March 2010 at 3:45 UTC 6 comments

So its a Saturday, which is, by no logic whatsoever, the day for Gender-related posts on my blog. I’ve been wondering about this post for a couple of weeks, as I’m more than aware past posts on similar topics have caused considerable conflict. This week I popped in to Conversations, a service in a Vodka bar in York, and my suspicions were largely confirmed: Men’s ministries may still save the church, regardless of the validity of their gendered approach..

This realisation began with a discussion about the criticisms of mainstream church. It seemed that what was being said was that modern mainstream church was geared more towards females, but that churches that successfully aim their work towards men are also drawing in women from outside the church. So if these new, supposedly male-orientated churches are drawing in females as well, and the church is not only losing men at a vast rate but also losing women, isn’t something going a bit wrong with the statistics?

The common argument is that somehow men are more likely to bring along women than women to bring along men. Whilst I can see this being the case in relationships, I wonder if this is not perhaps patronising towards women, even despite some underlying truth.

The fact is, having heard people state clearly they feel the church is appealing to 1950’s gender stereotypes, I can’t ignore the idea that the church is just failing to appeal. If it were aiming at today’s females, would they not be seeing a significant growth in numbers attending, even if the men were ignoring the church completely? Yes, there’s a gender bias, but women have always been see as more spiritually inclined, a phenomenon not limited to Christianity. As such, it might not be a bias on the part of the church, more a bias in the response of the population. If women are more likely to attend, it doesn’t matter what the church does, there will be more of them in churches.

Perhaps the reality is more that the modern Western church, specifically the modern British church, is just not engaging with the general populace. Perhaps what these men’s ministries have as an advantage is simply that they inherently create for themselves the freedom to do things differently and in a more engaging way using the male attendance figures as a strong pretext for urgent and radical action. There’s nothing wrong with this if that’s all we’re talking about, though other factors do wind me up the wrong way.

As such, saying British churches are aimed more towards women than men is actually potentially quite patronising to the women – its perhaps more true that they are aimed at the 1950’s gender stereotype for women. The world has changed, and both genders respond differently to the way they did 60 years ago.

I shall take as an example of this Conversations, the church in the Vodka bar, Its run by someone with a big passion to see more men in church. Now, we have our disagreements, but I’ve been to Conversations twice and was struck by just how much more appealing it seemed to be to everyone. Yes, the drop-off in male attendance was part of the pretext, but its not what I see happening. I don’t see Conversations as having very much to do with gender, even if its clear that men are significantly happier with the format.

So, yes, Men’s Ministries and churches specifically targeting today’s men might have more success all round, but is this really because they target men? Is it not perhaps because the depressing statistics force them to re-evaluate what men want, in a more honest and deep-rooted way, and then create a better church environment all round? I’m not convinced of the premise, but I think the outcomes, if they create more inclusive churches that are more aware of the reality of modern life from which people are being drawn, this offers an expression of hope seen in few other quarters in today’s Western Church.

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Entry filed under: Church, Faith, Gender, Religion.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Steve th  |  Saturday, 27th March 2010 at 20:56 UTC

    Beyond the attention grabbing title seems what your saying is that fresh expressions of church are a good idea, and you like conversations, just a shame its only aimed at men. ( Checked st mike’s web site for more info, time and place only. Not even a mention of it being aimed at men. And despite saying it was on a wed it refers to the service as being at the end of the week. 🙂 two different start times for visions as well. 🙂 impressive web site. ) maybe i’m a walking 1950 s stereotype but idea of church in a vodka bar really doesn’t appeal. A lot of very nice bars in york serving decent ale why the heck would anyone go to a big chain vodka bar?
    Given lack of on line info i can’t comment any more.
    ( Conversations own site didn’t seem to have more info on services but enough to give me a clue this wouldn’t be for me)

    Reply
    • 2. Emily  |  Saturday, 10th April 2010 at 21:26 UTC

      Steve, just to clarify (as Graham hasn’t), Conversations isn’t only aimed at men at all. I know a huge number of women who go to Conversations, and many who are on the core leadership team. Yes, they definitely work hard to include and engage men but they are in no way, shape or form just for men.

      As for the Vodka Revs venue – as Greg says they have indeed changed venue many times since they’ve started, but never through their own choice (they’ve either out grown their venue or they’ve had to leave because of other bookings/building works etc). I’m sure they wouldn’t be completely against a pub, but I doubt they could find one big enough to hold them and let them run a service. Also, in terms of witness, being in a place like Vodka Revs can see some pretty awesome stuff happening (not that it wouldn’t in a pub, but it sort of hits their target age range).

      This isn’t a rant by the way – just filling in some of the gaps 😀
      (Also, they tend to do most of their communication via facebook, but I might mention to someone that people aren’t finding their site that helpful :))

      Reply
      • 3. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 11th April 2010 at 11:45 UTC

        Thanks Emily for answering. I should point out that several of the leadership folks in Conversations do also focus on mission to Men (e.g. through CVM – Christian Vision for Men, though I’m not sure the organisation is representative of those involved in Conversations).

  • 4. Greg  |  Wednesday, 7th April 2010 at 10:47 UTC

    Steve, Conversations has moved venue at least twice if I recall correctly, which is probably the source of your confusion. Then again, I wasn’t aware it was a men’s ministry either, though I’ve been there one less time than Graham so he’s the expert 😉

    Graham, if there’s one thing of which I’m sure, it’s that there will be no place for self-hatred in the kingdom of God. Your post, however, shows you’ve found a way of admitting that a men’s ministry can be good while not admitting that ministry to men can be a good thing in itself. The point of Fresh Expressions is to provide church for certain groups (“networks”) of people, but you have a kneejerk reaction when that network is male.

    As you yourself have noted, men have always stayed away from churches; the Christian response is to go and seek the lost where they can be found, giving extra effort to finding those who need extra help. You’ve let your feminism rule you to the point where it denies the gospel to a needy group, because you’re putting some theoretical women’s liberation before the welfare of real people. You’re sacrificing men’s souls on the altar of your own leftist dogmatic consistency. If that’s not the start of self-hatred, I don’t know what is.

    Reply
  • 5. Helen  |  Sunday, 11th April 2010 at 17:49 UTC

    Greg, don’t hold back, tell us what you really feel 🙂

    I’m intrigued by what I read about Conversations – for me it makes a lot of sense to take services to where people are. For me it would make a lot of sense to have a service in a coffee shop (or tea rooms, provided there were scones), with lots of opportunity for discussion and questions, and people willing to give honest answers (I hate the answers that sound like they’ve come out of a book…)

    I think the key is, surely, making sure that, whilst not actively excluding anyone, you understand that people are, well, different. As Steve says, a vodka bar isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but nor would a pub, or a coffee shop, or a parent-and-baby group, or a choir… or whatever. I think it is worth the church reflecting on why men may not be as interested as women, and examining styles of worship and their own attitudes.

    And the fact is, that men and women often tend to like different things – but that doesn’t mean dads wouldn’t turn up to a parent-and-baby group and girls wouldn’t want to be in a choir, and women wouldn’t go to a service in a vodka bar. I think active exclusivity is generally a bad thing (though I think you need a baby to go to a baby group 🙂 ), whereas allowing people to take part in a way that they feel comfortable is a good thing. So there’s nothing wrong with something that appeals mostly to men, or to women, just so long as the men who prefer some supposedly female thing, or the woman who prefer some supposedly male thing, and, perhaps more importantly, the people who don’t feel comfortable identifying as female or male, can take part, and without being made to feel unusual.

    Reply
  • 6. Helen  |  Sunday, 11th April 2010 at 17:54 UTC

    Extra example: my old church had a very big women’s ministry that seemed to mainly involve lovely dinners and chocolate, and for the men there was a men’s weekend doing hiking and mountain climbing and manly, manly things. Though I think there should be space for discussing gender and gender roles, possibly even in men’s only and women’s only groups (allowing for self-definition, obviously) it seems nuts that men aren’t allowed chocolate fountains and women aren’t allowed hiking. Moreover, it seems somewhat ableist that the only thing that seemed to be specifically for men was a very active weekend you’d have to be physically fairly able for.

    Reply

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