Take a good look at your youth group. Chances are there are more girls than boys. According to the latest Australian National Church Life Survey (NCLS), only 39% of church attenders are male, and the gender gap is widening. Now take another look at the boys you do have in your youth ministry. In five years time, most of them will be gone. Depressed yet? Research tells us that at least 7 out of 10 young men who grow up in the church will abandon their faith before their 21st birthday and most will never come back.
Fortunately, some youth ministries are wising-up to the things that both repel and attract boys to the Christian Faith, and are starting to do things differently. Here are two things that, in my experience, help boys grow in their faith, and stick with the church.
#1: PROMOTE RISK-TAKING
One of the boys in my youth group came bounding up to me the other day and proudly announced, “I have no hair on the back of my hand anymore. I burned it all off with Bunsen burner in Science at school.” Turns out, the boys in his class were daring each other to hold their hand over the flame for as long as they could. Not being one to shy aware from a challenge, this kid won, hands down!
But it highlighted something to me. Boys love taking risks. They love having adventures. They love being challenged. If the church is offering an oasis of stability, predictability, comfort and security, then it’s no wonder the boys are walking out. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that being a Christian was once so dangerous that at the Nicene Council in the 4th century A.D., of the 318 church leaders who attended, only 12 had not lost an eye or lost a hand or did not limp on a leg lamed by torture for their Christian faith? Those were the days! As long as we present the Christian faith, inaccurately, as something less than the great, challenging, risky, dangerous, treacherous adventure that it was meant to be, we sell out. And our boys will find their adventure elsewhere.
So, how do you promote risk taking with your boys on a practical level? How about taking them outside the church walls and engaging them in real projects that make a real difference to real people (and preferably projects that involve using their hands). Take them on adventures! Mission trips, community service, feeding the homeless, random acts of kindness, fixing cars for the underprivileged, handing out drinks at the local skate park. Take them to some dangerous places and they will come alive!
#2: PROVIDE MENTORS
According to Eims, “Disciples cannot be mass produced. We cannot drop people into a ‘program’ and see disciples emerge at the end of the production line. It takes time to make disciples. It takes individual, personal attention.” This is especially true for boys.
Prior to the industrial revolution, almost all boys were mentored by their Dad. As soon as a boy were old enough to walk, they would follow their Dad around, watching him, learning from him, imitating him and, more often than not, becoming just like him. After the industrial revolution, everything changed when men, for the first time in history, left the home to go to work each day, and the responsibility of raising boys fell more to mothers than to fathers.
Today, most dads still go off to work. Many boys don’t have dads, or at least, they don’t have dads who are present. Moreover, many of the boys we work with, don’t have dads who are Christians. Boys, however, need to see a man of God, in order to be a man of God. Therefore, we have an incredible opportunity to be spiritual fathers and big brothers to the boys in our youth groups, through the lost art of mentoring. Researcher Paul Hill asked a group of Christian men to identify the key relationships through which their faith was imparted. Male mentors was the second-most influential relationship in faith development, after family of origin.
Mentoring is where one person models and passes on to a willing learner, in a relational setting, knowledge, skills and a basic philosophy about Christ-likeness in all areas of life. In my youth ministry, every single student who wants to (and that’s most of them) is being mentored by a caring adult. We have found mentoring to be much more effective than traditional small-group Bible study – a format that many youth groups still have a love affair with.
Mentoring is different. It’s simply a caring adult, catching up with a group of 2 or 3 young people, asking lots of questions about their lives, seizing on teachable moments, encouraging them, sharing truth from their own spiritual experience, challenging them where they need to be challenged, praying for them and, very importantly, having a whole lot of fun just hanging out. We are seeing great results in terms of our boy’s spiritual growth, and their retention in the church.
THE LAST WORD: There is so much more I could say about this topic. I have dedicated much of my ministry to turning the tide of young men leaving our churches. I will leave you with this thought. The wisdom of the Dakota Indians, says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is not to buy a stronger whip or change riders, but to dismount. This is, by no means, an invitation to abandon the church, but to recognise that some of our whiz-bang, disciple-making strategies are dead and it’s time to try something different. Our boys are crying out for it!
by Dan Foster – Youth Pastor at Springwood Church of Christ, QLD
- “Why Men Hate Going to Church” by David Morrow
- “You’ve Lost Me – Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church… And Rethinking Faith” by David Kinnaman
- Church For Men website
- Here 2 Stay website
 National Church Life Survey (2011), http://www.ncls.org.au
 L. Eims, (1978), The Lost Art of Disciple Making, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan)
 D. Morrow (2011), Why Men Hate Going to Church, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson), Pg 273