Discipling men builds strong, vibrant churches—churches that grow
Pastors and leaders who launch a successful ministry to men see increased salvations, increased volunteers, increased finances and an increase in personal time as a result, all while building a healthy church that reaches the community. | by Paul Louis Cole
Men are in trouble. Today, men of all ages are finding it harder to be a man, harder to succeed in the working world and harder to act responsibly as a father or husband. Of the millennial generation, 65 percent believe it’s harder to be masculine today.(1)
Even though everyone seems to know that men are in trouble, across all media outlets, men are the brunt of humor and are often portrayed as the purveyors of evil. It’s no surprise men are more likely than any other group to commit suicide.(2) And not surprising that people are increasingly concerned, from movie stars to bankers to bureaucrats.(3) Even feminists are writing articles and giving talks lamenting the death of masculinity and the resulting danger to cultural stability.(4)
The shapers of culture are now discovering what students of God’s Word already know—that men left to themselves will not somehow, in some organic wizardry “become a man.” So, who is best able to help males become men? Jesus. So often we look for an easy way to solve cultural issues, but discipling men was the one solid answer that Jesus gave us to confront the cultural chaos He encountered. Discipling men became the method He used to launch Christianity around the world. Discipling men is still the answer today to build strong, vibrant churches—churches that grow.
Consider these real issues. A man who hears the Word but does not identify with Christ nor commits to live out his faith in public is a man struggling with an identity problem. Jesus solved the identity problem for men. The Apostle Paul said it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NKJV).
All of us as servant-leaders deal with men who listen to the Word but won’t do it. They know the right thing to do but won’t commit to the church or submit to being led by a pastor. James called them foolish “hearers but not doers” (James 1:22-25). Jesus spoke of such men when He said you have “the word which I have spoken to you,” but now you must “abide in Me and I in you” (John 15:3-4).
After ministering to men in sixty countries from prisons to country parishes to megachurches, I have seen that leading a man to identify with Christ and commit to His Church requires a great deal more than the occasional pancake breakfast. (Although I do like a great pancake—who doesn’t?)
Discipling men takes time, work and a God-given strategy. In churches, a man who begins to solve his identity crisis and identifies with Christ becomes involved. His involvement leads to investment of his work, tithes and offerings. As a result, the church and the community reap the increase. The pattern is—identification, involvement, investment, increase.
What would happen in your church if workers increased by just 10 percent? What would you be able to accomplish if your annual church income increased by just 10 percent? After forty-two years of applied work in over 100 nations, I’ve seen a dramatic 20 percent average increase across the board. In every church, far more than 10 percent increase occurs as a result of a church or pastor majoring in men and focusing on discipleship.
The results are fully visible—more outreach, better facilities, stronger volunteers, greater community impact and more stable finances… and that’s just the start. A congregation with involved men correlates to church growth, health and harmony. But in my experience, I’ve also seen a lack of male participation strongly associated with congregational decline, financial disconnection and discouraged leaders.
A busy pastor might ask, Isn’t ministry to men just one more time investment? The true measure of every investment is always found in the return on that investment. Ministry to men, when launched successfully, unleashes volunteers and income that correlate to an increase in available strategic time for the pastor to concentrate on pastoring.
When men are engaged, they help in the work of the ministry. The men are invested. The pastor is relieved. The results are always the result of the investment … and directly tie to the amount of that investment.
As a church planter and pastor, I know firsthand how we tend to focus initially on the first people who walk through the doors—we just want people in the seats. As a result, the programs that emerge are for children, youth, women, and rehabilitation. Counseling springs up and we find ourselves in a cycle of training, counseling, and nurturing for women, children and youth. Then we send them home each night to a man with an identity problem. Or, to a fatherless home with its tragic litany of problems. The cycle becomes a grind. Pastors with a heart for their people think, there must be a way. And there is, it’s the way of Jesus—to disciple men.
When men are discipled, everything changes:
1. Wives will flourish and marriages become new. When a male becomes a man, it allows his wife to become the woman that God created her to be. Until then, she has to compensate for his sins of commission as well as omission.
In the thousands of churches we’ve worked with, it is always the women and children who receive the greatest blessing when men are discipled. Last Sunday I ministered in a church that has a strong discipleship track for men to help them achieve real manhood and become mature Christ-followers. A wife stood up with her husband to share the impact of the ministry to men. Through joyful tears she said, “This man is a new man. It’s beyond anything I prayed for.” The congregation applauded, the husband was blessed, and their children were proud of their parents. It was stunning.
2. Children will thrive. You may have read the landmark research that if fathers are engaged in church, even if mothers are not, 44 percent of the children in those families will become regular church attenders. But if the father does not participate in church, only 2 percent of the children will become regular attenders, regardless of whether or not the mother was a churchgoer. Chilling statistic.(5)
What kinds of men will those boys grow into? Studies show that over 70 percent of boys raised in church will abandon it in their teens and twenties.(6) Many never return. But teens with religious fathers are more likely to say they admire their dads and enjoy spending time with them. They stay in church. Male churchgoers are more likely to be married with a higher level of life satisfaction than non-churchgoers. Church involvement is the greatest predictor of marital stability and happiness. It correlates to decreased poverty, less depression, more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness. Churchgoing men are more engaged husbands and fathers.(7), (8) Men’s problems? Solved!
3. Churches will become healthy and grow. When men begin to accept responsibility, the church develops an atmosphere of true Godly masculinity, which is healthy. The counseling of frustrated wives, dealing with rebellious youth, teaching disturbed children, all decreases when men are pursuing Christlike manhood as husbands and fathers. The pastor’s ability to do missions, community outreaches, and have volunteers for the needs of the church increases as men are discipled and trained.
Some years ago, the pastor of a church in South Chicago sent the few men he had in his congregation to linger outside every Sunday in front of the church until every latecomer had arrived. He had seven men. As they stood outside, men in the community began to think of that church as a place where men hung out. Then the pastor told the seven men to walk out to cars and invite inside the men who were merely dropping off wives or children. When the men in the cars said they weren’t dressed right, the pastor overcame the objection by asking all the men of the church to start wearing casual clothing to church. Soon, men climbed out of their cars and followed the men inside. Next came the rainy season and the pastor bought all the men umbrellas to overcome yet another objection and escort everyone inside.
Over time, those seven men became seventy, then seven hundred, then seven thousand. In that church, as happens in most churches, everything increased—including the pastor’s influence in the community and his ability to achieve his vision without burning out.
4. The work of the Lord is supported financially. Worldwide, there are 101 men for every 100 women.(9) But in worldwide church attendance, women outnumber men nine to one. In the US, church population overall is 61 percent female.(10) Of those women, 25 percent are wives worshiping without their husbands. Think of what this means financially. Pastors know by experience and statistics that the biggest predictor of charitable giving is church attendance. How does it affect the local church when 90 percent of all funding and work to build local churches comes from men, but they are the minority in the pews? When a man is discipled and taught to be a steward of the totality of his life, his family and his church receive the increase.(11), (12)
5. Churches become generational. The work of our Lord as well as all of the research points to the need to disciple men. Yet in local churches in the US, men remain the largest “unreached” people group. This produces generational problems. As Christian leaders we all know that someone or something is going to influence and teach our young men the meaning of manliness. For most young men, it’s a beer commercial, friends in the street, guys in the gym, a magazine, pornography. When the Church is silent, the enemy is easily heard.
The most qualified person to teach true masculinity to our culture, to our young men, is a God-filled, Bible-believing Christ-follower that is committed to the local church, committed to character, committed to love others, and fully engaged in living every part of his life as a man of God. The street won’t make a man. The street will break a man. It is Christ that lifts up a man.
Jesus showed us that he had it all figured out—how to get men identified with Him and keep them involved. He modeled this the minute He chose the twelve. A pastor’s basic ministry is what Jesus spent most of His ministry life doing—making disciples of men. When pastors major in men in ministry, a large percentage of the congregation will be men. When a church looks manly, because of the numbers of men there, it attracts even more men because they feel at home there.
Where do you find men? Start with the men around you, like that Chicago pastor did, then start reaching out. The average man accepts the reality of God but fails to see the value in attending church. Your job is to give men a place to feel welcome, then show them you can help resolve their identity crisis. When you are that God-filled, Bible-believing Christ-follower and live what you talk, you can challenge men straight up and disciple them to identify with Christ. They’ll listen to you. When they do, they become involved, then they invest, and everyone reaps the increase. CGM
1 Today.YouGov.com, The decline of the Manly Man https://today.yougov.com/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2016/05/23/decline-manly-man
2 American Foundation for Suicide Prevention https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/
3 TIME magazine, Young Men are Facing a Masculinity Crisis, https://time.com/4339209/masculinity-crisis/
4 Wall Street Journal, Camille Paglia: A Feminist Defense of Masculine Virtues https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-feminist-defense-of-masculine-virtuesa-feminist-defense-of-masculine-virtues-1388181961
5 The Truth About Men and Church: https://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-05-024-v
7 Pew Research Center: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/12/fathers-day-facts/
11 Pew Research Center: https://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/22/the-gender-gap-in-religion-around-the-world/
12 Thom Rainer: https://thomrainer.com/2013/01/the-main-reason-people-leave-a-church/
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