It’s no surprise to anyone who attends church on a regular basis that women outnumber men in the pews in many congregations. There are many theories about the attrition of males in church, from the swell of female ministers to paradigmatic changes in the social role of religion in our lives. Regardless of the cause, the numbers don’t lie.
In response to this trend, some ministries are making a point of reaching out specifically to men. From biker ministries – not exclusive to men, mind you – to football-watching parties, the point is to meet men where they are, in all of their stereotypical, oil-stained, sports-infatuated splendor.
A few weeks ago, one of the religious wire services carried a story about a ministry taking this a step further. Not only do they meet in a gym, promote casual dress and serve pizza after the service, but they even have a “shot clock” that counts down to the end of the service. Rock music blasts before the message, and topics focus on guy stuff, whatever that means.
All of this seems benign and well-intentioned enough that it took me a while to figure out what bothered me about it.
First of all, church runs the risk of oozing desperation from every pore if, in our effort to bolster our ranks, we bend over backward to accommodate every niche group. There are enough situations already in our culture where, if we have something a company wants, they will cater to our ego or our fascination with comfort and entertainment. Church should not be employing these predatory techniques.
While we’re not in the business of flagellating each person at the door, we also should not be focused, first and foremost, on making people comfortable. Our job as leaders in the church is to set an inspiring example, to keep people stirred up enough to want to change if necessary, and to spur them to act. The truth is that a comfortable person is one who is not likely to seek out change. This is not the call of faith.
Second, any time we begin to define who can and cannot participate in a ministry, we risk compromising the essence of the gospel message of mutual dependence. If we only surround ourselves with people who make us comfortable, or who look and think like us, what’s the point? That’s not church; that’s a social club.
Jesus, Siddhartha Gautama (aka Buddha) and other prominent spiritual leaders hung out with a melange of unlikely people. To see a prostitute rubbing elbows with a tax collector would have been pretty weird in Jesus’ day, but it’s what you would have seen.
When people come to us seeking vision, inspiration and hope, we sit them down in an easy chair and put their feet up. In doing so, we confirm a secular cultural message that is viral in its prevalence today: You are the center of the universe.
Well, guess what? You’re special, but not that special. Get over yourself. Think about someone else for a change. Live with being uncomfortable if it helps you develop some compassion for how the rest of the world lives, or if it prompts you to be more aware of how much suffering there is in the world.
President John F. Kennedy was spot-on when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” We as the greater church universal would do well to adopt a similar mantra for those wondering what they will find within the walls of our faith institutions.
Ask not, then, what church can do for you; instead, ask yourself what you should be doing for God and God’s creation. Then instead of looking for the church with the denominational logo on the door that you’re used to, or instead of picking the place with the hippest music or shortest commute, find the place that’s really going to help you be a better person.
You only get one chance at life. You can spend it obsessing about getting every one of your own infinite needs met, or you can step outside your own skin and help make this world a better place. That’s what a good church should help you do.