In my last post about this, I shared some troubling trends and statistics regarding the gender ratio imbalance in the Church in America today. There are reasons to be alarmed, but I don’t think this is a losing battle. I see tremendous opportunity in our current predicament, and want to share an idea or two on how God might really be glorified through all of this.
Recall the statistic I shared last time was that 80% of the college students coming on campus who openly desire church involvement are women.
I’m convinced that percentage figure would drop significantly if I were able to measure those who simply desire church involvement, whether openly or not. I believe way more men than women are closeted in their desire for church involvement.
I believe that percentage figure would drop even further if we included everyone who desired church involvement, whether they knew it or not. In fact, I’m pretty sure that one would be a clean 50-50. I think we’d be approaching world population in that case (as unpopular of a statement as that may be).
In short, I don’t plan on seeing a 4:1 female-to-male ratio in heaven. I think the numbers horribly misrepresent the deeper desires of men here. The obvious question then becomes: How do we find and include those (men) who are interested in church but not open about their interest? In addition, how do we navigate the difficulties of the imbalance in the meantime? Allow me to share an idea or two.
On the men’s side:
1. Seek and pursue other men relentlessly. It’s obvious; men aren’t knocking on the door to be let into church community. They must be sought out. Some people (Mark Driscoll, etc.) have proposed that a solution to this problem is to de-feminize the American Jesus. While I like the idea of making sure the Church paints the most accurate picture of Jesus possible, emphasizing that he was full of grace and truth (neither of which came in pretty packages), I think putting our best energies behind attracting men to church misses an opportunity. Like I’ve written before, I think God wants to radically redeem the hearts of men in our culture by showing them that they’re worth being pursued by another man. If church becomes super attractive to men, I think we miss the opportunity for male leaders to need to step up and pursue other men in love, thus perpetuating the problem of tame men in the Church. I think the single best way to restore the gender balance to the Church is for her men to truly be men by risking to pursue other men.
2. Fight the urge to spend great energies personally leading women. I want to be careful with this one, because I think there are proper times and places for men to lead women in close relationship. There have been seasons of my life where I felt true conviction from God to shepherd a woman or two in the church for a time. And as far as I can tell, God has blessed that initiative. But far more often, God is asking me to sacrifice time leading women (who tend to be more outwardly eager than men for my leadership) in order to more passionately pursue men. One of my wonderful friends and co-workers recently reminded me that “Appropriate Discipleship Relationships Between Men and Women” is an important discussion. I think it’s fit for a monthly leaders gathering we have at New Life specifically devoted to open discussion of what tend to be more gender-specific issues (“Dual Core” for you insiders).
I think because the men of New Life Church are so committed to those two things, we have enjoyed really great success at raising up dangerous male leaders (in the good sense). At our summer leadership training program, we’ve had a 2:1 male-to-female ratio at times. It’s a testament to disciplined leadership that we could see that many men raised up when so few show initial interest.
Now for the Women’s Side:
1. Fight the urge to spend great energies personally leading MANY women. So I only had to change one word from the input I gave to the men for this. If our women leaders are spending their time trying to lead every woman in their small group, their relationships will be a mile wide and an inch deep. That’s simply not how leaders are raised up. In order to raise up more effective leaders, our current female leaders have to take the very difficult step of saying “no” to involved relationships with some of the women they lead in order to say “yes” to incredibly deep and meaningful relationships with just a few. For more on this approach to discipleship or “multiplication”, I recommend Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism or Trotman’s Born to Reproduce.
2. Learn to Love Peer Leadership. A co-worker of mine likes to say, “Women want to be mothered”. I don’t really know how true that is, but she’s been in ministry way longer than I have. For whatever reason, I’ve seen some women develop this expectation or mindset of “If an older woman is not shepherding me, then I have no one.” That’s just not true. God has given all of us the rest of the Church, including our peers, to sharpen us. In fact, one of my seasons of greatest personal growth was one in which God had essentially removed all of the older men from my life for a time. In that place, I learned that God wishes to shepherd me, and that he’s given me many brothers my age who can play an central role in my growth.
3. Help your brothers by introducing them to your male friends. I really want more input on this one, because I think it can be both really effective and really dangerous. I don’t have any stats on this one, but based purely on anecdotal evidence and personal experience, a college man is about 5 times more likely to accept an invitation to church from a female than from a male. I think that phenomenon is likely a mixture of two things:
(1) Men not wanting to appear weak or in need around other men.
(2) Men feeling like an invite to church means they have a chance at romance with their invitor.
I think our women can leverage this for the Kingdom, but they must be careful. The best method I’ve come across is for women to use that accepted invite to immediately introduce their guy friend to other men in the church who can walk alongside him as he embarks upon his lovestruck initial church experiences. We want to be shrewd yet innocent in our witness (Matthew 10:16), and this approach is quite shrewd; I wonder if there’s a way to do it while maintaining our innocence. Keeping our women safe and unpreyed-upon is of greater importance than bringing in an extra guy or two. I’d like your thoughts on this one.
Well, those are some of my ideas. I’d like to hear from all of you as to what you like and don’t like from my suggestions, as well as what YOU see as the most effective solutions to this issue. Comment away