Attracting and keeping men in the church

In the final article in our three-part series about gender imbalance in the church, we suggest practical ways to make your church more attractive to men

The alleged “feminisation” of the church may seem like a strange concept when most of our pastors and leaders are men. However, Carl Beech, the previous executive director of Christian Vision for Men (CVM,, says:

“Men aren’t good at small talk. They don’t form trusting relationships as fast and easily as women. In fact, you might say that when a woman walks into a room, she looks for people to talk with and relate to. When a man walks into a room, he’s plotting his escape strategy and looking for the exit!So men need a forum and a place to forge good, strong friendships which, over time, will become open enough for conversation about stuff other than work or football.If this isn’t encouraged, most men will go into a default ‘loner’ mode.” 

If Carl is right, then curry nights and men’s breakfasts are unlikely to draw men in unless existing church members have already become good friends with them and invited them along. Men won’t come to church social events under their own steam. This means we’re relying on the men in our churches to get out there and form friendships with people in their community, including single men. (CVM has some suggestions for evangelism to reach out to men in your community).

American website Church For Men ( has this take on the situation:

“Today’s church offers the things women crave: safety, relationships, nurturing and close-knit community. Women instinctively understand the unspoken rules of church culture: be nice, sensitive, cooperative, nurturing and verbal... On the other hand, men need adventure, challenge and risk, but these things are discouraged in church. Although our official mission is one of adventure, the actual mission of most churches is making people feel safe and secure. Men are born risk-takers, but churchgoers are a cautious bunch. Men are all aboutdoing, but the emphasis in today’s church is onbecoming. Sadly, a man who tries to bring adventure, challenge and risk into his congregation is more likely to receive a rebuke than a pat on the back.

Time for change?

If it’s the personality of the person, and particularly men, that’s keeping them away, there are two overall approaches to changing the situation. The first is to find ways to accommodate different personalities into the culture of the church. The other is to change the church culture itself. The following ideas only address the former, although some new expressions of faith are exploring the latter (and we’d be keen to hear about any successful initiatives in your church).

Adventure and fun can be expressed in different ways – not only physical but also mental and emotional. The following ideas may help you plan a strategy. (These are expressed in terms of men because that’s the focus of this article, but they apply equally to women who have a personality trait that longs for adventure, challenge and risk-taking.)

Willingness to accept risk and disorder

  • Open debate: At one church, I gave a talk about faith and technology, which included taking questions and answers. This led to considerable debate and comment from the congregation. This isn’t always comfortable but people love arguing and being adversarial to reach the truth, and the experience helped to bind members as a community in a way other activities hadn’t. Three years later, people were still repeating each other’s comments with amusement and appreciation!

  • Creative movement: Another church I attended was rather chaotic! On a number of occasions, when I arrived the vicar asked me to lead a procession. “Where from and to?” I asked. “You decide.”  “What’s it for?” I responded. “Oh, movement.” “Who will join the procession?” “Whoever.” On the spur of the moment, I’d have to invent a procession, get people out of their seats, include some activity (such as responsorial singing or placing objects) and link it to the theme of the service, for which I hastily grabbed a service sheet – and it all needed to be sorted in one minute! Did we manage it? Of course – and it was fun!

  • Using Twitter to ask questions: I heard of one church that used a live Twitter feed in a workshop to allow participants to ask questions on the topic being discussed (in this case, relationships and dating). Tweets can be displayed on a screen for the speaker and congregation to see. This is another way of debating, allowing people’s questions and comments to become part of the conversation. Some churches also use Facebook for post-sermon discussion and debate.

Opportunities for fun and the adventure of faith

  • Shared activities: At one church I attended, pairs or trios of men went onto local council estates and offered to pray with teenagers they met – mostly gang members. They had some amazing experiences and made valuable contacts. Other groups went knocking on doors, offering to pray for people there and then, while some were involved in late-night street evangelism.

  • Buddying: Men tend to form friendships with one or two other men first, and these then coalesce into larger groups. You can see this most clearly at football matches – match buddies form, building up to larger groups and whole fan groups. CVM has developed this idea and finds it really works to gain new converts and keep them attending. Can you consider ways of introducing men to each other? 

  • Saying “yes” with a mentor: A mentor who can help guide men into adventure and fun can be really helpful. In Why Men Hate Going To Church, author David Murrow suggests this as a way of helping men develop their faith and see it as an adventure. Having been a mentor myself, I’ve learned that churches (however unintentionally) tends to perpetrate a culture of “No, don’t do that”. What the men I mentored needed most was affirmation of what they desired to say “yes” to, and support in doing it. For example, one man I mentored said he loved ice-skating, but was afraid to spend time doing it as it didn’t seem very “spiritual”. I suggested that God may have planted that desire in him and to follow it. Who knows who he might meet, the conversations and future friendships he might develop? Ask what men want to say “Yes” to.

  • Supporting the organisation Christian Vision for Men (CVM): This can be done through directing men to CVM, and supporting the charity as a partner church, so men can be supported and encouraged by their activities.

Doing, not being

  • Give challenges and tasks: Many men feel most at home when they’re taking on a project. Some may not be so into the worship or talking, but they might enjoy doing something practical (although don’t assume all men will like it!). Give men space to do a task, develop it and even transform it in their own way without being micromanaged. If they take on a challenge, honour it. Visible tasks in services tend to rate more highly that those “behind the scenes”, despite all being essential for the faith community – whether that’s running the sound system, maintaining the gardens or project-managing building work.

Faith and careers

  • Encouraging expressions of faith at work: Some careers are vocational – men feel called to do them. Others are simply to earn money to support themselves and (potentially) their families. Either way, there are often opportunities to express faith within work – and not just through evangelising. For example, when I was working professionally in the psychology of internet use, I introduced talks on ethical behaviour in software design. I was challenged by non-Christians to keep working on it because: “You’re like the chaplain to the industry – we need you doing this.” There was adventure and risk in addressing such questions, and I had to live with both praise and considerable flack from some leaders in the field. Likewise, a friend of mine established a new art school because he felt art had become too individual and emotion-led, rather than playing a role in society through collaboration and function. Based on Christian principles but without being overt, this has proved instrumental in developing a new kind of artist.

  • Talks about faith and vocation: Church members rarely get to think about issues of vocation. In my current church, once a year (often during Lent) we have a series of talks where individuals doing interesting things in their working lives share their reasons and reflect on its relationship to their faith. Listeners are encouraged and inspired. The lack of help for younger people in integrating faith and career has been cited by Barna Research Group, USA, as a major reason for men not attending church.

Talking about risk and adventure

  • Speaking from the Bible: Despite what our church culture might imply, the Bible does not show a reflective, planned and ordered way, either by Jesus or the early church. Jesus’ “cleansing of the Temple” shows irascibility and risk-taking. Mark’s Gospel is full of impulsive behaviour – it’s packed with “At once…” stories and statements. The early church improvised in response to the Holy Spirit in many ways, whether on matters of including the Gentiles or the honesty of those giving money. We tend to hear more about ordered lives, yet in general the opposite is what we read – and these stories are likely to appeal to men (and women) with personality traits of impulsiveness, adventure and sensation-seeking.

  • Talks by men: Men with roles such as deacons, lay-readers or council members within the church are often expected to toe the party line. Men will identify with those who are most like them. So it’s helpful for them to hear from men who don’t have recognised roles or don’t normally speak in church, giving them an opportunity to talk about their struggles and adventures in the faith. These can be straightforward and needn’t be long (preferably not, given research about average attention spans).

  • Set church activities in the context of living: Ephesians 4 teaches that the rationale for the church is not for itself, but to develop saints to go out and live as Christ in the world. This is also the reason for the “dismissal” at the end of Communion or Mass: “Now go and live as Christ in the world”. Church is not a hobby that fits alongside other activities, but is to transform all of life, through which we can express Christ to the world.

A personal note from David Pullinger, director of Single Friendly Church:

“For me, helping to lead Single Friendly Church is a major adventure and risk. There’s little kudos and no real recognised contribution to society – I could be earning much more in a high profile job. It also may not be the organisation that sees the breakthrough we’re seeking, which is likely to take at least two generations and involve many different agencies. Can we do something to hasten the church’s change of mind about single people? We don’t know, but we’re giving it our best energy, our thinking and activities, our emotions and spirit – and that’s an adventure!”


This is the final article in a three-part series on single men and the church.

Part one is on the statistics of church attendance among men and the types of churches men favour .

Part two looks at male psychology and personality traits.

If you have any ideas or experience of trying these suggestions...

...please write to us at 


Much of the data in this article comes from our own research, which can be found at

You can learn more about the work of Christian Vision for Men (CVM) at, and find suggestions for evangelism to help your church reach out to men in your community.

For more about Barna Research Group’s work on reasons people leave church, visit:

For a note about gender differences, and how we have approached the issue in these articles, visit part two.

David Pullinger 24 March 2017