“We need more people who are more interested in what they can contribute than in what they can collect.” Vance Havner
by Dr. Terry Etter, President of Men’s Life Small-Group Bible Study
Observers of modern men have made some sobering comments lately. Gordon Dalby, in his book Healing the Masculine Soul, says men have become lost, “cast adrift from the community of men.” Stu Weber, in Tender Warrior, writes that “today’s real men are a vanishing breed and that it is killing our culture.” Bob Hicks, in The Masculine Journey, says men are experiencing a profound alienation from God, themselves, and each other.
What is the solution? Part of it is simple: Men must involve themselves in a relational community with other men around God’s Word.
As part of a men’s Bible study ministry for almost 10 years, I’ve learned a great deal about what does and does not work when it comes to attracting and holding men in small groups. Here are some key principles:
1. Men Must Be Personally Invited
Men typically do not respond to small groups without a personal contact, preferably from a friend. Don’t expect men to respond to announcements in church bulletins or flyers. They simply won’t. That is why leaders need to invest their time in developing a system of personal invitation. Plan on inviting three times the number of men you expect.
One leadership team met together several times for the purpose of writing every man’s name down and then assigning those names for follow-up. It takes that level of attention to get men to participate.
2. Have Shared Leadership
Men’s ministries most often fail because they are initiated and led by one man rather than a team of leaders. The motivation and drive of a single person with a heart for reaching men may be enough to pull off a single event, but it is not enough to sustain ministry. Shared leadership not only blends a variety of spiritual gifts in the ministry, but also allows for leaders to “cover” for each other. Men’s small groups should have a minimum of two leaders for a group size of 8 to 10.
3. Groups Need an Outreach Mind-set
When men experience the benefits of a small group, it’s tempting to become inward and exclusive. There is a tension between being comfortable with the men in your existing group and inviting new men. Small groups must maintain an outward focus by inviting new and preferably unchurched men. Failing to do so will cause the group to become static as it loses the challenge and energy new members can bring. Smaller, more intimate accountability groups should become the place for deeper levels of fellowship for small group “veterans.”
4. Meet for a Specific Period of Time in a Comfortable Place
Men are reluctant to make long-term, open-ended commitments. I often say at our leadership workshops that men are “springloaded” to the “bailout” position. We live in an era where most people are overly busy and not committed to anything. If you are trying to reach unchurched men in particular, you must offer them a short-term experience with an option to renegotiate their commitment and opt out if they wish.
Seven one-hour meetings is a good length. The Men’s Life Bible study resources reflect the seven-session format. We have also found that virtually all the men do return to the study because the small-group experience is meeting a critical relational need in their lives.
For many unchurched men, a church building is an unfamiliar, sometimes intimidating place. We urge groups to meet in members’ homes or in places more familiar and less threatening. If your group includes men from several denominations or if it crosses racial or cultural boundaries, then a home, workplace, or other familiar location is a good place to gather.
5. Do Not Assign Homework
Men are unlikely to complete homework assignments, such as reading Scripture passages and writing answers in a study manual. Rather than show up and be embarrassed that they didn’t do the work, they just won’t show up at all. The approach runs counter to the way most of us were taught, but you will encounter fewer problems in your group if you do not assign homework.
Obviously, homework can be assigned and expected in a small group made up of mature Christians whose motivation level is more advanced.
6. Allow Men to Discover Truths From the Bible for Themselves
Don’t lecture. The key responsibility of the leader is to facilitate discussion by asking open-ended questions that invite answers. This principle is essential for having a successful small-group Bible-study experience.
The Bible is unchartered territory for most men. If they don’t feel in control or know the answer, they will soon decide not to come back. It’s better to use a format which invites the group member to participate by giving his own understanding of the meaning of the passage. There is no pressure to come up with the “right” answer. Rather, each person is allowed to uncover the truths of God’s Word in a self-discovery approach. A good small-group leader, then, will facilitate this discovery process rather than set himself up as the expert.
7. Don’t Ask Men to Do Something for Which They Are Unprepared
Be especially careful not to call randomly on men to read Scripture unless you ask for volunteers or are given prior permission. An increasing number of men today are unable to read or are embarrassed to do so in public. Don’t ask group members to pray without seeking prior permission. If you do have a group member pray, it’s a good idea to let the group know that you have gained his permission beforehand. As leader, you generally should take the lead in prayer.
The small group setting is pivotal to developing a relational community for men. This truth is at the heart of the Promise Keepers movement. The leaders of Promise Keepers know that the only way a man will become a Promise Keeper is to enter into a vital relationship with God through His Word and with other brothers who will help him keep those promises.