NASHVILLE, Tenn.––Research suggests that boys have a 70 to 90 percent chance of leaving the church and not coming back.
The Rev. Tim Wright, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, suggests ways churches can create boy-friendly environments.
Speaking to a March 17-18 gathering of 25 leaders of men’s ministry from seven denominations, Wright, cited reasons for the mass exodus of testosterone-driven boys.
“A boy brain is different from a girl brain,” said Wright. “It processes information and emotions differently. It learns differently. Therefore, it follows that it will be ‘disciple’ differently as well.
“Typical religious education is based on sitting still, listening to someone talk, and focusing or reading a sacred text,” said Wright. “This favors a girl’s brain.
Add into that mix pictures, videos, hands-on metaphors, and then you begin to capture the boy as well.
“Athletic or not, boys want to move as they learn. They learn best when learning comes visually and metaphorically.”
Wright is the author of Searching for Tom Sawyer ––How parents and congregations can stop the exodus of boys from church. He teaches boys and girls in different classes using different teaching methods to express the same biblical truths.
Now serving as pastor of the Community of Grace in Peoria, Ariz., Wright says he uses competition in his classes with boys.
“Sometimes before starting a session, I’ll take them out for some friendly competition. It might be a free-throw shoot-out, a tug-of-war, or a football toss.”
The pastor sometimes breaks boys into basketball teams. When a team scores a basket, it gets extra points by answering review questions correctly.
He also teaches about winning and losing. Winning teams get candy treats, and losing teams do not. Not everyone is a winner every time.
Wright notes that many congregations speak, teach and worship with female-oriented language. “For example, churches talk about ‘having a personal relationship with Jesus.’
“Bill never says to Chavez, “I want to have a personal relationship with you.’ Bill might say, ‘Do you want to hang out?’
“Jesus always used action language: ‘Follow me!’
“What boys need is an action-driven spirituality.”
Men need to lead
Wright told the denominational leaders that men will have to take the lead in helping boys connect their manhood to Jesus. “Boys long for connections with men they respect,” he said.
“Many churches have men’s ministries but very little strategic training takes place in leading men into manhood. Most men’s ministries study a topic, a book, or a book of the Bible but take little time to intentionally connect it to a man’s vision for manhood.
“The church not only can forge in boys a vision for manhood, it can also point them to the One who can lead them into that vision, empower them for that vision and transform them into good honorable men.”
During the two-day meeting at the office of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, denominational men’s ministry leaders shared what was happening in each of their denominations.
“Sharing in this group means presenting their best practices for others to steal with full permission,” said Gil Hanke, top staff executive of the General Commission on United Methodist Men and host of the group. “When someone uses your program or project in another denomination, it is a high compliment.”
Participants included leaders in men’s, youth and scouting ministry from the Episcopal Church, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Church in America, the American Baptist Church, the Southern Baptist Church, Pentecostal Holiness Church, and the United Methodist Church.