Monday, August 18, 2008

"Guy church": how evangelicals still dont get it

About a year ago we launched with the express intention of trying to have conversations with men which might in turn lead them to be open to have further conversations about Jesus. Basically the articles here range from current events, to Ultimate Fighting, to some basic philosophical issues, all cast in the form of a conversation you might have with another guy on a bar stool over a cold one. So, if you joined the conversation when this all started you are aware of the aim of this site, and if you are just tuning in, then go back and check out those key articles and get caught up to speed.

Naturally, given that our focus here is to engage other men in conversation that will end up having a spiritual focus, we are happy to hear that others are doing the same thing. After all, it is no secret that attendance of men at church is on the decline, at least in North America. On any given Sunday, over 60% of the people in the pews are women, about 90% of males who grow up in church leave it by the time they are 19 years old, and only roughly 30% of American men attend church on a regular basis. With those numbers in mind, of course we laud attempts of the local church to reach out to men. Given that build up, you might be surprised, that I almost pulled the tiny little hairs out of my neatly shaved head as I read the recent article in USA Today by Cathy Lynn Grossman entitled, “Guys are few in the pews: churches change to attract men.” http://http//

In the following paragraphs I want to critique what I read and offer an alternative.

Now, to be fair, perhaps Miss Grossman is not an "initiated evangelical" and is simply reporting what she sees in the new evangelical trend of “guy friendly” churches, and, being uninitiated, is unable to perceive the deeper philosophical moorings of these churches. So as you read this critique you might keep that thought in mind. However, what she does report leaves you shaking your head once again, saying to yourself, “stupid evangelicals!” Honestly, how many gimmicks are these people going to try before they realize that gimmicks don’t work, and in fact, that gimmicks hurt the faith and build up even more obstacles for us to beat down before we can have a decent conversation with unbelievers?

Grossman appeals to the 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas, as a model for this new trend of “guy church” with a hearty masculine vibe. Initially, she focuses on the décor of the church, which of course is a significant part of their strategy for reaching men according to the pastor Ross Sawyer who says, “No pastels. No flowers. No sweet music. The tone is intentionally guy church.” So naturally since guys don’t like those things the floor is concrete, the walls are hunter green, and the ceiling is made of rough timber. Surely, most men don’t like pastels, flowers, and lame music, but is the problem with reaching men merely about cosmetics? The heavy focus on the cosmetic aspect already shows how superficial the approach is going to be.

Next, we are told that the new model “guy church” has a certain ethos. David Murrow, a leading “guy church” guru, explains in the advice he gives to pastors seeking to reach men what really captivates a pagan guy: infuse adventure, challenge, boldness, competition, hands-on communication, ferocity and fun" into congregational life. If you are wondering what that looks like, well, just listen to a report from a 2002 GodMen ministry event which includes the following shockingly foolish set of events: videos of karate fights, car chases and a song with lyrics urging, "No more nice guy, timid and ashamed … Grab a sword, don't be scared — be a man, grow a pair!" (I told you that you would be shaking your head and saying “stupid evangelicals!”) So, "action packed" is the key ethos needed to reach men.

Lastly, Grossman notes that “guy church” is intentionally relational. Now, here, I believe they are getting one component right. In order to reach guys, you have to spend some time hanging out and getting to know them. But once again, as you might already be able to predict, these evangelicals mess this up to. Churches seeking men in the Sun Belt region of America are choosing to reach men through a particular kind of relational event called a “Beast Feast.” Yes, a “Beast Feast.” Apparently, men of the church invite non-Christian men they know to come eat some wild meat that they have harvested while out hunting in the woods. Stop and think about it, this could almost be a good idea if it was in some guys back yard, they threw out the title “Beast Feast,” and they mixed in some cigars and good beer. But no, its at the church banquet hall, and its named “Beast Feast,” and you can bet there are no beers and cigars. Relationships are a great way to start reaching out to men, but stupid evangelical potlucks with ridiculous names are not.

Okay, anyone can be long on criticism, but being long on solutions is better. So, what would I propose? One, strip away every stupid evangelical sounding thing from your approach. The North American species of pagan male can smell a gimmick a mile away, and a stupid evangelical gimmick from 10 miles away. So, don’t do dumb, superficial things. That is my ethos rule. Two, build relationships with men the old fashioned way: at a back yard barbeque, on a local bar stool, or at the gym. That is where you are going to find men hanging out and probably willing, over time, to let you talk to them about “big picture” ideas. Here is where I like J.I. Packer's advice when he says (I am paraphrasing here from Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God), “you have to earn the right to present Christ to men by building a relationship of trust first.” Three, when you finally get men to come to church, just do church! You know for all the hype about how they are doing “guy church” with their guy friendly décor, these churches go back to doing the same lame things that drove men away in the first place: skits, videos, music, creative worship (and oh yeah, don’t forget the guy friendly name change of Vacation Bible School to “Bible Extreme”). Basically what Grossman describes is that churches have changed the tone, repainted the walls, torn up the carpet, and rearranged the furniture, but have not touched the substance.

Here is what we need to do to reach men once they get to church: stop being lame, and just do what the Bible says when you meet for worship. Make the preached word and the administration of the sacrament central. Every week reinforce the majesty and holiness of God by reading the law and corporately confessing sin. Tell men that their relationship with Jesus is not based on “feeling good” or even “cool” at church, nor is it based on how many “guy friendly” small group meetings they go to (in fact, be sure to systematically eliminate all small groups from your church!), but rather, it is based upon worshiping once a week with the whole church and partaking of Christ and his grace in the preached word and sacrament. Tell them there are no gimmicks, no extra works to perform, no Vacation Bible School (or Bible Extreme for the ones who have unfortunately been exposed to hip "guy churches") to be guilted into teaching, no church softball teams to be a part of in order to be a good Christian. Just tell the men that Christ is their justification, and that their relationship with him is strengthened every week at 10 a.m. on Sunday when God meets with His church and gives them the grace of Christ in the word and sacrament. That’s “guy church” that will make a difference, and the good news is, it wont just make a difference for guys, it will make a difference for everyone who comes and is a part of it.


fightingpreacher said...

I think you got it all wrong. You might want to consider attending before making a hasty judgment concerning the process or the substance of this meeting.

Mesa Mike said...

Wow. If the charismatics had "guy church", I suppose instead of gold dust and angel feathers, the Holy Spirit would manifest His presence by raining down brewskis and bratwursts!

Thanks for another great article on the superficiality of modern "evangelicals." I think we're just about primed for the Great Deception.

seth said...

They could build monster trucks and drive women in bikinis all around the parking lot. I bet that would bring the "guys" in.

This seems to be a logical extension of the theology that sees men as a morally neutral being who just needs to have the right buttons pushed to "accept Christ into his heart". What a man needs is the truth that he is dead and without hope. He needs to know that he is God's enemy and can expect nothing but judgement. Then with the power of God through the gospel he can begin to change from a "guy" to a man.

As a former Arminian I can say that there is nothing better than a true understanding of soteriology to drive me over and over again to the congregation of God's covenant people to hear the Word proclaimed and enjoy fellowship with other men who are overcome by the glory of grace.

I still think the monster trucks in the parking lot might work.

Thank you,


Nick said...

Man, that was top drawer stuff. Coming from an evangelical background, I have lost count of the cringe/butt-clenching moments I've been unfortunate to witness in evangelistic services. And you're bang on about the gimmicks too.

Just do church, have a beer with your friends and stop trying to be cool. Otherwise guy-church just looks like gay-church to outsiders.

John Sawtelle said...

fightin preacher,
Thanks for your insight and your concern. Unfortunately, I have seen the "guy church" stuff in person and it is pretty much symbolism over substance.

fightingpreacher said...

Realy John which event did you attend? I can tell you from first hand experience that at least the Godmen events are full of a presentation of the Gospel and what it means to be a male serving in the Kingdom of God.

Since you directly reference Godmen my comment was in relationship to them. You might want to observe one of their events before you make a hasty decision.

Cause you never know....dudes preaching about the sin of pornography might be not in line with your theology.

fightingpreacher said...

Cause we all know there is no substance in telling men that pornography is a sin, that they should be leaders in their homes, communities, and churches.

John Sawtelle said...

fightin preacher
My friend, judging from the tone of your remarks, I would have to guess that you are a "guy church" pastor or advocate. I would say to you that I am not opposed to reaching men, in fact, I am very much interested in doing that. What concerns me is the gimmickery. I believe the right way to reach a man is to tell him the gospel, which is about justification by faith alone. Then, tell him that his sanctification is in Christ alone, and is strengthened through the word and sacrament alone, which intensify his union with Christ. To accent anything else distracts men from Christ and replaces their former idols with the new idol of machismo.

Thanks for your thoughtful input though.

R. Scott Clark said...


Yes we should preach the law, in it's first use, to everyone: males and females alike. We should pray for the law to do its convicting work.

What does the church have to do with making men or women into leaders in the secular community? No question men have to fulfill their creational responsibilities and their Christian duties as husbands and fathers and as members of the civil kingdom but it seems to me that 1 Peter teaches us to live quiet, godly, peaceable lives in this world.

Seth McKenzie said...

fighting preacher, I went to the Godmen site and watched the intro video. It was alot like watching the macho Rob Bell. I think that behind this approach lies a theology that has little faith in the power of God to save men through the preached word.
I also think that your porn joke with rev. Sawtelle was a cheap shot and not funny. I would recomend that at the Godmen gatherings that there should be more preaching of Christ and of him crucified and less preaching of moralism.
I am glad that you want to see men come to church I just take strong exception to the method.

fightingpreacher said...

I am a pastor in a Military Community. I have a predominately male church cause of the culture. Though I am also affilated with Godmen and regularly attend their events.

So lets start here. We all want the same thing. Men justified by faith and living a sanctified life. Right?

Now, gimmicks as you call them...lets take a look at that.

I think gimmicks is a little harsh and misused at least with the group I am familiar with.

Is it a gimmick to utilize the interest of men redeemed and unredeemed alike to gather interest and get some to come to hear a clear gospel presentation?

For example at Godmen they have before the event starts with a karate, crash car, and bloopers. This is called an ice breaker but has nothing to do with the gospel presentation.

Jesus uses the immediate situation often to get people talking about Spiritual stuff.

I really dont see the difference.

John Sawtelle said...

fightin preacher,
Yeah, just to clarify here, please don't understand me to say that we shouldn't preach the law, especially the duties of the 7th commandment in a sex crazed society, because I wholeheartedly believe we must. However, as the main accent of a men's meeting, I think that is wrong. We need to preach the whole law, and drive men from all their idols, not just their sexual ones, to Christ daily for repentance.

fightingpreacher said...

John that would be a contradiction to preach Christ and the whole law. Especially since no one on this board lives out the law anyway.

John Sawtelle said...

I wonder if I am understanding you correctly. You say, "it would be a contradiction to preach Christ and the whole law." I don't see the contradiction at all. In fact, if you read Romans, for instance, you see that is exactly what Paul does. He preaches the law in 1:18-3:20, which we call the "first use of the law" in the Reformed tradition, to drive sinners to despair concerning their own lack of righteousness. Then, in 3:21ff, Paul proclaims Christ as the justifying righteousness which is apart from the law.

As for the second point you make, that none of us keep the law, I fully agree, that is exactly why we need Christ's righteousness which is our righteousness before God. Being justified by that righteousness however, does not mitigate the duty of keeping the law for the glory of God out of gratitude for salvation.

Again, I think I must have missed something in your argument.


fightingpreacher said...

John, do you observe sabbath? Do you tithe 23.3% of your income? Do you eat pork?

Do you really preach the duty of keeping of the law?

Further in Romans Paul clearly stipulates that the Law was never for the Gentile in Chapters 2-3. It was to great advantage for the Jews.

I think it is one of the most misused and misunderstood concepts of the NT
Then in Chapter 7 the Law has passed away so that we can be joined with another namely Christ.

Finally in Chapter 10 Christ is the end of the Law.

PRCalDude said...

May I re-phrase the suggestions?
1. No bait and switch
2. Be normal, act normal, make friends with other men because it's normal to do so and they're made in the imago Dei.
3. Have old-fashioned church.

JMS said...

Jesus did reference common, everyday things like fig trees, wineskins as well as current affairs in his teachings. But that is a far cry from using carnival like attractions to draw the crowds.

He also didn't cater to affinity groups nor use any bait and switch schemes, no matter how well intentioned or rationalized.

He did draw the masses by his miracles, but that was not their primary purpose and notice the staying power they had--only a small number of disciples stuck with him when all said and done. The crowds left when the miracles stopped or they got their healing.

In the Guy Church model are the men drawn by the macho or the Gospel? The bigger question is this how scripture teaches us to "do church"? Where does God tell us his preached word needs supplemental attractions to be "effective"?

Take away all the Karate and monster trucks and let those who remain continue to come for Christ and his word, alone. He really is sufficient - believe it, or not.

Pro Regno said...

We life in a time that men do not only begin to act like women, but also look like women.

It is confusing to our children, especially our sons.

Therefore I suggest not shaving, and growing beards, as a symbol of biblical masculanity, especially in our times.

Do not misunderstand me, the beard does not make the man, but identifies men. I think if we demand women to be feminine, we men must also be manly. So, if we want the church to be more 'guy friendly', let us start looking like 'guys'

Any thoughts ?

Adam K said...

this godmen thing sounds like an evangelical version of the Gay Rights Parade. I thankfully have never been to this, but I do not need to visit a bath house in order to know that what goes on there is naughty

these godmen and their godmenpartners should go home and spend time with their wives or if they are single get second jobs and go to school and volunteer in the community so they have less time for gazing into each others eyes and understanding how "ah, bro, praise, you are just like me, sweet, but yeah, it's bad, dude, sports and cars, amen"

the presentation of the "gospel" must be rich at these places, you know, some untrained, uncalled and unsent self-proclaimed pastor of yet another self-started sectarian "church" trying his darndest to be relevant and smart and authentic speaking to a bunch of immature sickos who should fighting their sin quietly with dignity (and maybe getting professional counseling) while they are under the ministry and moral directions of the pastor and elders of an historic Protestant church

and is it really the case that we are unable to distinguish on this comment board between the ceremonial law (for example, ceratin tithing requirements and dietary laws) and binding moral commands (like "Thou shalt not committ adultery")

John Sawtelle said...

right on point man.....that is genius


Lawrence said...

fightingpreacher said... So lets start here. We all want the same thing. Men justified by faith and living a sanctified life. Right?

God wants us to have a sanctified life, yes. But given our sinful natures, no, we don't want the same things.

The focus must remain on what God wants, and what Jesus sacrificed, and what the Holy Spirit does. As long as we look to what we want, in any measure, we miss the point of both God's Law and God's Gospel.

I'm not making a comment about the Godmen, or anyone in particular, just pointing out that it doesn't really matter what we want. It only matters what God wants.

fightingpreacher said...

John before I comment I would like to know if I can post several in a row to address several different people. I am new to your blog and have gotten in trouble in others for posting to many times in a row.


John Sawtelle said...

no problem, as long as they target the issue.

Lawrence said...

Also: I hesitate to call these churches "Evangelical". A terribly misused word in American theology.

These churches should not be called Evangelical in the classic sense, but should probably instead be labeled "Progressive".

Victor said...


Can you talk about this "Godmen" stuff? What is it? What is it based on?

Arnold Disappointed said...

I have been a member of the 121 "guy church" and this was the most disappointing and depressing times in my life! The pastor knows how to preach for sure but it's only words. In real life he doesn't care about his own people. And if you dare to have a problem and have a prayer request they will whisk you conveniently to their expensive counseling center, shun you form the group and impose other intagible penalties (outcasting, no help in case of an emergency etc) and it does not matter if you are a man or a woman. The leadership of 121 church is corrupted and crroked, their lifestyle is lavish, all they care about is expensive gadgets, shopping and pretending to be Christian. There is no real brotherly Christian love there, just talk but no walk. If you are wealthy and drive a porsche, yes you can join, but if you lose your job, drive a Ford and run out of food, don't expect anyone there to help you. They would make a big collection and potluck for a wealthy member in a hospital but turn a blind eye to a low-income member who serves every week and gives their best but happens to have a short-term setback. I have learned a very painful lesson at 121 church as a man: be very careful when searching for the right church, watch for warning signs and even if one small thing doesn't feel right, run! Pray to the Lord to give you wisdom how to get out of a difficult spot by yourself without asking for help, to give you strength and endurance to survive the tough times. MEN, STAY AWAY FROM 121 COMMUNITY CHURCH IN GRAPEVUNE!!!