By: Kris Dolberry– In the early 1800s, four young men, students from Williams College in Massachusetts, gathered in a field near their campus to talk about what God was doing in their day. Their specific topic was how the heart of God beats for unreached people groups. As they read scripture, talked, and prayed, it began to rain. As the rainstorm got more and more severe, students began to take shelter under stacks of hay.
What happened next can only be explained as a move of God. God began to bring revival on the campus of Williams College. Then gatherings began to spring up in the region. This series of revivals became known as the Haystack Revivals. But that was just the beginning. Four years later, those students formed what became known as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. This organization sent many of the first Christian missionaries to India, China, and Hawaii. Fast forward to today– the roots of largest missions sending agency in the world, The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention can be tracked back to what God began that day in Massachusetts.
Millions upon million of people have been impacted by the gospel because of how God used those 4 young men. In fact, many of the major moves of God throughout redemptive history began with young men and women. But, unfortunately the paradox is, statistics tell us that the least likely demographic to engage in church today are young men, and it’s not even close. Someone once asked one of today’s most trusted pastors about the reason for this phenomenon. He said, “The reason many young adults don’t attend church is because they’ve been to one.” He’s right. In many cases, churches are answering questions young men simply are not asking. I’ll bet if you think hard enough, you can think of a few right now.
A few years ago, LifeWay Research identified key issues that young adults are dealing with. Their research is helpful and gives us insight into 5 questions young men are asking and your church must answer if you are going to reach them.
1) The Community Question: Do You Know Me?
It is no accident that this one is #1 on this list. Our research showed that this was #1 on the list of felt needs of young adults. Think about goods and services young men consume– things like Starbucks, online gaming, and social media. What do each of these have in common? They are all actually selling something other than their tangible product. They are selling community. Take coffee, for example. Our parents bought coffee because they wanted coffee. Millennial men buy coffee because they want community. Have you been in a hipster coffee shop lately? Everything about the environmental design screams “community”. If you church doesn’t intentionally create compelling environments that intentionally create community, you will not reach millennial men.
2) The Authenticity Question: Can We Be Real?
Young men are looking for community, yes. But they are not looking for a community bearing a facade that screams, “We have it all together.” If there is anything that the gospel makes clear, it is that none of us– not one– has it all together. We are all severely broken and in need of ferocious grace! The moment you, your church, or the environments you create communicate that you have somehow reached an admirable level of have-it-togetherness, young men will sniff you out and run for the hills! You may impress them by sharing your successes. But, you will only connect with them by sharing your failures.
3) The Causality Question: Can We Go Deep?
This generation of young men is more informed and educated than any generation prior. And if they haven’t already been informed, they can find the information they need in seconds with their smart phones. Young Men want to go below the surface. In my observation, many men’s ministries think they need to “dumb it down” or “make it simple” for men. Clear? Yes. To the point? Absolutely. But, over-simplification is a MASSIVE mistake! Refer back to #2 above. Life is not simple. It’s messy. This is why young men want depth! They don’t wan’t to just know the effect. They want to know the cause– to get to the root. Keep in mind, there are varying types of depth– intellectual, practical, emotional, and of course theological. If your church doesn’t have at least 2 of these, you will likely not reach young men. The churches that do the best job of reaching and discipling millennial men have all 4.
4) The Responsibility Question: Can I Make a Difference?
In a 2016 Gallup Survey of millennials at work, 50% of those surveyed indicated they would likely not still be in their current job 1 year from now. This stands in stark contrast to men of previous generations. Many of our grandfathers worked the same job for 30-40 years. So, what has changed? Is it true that millennials cannot be depended on due to being flighty and non-committal? Some maybe. But it turns out, young men may actually be more committed to giving their lives away to something that matters than previous generations. And the reason for the Gallup statistic I referenced earlier is because they are still searching for that “thing”. Once they find it, they’ll rearrange their entire lives to run after it. Church, we have the greatest mission in the world! Give young men a compelling vision that feels worthy of giving their lives to along with a practical pathway to step into it and you won’t be able to keep them away.
5) The Connection Question: Will You Show Me?
How did your great grandfather learn how to be a man? He watched his dad while they worked the fields together. Today most dads spend their best hours at work. Then come home exhausted. And, that’s if dad is still present. Today’s young men are more likely to come from single-parent homes that any other generation in history. The point is that it is very possible for a young man to grow up having never had a Biblical picture of manhood modeled for him. Often in the church, we teach people things that engage their mind and call that discipleship. Renewing the mind is a massive part of the sanctification process, yes. But Jesus’ model of discipleship was equal parts impartation and imitation. Jesus knew that it’s not enough just to tell a man what he should do. We must also model it for him. Paul understood this too. This is why he said to Titus, “In all respects to be a model of good works.” (Titus 2:7).
Thanks to technology, young men have the best preachers in the world at the tip of their fingers. They don’t need someone else to tell them. They need someone to show them how a Godly man operates. They don’t just need it. They crave it.
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My friend Johnny Hunt, Pastor of FBC in Woodstock, GA says, “Men are the untapped reservoir of spiritual energy in the local church.” He’s right. Imagine what God could do if you begin to reach, disciple, and mobilize young men! Imagine the revival that could begin in and through your church when you harness, build, and unleash an army hard-charging risk-taking young men for the glory of God! Your church, community, and the world may never be the same again.
Kris Dolberry is a pastor, speaker, writer, and church consultant. After serving in pastoral leadership for 17 years, Kris now leads Ministry to Men at LifeWay and serves as Executive Editor of Stand Firm, a daily devotional magazine for men. Kris is husband to Vanessa and dad to Konnor, Emma, and Brady. They live outside Nashville, Tennessee.