If the guys in your youth group are anything like the guys in mine, they seem to be bored with the normal rhythm of student ministry. As games take a back seat and the focus shifts more to singing, listening to a sermon, and then sharing thoughts and feelings in small groups, the touch points for guys get fewer and farther between.
Combine this less active and highly relational approach to ministry with adolescent guys’ propensity for action and adventure, and it is no wonder that guys are checking out at an alarming rate. Thankfully I have a lot of great guys and they try really hard to stay engaged, but I can tell that they are dying inside. Just like they do with school, with relationships, and now with their faith, they disengage and slip into the well-worn grove of apathy.
I don’t blame them. In general, the church naturally relates well to women, their needs, and their ways of connection. We have set up church and youth ministry programs that bank on relationship, emotion, expression, and sharing. For most guys, these are uncomfortable at best, and straight-up awful in general.
It is a shame, with all we now know about adolescent development and especially male development, that we continue to go back to the well of what we have always known and create programs that completely miss connecting with boys and therefore teach them that church and faith are irrelevant.
They need adventure
John Eldredge has written an amazing book, Fathered by God. In it, he speaks of young men being in the Cowboy stage. In this stage young men need to experience adventure and danger. These are the exact opposite descriptions of youth group and the church.
In an effort to combat apathy and pique the interest of the young men in our ministry, we created a gathering, a club. We call it The Manly Mecca. Some of our seniors came up with the idea and the name a few years ago, and it stuck. The basic idea is that we recognize that men need some different food in our spiritual diet and the only way we are going to get it is by being together as young men and going after it.
So once a month on a Friday night we gather at a home and have some man time. A guy shares his testimony. (We call it a testament of manhood.) We tackle a tough topic and debate it vigorously. No topic is off limits. The saucier, the better. Then we pray. But this is only the first part of the night.
The second part involves goofing off, horsing around, being loud and obnoxious. We play cards, watch violent movies from the 80’s, and go on adventures.
Help them dream up some adventures
To set the tone for what this group was going to be, we watched an episode of The Buried Life. It was a show on MTV and is now on Netflix. The basic gist is that four guys were tired of their normal lives so they wrote up a list of 100 things they wanted to do before they died, and then went after it! And along the way they tried to help a few others cross something off their own bucket lists.
It is great to watch four young, handsome, cool guys go after their bucket list. Apathy has nothing to do with this goal and the guys on this show are actually inspiring. And this is an MTV show!
After we watched an episode, we came up with our bucket list, the adventurous things we wanted to do before the year ended. It was fun and funny as we brainstormed options. What we came up with will definitely be fun and adventurous. Here is what made our list:
- A destination hike. Get dropped off in San Francisco and have to walk 20 miles home.
- A super prank
- A snowboard trip
- A bbq cook off
- A yard work day for an old guy at our church
- A guys’ camp-out
Spending the day earning as much money as we can and then taking a homeless guy to dinner, hearing his story, and giving him the money we’ve earned.
We can’t really change the church and youth group culture and make it more boy- friendly. It is what it is. At the end of the day, these young men will have to figure out how to live within the set rhythms of the church, so separating from it is not a workable option. But to at least call out the problem and provide an additional option that allows boys to grow into men is a viable solution.
The Manly Mecca is our solution. It is the place where young men get to be just that, and work out their faith in a way that makes sense to them. It also gives us leaders an opportunity to positively shape the guys’ church and youth group experience. The best is watching these teenage guys take on their noble calling as young men and attempt to find ways to bless the ladies of our youth group, bless the church, and our community. (With a few pranks thrown in for good measure.)
This is how we worked it out. How do you connect with the young men in your ministry?