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More Than a Few Good Men

Gordon and Becki West

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Simple strategies to get men more involved in your ministry.

The Bible says fathers should teach children the truths of God, so why are so few men working in Sunday school? Could it be that we're turning them off before they get a chance to serve? Are we unintentionally frightening them away once they volunteer? After years of service, observing the church at large, and talking with children's ministers across the country, we've come to think so...but we also believe change is possible.

We Need Good Men

Throughout the history of the American church, women have done most of the work of teaching children in Sunday school. Women teach kids using techniques that are better suited for girls; and the boys, feeling like failures and finding no male role models, drop out of church as soon as possible. When they become dads, many stay home and send the kids to church with mom. This is a cycle that must be broken by getting more Christian men involved in relationships with boys and girls at home and at church. 

The truth is that children's ministries unintentionally do a lot of things that act as a natural repellent for men. Here's the unvarnished truth about what you need to do to get men more involved.

Truth About Men #1: Men still prefer traditional roles.

Before you ask one more man to get involved with kids at your church, stop and evaluate the messages you're presenting from a man's viewpoint. What elements are uncomfortable or distasteful for the men in your congregation?

  • Stop making children's ministry "look" feminine. Weed out subtle statements and actions that create an anti-masculine atmosphere. Throw away the stationery printed on pink paper and evaluate your thank you notes-they're probably designed to appeal to women. Most men won't join the nursery staff if you require them to wear aprons. And staff meetings that involve tea and small sandwiches or that are held during workdays tell men (and working women) that they're not invited to serve.
  • Give children's ministry a male makeover. Use strong colors and exciting activities that appeal to men (and boys). Consistently communicate male involvement in children's ministry. Use male teachers to give testimonies in church, and use masculine pronouns (he and him) when referring to children's volunteers from the pulpit and in your church bulletins or newsletters. Be efficient with time; keep meetings succinct and save social conversations for after the meeting.
  • Ask three or four men who aren't involved to evaluate your ministry. You'll be surprised at what you hear. Ask questions such as, "Do you feel welcome here? Are our classrooms inviting to you? What changes would we have to make for you to want to be involved?" Listen closely to their answers.

Truth About Men #2: Men want to be around other men.

Once you've removed the barriers, it's time to recruit men in ways that connect with the male psyche.

  • Men recruit men. A man is much more likely to be recruited when he's approached by another man, especially when the position is one that might've previously been seen as "for women only." If you're a female leader, pray for and then pursue one significant male leader who'll walk alongside you for this specific purpose. Explain to this man his unique ability to help you influence the ministry, and then have him talk with other men to explain the importance of the "guys" getting involved.
  • Those men recruit more men. Some men simply don't like going where no man's gone before. Men prefer to serve where other men are already serving. As you recruit, try teaming two or more men to work in the same room or program. Pair a new male volunteer with a male mentor. As you find one willing volunteer, ask him to recommend a buddy with whom he'd like to work, and then mention his recommendation when you call his friend.

Truth About Men #3: Men want to know what they're doing matters.

Men must believe they're having purpose and impact. Our temptation is to reduce the commitment to get men in the door. But the opposite approach is more effective.

  • Help men see children's ministry as a way to impact the world. Most men aren't motivated by desperate pleas for help from the pulpit. Instead, use recruiting tools that involve humor and feature men making a difference. Communicate that team members play a critical role in evangelizing and molding the future leaders of the church.
  • Provide leadership and structure. Many women will step forward to "rescue" weak leaders, but most men will refuse to board a sinking ship. Leaders who can't get and keep male volunteers need to evaluate how well they're leading those volunteers and focus on being effective.
  • Involve men in meaningful ways. Don't ask dads to come in and hang out. Allow a man to take ownership of the ministry and make it his. Male volunteers have their own style of running a classroom or teaching a lesson. Trust and respect them enough to allow this freedom, and the men in your ministry will flourish.

Truth About Men #4: Men want to succeed.

Men won't engage in activities where they fear looking or feeling incompetent, inadequate, or inferior. Unfortunately, highly competent female leaders can unknowingly frighten off male volunteers. (Most women are naturals with kids; most men aren't.)

Offer men training in ways that aren't demeaning. Never humiliate, put down, or demean a male volunteer, even jokingly. When possible, have a trained man share his experiences with the new guys; he'll be able to relate to the issues on their minds.

Truth About Men #5: Men-like women-want to be appreciated.

We all want to know we're appreciated and seen as significant, and your male volunteers require at least as much appreciation as female ones. Men also like to be appreciated by other men. Recently we asked one of our teachers why he'd re-enlisted for another year. His response: "Because the children's pastor told me I was doing a good job."

If men are motivated to volunteer because they see a way to make a difference, acknowledging the difference they're making is a primary way to encourage and retain them. Point out the unique contributions they make.

  • Only men can be male role models. If a man does nothing more than show up, he's still made a contribution a woman can't make. We frequently tell men: "Thank you for being here today. As a man, you're making a powerful impact on these boys and girls. They need to see a Christian male role model."
  • Men reduce discipline problems. Any female teacher will tell you that having a man in the classroom, from toddlers' to preteens', almost always reduces discipline problems and calms the classroom.
  • Male leaders spice up classrooms. Mom's God-given role in the family (and classroom) is to nurture and protect children. Dad's is to challenge and launch children. Men are risk-takers and add an element of excitement to any classroom. Children thrive when they receive a healthy balance of protection and challenge.

Only by changing our actions will we change our results, and this is especially true when it comes to involving more men in children's ministry. It's time to stop doing things the way we've always done them. Let's keep our boys in church by giving them men to follow.


Gordon and Becki West are founders of KidZ KaN Make a Difference and KidZ At Heart International (kidsatheart.org).

This article is excerpted from Children's Ministry Magazine. Don't miss another issue, subscribe today.

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