Collin Hanson has written an excellent editorial in Christianity Today, titled Wanted: Young Men in the Church, about how young men are delaying getting married and starting a family, and in essence prolonging adolescence. Hanson rightly notes that this development should concern the church. Hanson obviously has a heart to reach these young men with the gospel and asks whether our churches are poised to reach these young men.
Hanson cites a couple of interesting articles on the issue of prolonged adolescence. One is from in the winter volume of City Journal by Kay S. Hymnowitz, titled “Child-man in the Promised Land,” and the second article is by David Brooks in the New York Times, titled “Odyssey Years.”
Brooks succinctly lays out the process that many young men are currently going through as they delay growing up and starting a family, he writes:
“Dating gives way to Facebook and hooking up. Marriage gives way to cohabitation. Church attendance gives way to spiritual longing. Newspaper reading gives way to blogging.”
Amen! if we could only get the young men in our churches to be as excited about the Lord and church life as they are about Facebook, we would really be on to something.
Hanson, applies this situation to church life. He says:
Spoken or not, many churches have practiced an evangelistic strategy that doesn’t expect to reach young men until they return with wife and kid in tow. If this was ever a wise strategy, surely now it is bound to fail. Hymowitz points out that in 1970, 69 percent of 25-year-old and 85 percent of 30-year-old white men were married. By 2000 those numbers had dropped to 33 percent and 58 percent. Between 2000 and 2006 alone, the median age of marriage for men climbed nearly one year, from 26.8 to 27.5. Can our churches afford to wait at least 12 years, between ages 18 and 30, for men to return? Maybe this is a better question: Are young men doomed to self-centered pursuits so long as they haven’t tied the knot?
I think Hanson is on to something. Many of our churches simply are not geared to reach these young men. So what do we do? Do we learn how to play more video games and develop more single-minded programing in our churches? Do we need to “hook up” these single young men in order to free them from their own selfishness?
Hanson says that is not the answer, he writes:
Evangelistic appeals grounded in felt needs won’t do the trick with these men. What good is this approach when we see no evidence that these young men feel the need to change? And if we adjust our beliefs and behaviors in order to attract these men, we run the risk of peddling the gospel and precluding God-given transformation.
In other words, Hanson doesn’t call for a overhaul on all our church programming. Nor does he think that we just need to get these young men married. Instead he suggests the ancient idea of plugging into the lives of these young men and sharing the gospel with them. Hanson seems to have the hair-brained idea that difficult and demanding but joyful life of pursing Christ might just free these young men from their own narcissism.
Hanson makes the important point that “everyone wars against the sinful tendency to shirk responsibility and accountability . . . unless you know the gospel freedom that is.”
Our churches are not reaching men, but it is refreshing to hear someone so clearly get to the heart of the issue and point to the only viable solution as Hanson does. Hanson says these young men “aren’t so different from everyone else. They need the gospel to liberate them from themselves, so that they will seek first the kingdom, not the latest Will Ferrell movie.”
Hanson also suggests that part of the reason why our churches are not reaching you men is because of our lack of clarity on gender roles. Unfortunately I don’t have time to address that issue right now, but I think he might be on to something there as well.
That said, let me throw a few questions at you:
- Is your church failing to reach young men? Why or why not?
- What remedy might you suggest to reach these young men? Is Hanson’s solution too simple?