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Nov 18

How to stop boys leaving your church

Recently we had a meeting of our Children’s work hub, a place where all those involved in Children’s Ministry locally can get together and share ideas, resources and seek advice. One of the questions that came up on this occasion was about how we can stop pre-teen boys leaving church.

boysIt’s a common issue. How do we stop tween-age boys (those aged 9-12) from walking away from church? How do we stop them being lured away by the attractions of Sunday morning sports or the relish of a lie-in?

This question can raise several different issues: should Sunday mornings be the key time in the week for discipling young people? How do we help young people live for Jesus and be actively involved in sports? What are we doing in our services and our Sunday morning youth groups that are not as appealing as alternative activities?

These are all valid questions and worth considering. But the answer I want to address today is something more pressing. It relates specifically to boys and the key reason they leave.

There are no male leaders in our children’s groups.

If there are no male leaders as they grow through these early years, they have no role models for them of being a man for Christ within church. Yes, there may be a male church leader but these are often distant to the children or seen as really there for the adults.

Who is it who tends to care for the children? Women. And they do a great job. But they can’t model being male and a Christian. What boys need are some men who will invest in them, show them that you can be male and godly, that loving God with all your heart is what ‘real men’ do, and setting that example for the boys to follow.

We must not undervalue this need.

Look at most primary schools. They are predominantly female staffed. When there is a male teacher, they are cherished and treated like gold-dust for the school, the parents and the governors all know the significant impact this has on the lads in the school. Church is no different.

There is also a danger that what we model as a church is that children’s work is not important enough for men to be involved in and so we leave it to the women. We might find more men involved in the overall leadership whether on a PCC or the diaconate. Of course, some churches only allow men on these boards, but that is a different issue. What I want us to consider is what we are modelling to our children.

If we believe children and young people are to be valued as much as the adults in our churches, we need to make sure that this is modelled. When I see churches who have a mix of female and male children’s leaders, it is rare to see a struggling youth ministry after.

The tween-age years are key for establishing identity, self-awareness and values. Boys and girls mature at different rates and have different needs. We must make sure that there are both men and women for them to look up to, who know them, who care about them and who will invest in them.

But it doesn’t start there. It must start younger. We need male role models throughout our children’s and youth ministry, so that people of all ages can see that it is normal to follow Jesus, whatever age and stage of life you are at.

When we are recruiting for new leaders do we naturally assume as a church we are asking for female help? There needs to be a significant change or we will continue to see boys walking away from church, in search of something which resonates with them more.

How do we bring about this change? It needs to be voiced. We need to point out the gender imbalance in our leadership. We need to remind each other that Jesus tells us to ‘be like children’ in our faith. This means for many of us we need to spend more time with children so we can see what their faith is like. It doesn’t mean we should be childish and copy their behaviour, but we should be child-like and reflect their attitudes to God.

If you are a church leader you can model this by spending more time visiting the children’s groups. Can you go and spend time there once per month for a season? When you speak of the children’s ministry, be sure to encourage men to get involved.

There is also the problem that for many men, the thought of working with children is a challenging one. Provide reassurance that they will be given training to make it easier and to help them adapt to the role. Inspire male leaders to take on these opportunities and let’s raise the profile of our work with children, so that it isn’t seen as something left to the women in the church. Not only is it a sign of our gender inequality, but it also is letting our boys down.

It is time to address this need and urgently. If you are male, no matter how old, get involved with your children’s groups. Offer to help in whatever way you can. The next generation of lads is depending on you.