It may not be inclusive or politically correct, but the unabashed aim of The Grove Church in Peoria, IL, is to attract one hitherto unreached demographic: men.
Inspired by David Murrow's Why Men Hate Going To Church, Murrow and Pastor Mark Doebler freely admit they are inventing a new style of worship. "We're not going after low-hanging fruit," said Murrow. "We're building a ladder to reach men, the fruit most churches ignore."
The first couple of rungs were hammered together in Peoria, IL, on a September weekend when the Murrow conducted a Church for Men Summit in the city and Doebler launched the first service in his church specifically targeting men.
Said Murrow: "When a man walks into a church, you have two minutes to show him that this is for him and not just for his wife, his kids, and his grandma. Everything about the church - the way the music sounds, the way it is lit, the way it is decorated, images and teaching - need to speak to him on some level. The nice thing about women is that they respond well to a masculine tone and imagery whereas men do not respond well to feminine imagery."
In structuring a church service that appeals to men, Doebler said, "We've given ourselves the freedom to make big mistakes. We don't have the luxury of having another church to follow. What scares us more than anything is to continue to do something that isn't working because it has always been done."
Nothing to worry about there. Doebler's experimental "men's church" freely parts with convention at every turn. What's a church service like that targets men? They don't grunt the Doxology aka Tim Taylor. But it's not your grandmother's church service either.
Meeting in a school gym decorated with camping equipment, pine trees, and target deer, The Grove attendees are invited to help themselves to assorted carbohydrates and high-octane java before seating themselves coffeehouse style around circular tables. The bongo-harmonica-playing Doebler gave the crowd the day's "game plan" before he and the back-up musicians launched into pulsating praise choruses. The message was broken up into reinforcing sound bites scattered throughout the hour with two 10-minute illustrated talks that I hesitate to call sermons but were nevertheless Biblically grounded. The morning ended with a "men's huddle" at the front of gym where, according to my male spy, the message points were reiterated and each man was given an item to help him remember what he learned. In this case, it was a knife.
Who attends a church service geared for men? An unscientific observation noted that the assembly was more than half (roughly 65 percent) men with the average age in the mid-30s. A prediction: Unmarried women WILL find this church.
If God used a trawler to prep fishers of men, He used the U. S. Army to ready Doebler, a career army sergeant, to lead and disciple men for spiritual battle.
"The battleground is making disciples," said Doebler. "Men are looking for are a spiritual father and a band of brothers around them. They are scared to death of it but they want it. Men need to be in spiritual groups - not classrooms - with a leader who has goals, who is speaking into their lives and challenging them. The Grove is playing down the classroom and playing up discipleship. We want to personally disciple men and get them ready to disciple other men through relationships rather than have disconnected men who are here to sing songs and listen to a sermon."
Murrow says that his two-to three-day Church For Men Summits are to help men understand the specific ways churches can rally other men, especially without alienating young single men.
"I want to give churches tools to create that man-friendly environment on Sunday morning and throughout the week," said Murrow. "The answer is not to create a 'Submit to me, woman!' culture. That's does not make Godly men. The purpose is to create disciples of Jesus.
"What will attract men is for churches to strike a balance between the masculine and feminine spirit (in the programming, symbols, and setting). I want people to speak up for the masculine spirit in the church. I want them to start asking questions like 'How will the men react to this? Is this something men can relate to? How is our Sunday school curriculum helping boys win?'
Murrow believes that once women understand what he is saying, they will get behind the concept. "Women are tired of raising their boys in church only to lose them in young adulthood. And women will be delighted that something is happening in the church that they don't have to push, pull, or prod," Murrow added.
Click here to read Men In Pews: A New Form of "Affirmative Action"?
Rebekah Montgomery is the editor of Right to the Heart of Women e-zine, a publisher at Jubilant Press, and the author of numerous books on spiritual growth. She can be contacted for comments or speaking engagements at rebekahmontgomery.com