According the research published in From Anecdote to Evidence, 48% of our churches have fewer than 5 children worshipping on a Sunday. In my small village church, we have between 20 and 30 children most Sundays, at least 18 of whom are present every week. This is, of course, only a part of our ministry to children and their families, but I want to resist the idea that traditional Sunday morning nurture of children has had its day. Like most churches, we run a toddler group. We also run a Christian music club, send children on summer camp, run an informal Church@4 service and do a lot with our church school, including taking part in the new initiative from CPAS to enable children at Church of England Primary Schools to go on a short holiday and explore the claims of Jesus Christ. All of these things serve our aim to see families together in Church.
The real game-changer for our church was when we started to thing hard about ministry to men and fathers. The now quite old statistics from Focus on the Family that say that if a mum joins the church there’s a 17% chance the rest of the family will follow and if a dad joins there’s a 93% chance are desperately un-woke, but they’re borne out in my experience. Yet, churches can often be quite unwelcoming towards men without wishing to be so. Of course, one mustn’t generalise about what makes men feel welcome, but there are strong patterns in what men enjoy and place value in which one would need an ideological fundamentalist to ignore.
A church where the primary serving opportunities are the flower rota, helping in the creche or Mothers Union can make a lot of men feel that they have no gifts to offer. A church which sings romantic songs to Jesus – ‘hold me close, let your love surround me’ – can seem odd and sometimes uncomfortable to many men. A church that by virtue signalling on every new woke idea colludes with the over-extended political correctness of the idea of toxic masculinity, which is often perceived as demonising men, is not welcoming to men.
As a local church, we don’t do anything that is aimed just at men, but we make sure that there are things in the life of our Church that scratch where the men and fathers of our village are itching. We do lots of sports ministry and we’re starting a gym in church next week. We’re doing the Three Peaks Challenge this year. We make sure that teaching connects easily with the world of work. We make sure that men are seen to lead aspects of what goes on in the parish. Where the father in a family is committed to church and excited about serving the Lord Jesus, a huge impact is seen in growth of our children’s faith.
Growing Faith seeks a culture change: we need to make sure that our churches welcome and disciple fathers.