- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — No hymnals. No pews. No steeple. No stained glass windows. And no women.

The Church for Men works around the look and feel of worship and its leader thinks that’s a good thing — guys are “bored stiff” in many churches today.

“We try to make it interesting for them. We meet in a gym and we talk about issues that mess men up,” said 46-year-old Mike Ellis, the church’s founder.

The Church for Men meets one Saturday evening a month, drawing about 70 guys wearing everything but dress shirts and neckties. The service features a rock band, a sports shot clock to time the preacher’s message and a one-hour guarantee.

Mr. Ellis’ church is part of a national movement to reverse a long-standing problem. Studies show that men are less likely than women to show up on Sunday mornings, and now churches across the country are reaching out to men, teaching theology with a twist of testosterone in the presentation.

One study found that the average U.S. adult church congregation is 61 percent women, said David Murrow, author of “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” The research shows women are more likely to attend church, Sunday school and small church groups.

“Going to church is perceived as womanly behavior,” said Mr. Murrow, who is based in Anchorage, Alaska, and travels the country lecturing about the issue. “We don’t go to church for the same reason we don’t wear pink.”

Communication skills, public forms of affection, such as hugs and handholding, and other “soft skills” make many men feel uncomfortable in church, Mr. Murrow said.

And long church services also cause men to leave the fold, said Mr. Ellis, who first got the idea for a men-only church six years ago. “I have the attention span of a flea,” he said.

To that end, followers at the Church for Men meet on a basketball court, a large scoreboard with the time clock ensures the preacher’s message is delivered in 15 minutes, and the rock band cranks out a three-song set.

Mr. Ellis said his church is not a replacement for the traditional weekly service but an outreach to what he calls the “largest unreached people group.”

Guest preacher Tom Trageser, 45, talked about lust during the church’s March service. He finished his message, prayer and all, with 5 seconds left on the clock.

Christian comedian and blogger Chris Elrod recently wrote in his blog: “Musically (men) want AC/DC and we give them Celine Dion. Lyrically (men) want Tom Clancy and we give them Danielle Steel. Spiritually (men) want ‘Braveheart’ and we give them ‘Sleepless In Seattle.’ ”

The potential trend, some men feel, has deep roots.

The Second Great Awakening, during the early 1800s, helped to advance the liberation of women and changed some of the dynamics of churchgoing. Not only were women attracted to the sweeping reforms pushed by revivalists of this period, but the evangelists would also attempt to reach men through their wives, hoping the wives would pressure husbands and sons to join them in the church, writes Leon Podles in his book, “The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity.”

The result, Mr. Murrow said, was a shift toward a service catered to women.

“If the church is going to survive, we have to get men plugged back in,” said Chuck McKeown, pastor of the United Brethren in Christ in Holly Hill, where about 55 percent of the congregation are women.

Mr. McKeown began a Sunday night service just for men in November. Now about 60 men convene outside, cook meat on the grill and separate into small discussion groups.

The pastor also made changes to the Sunday morning service, shortening the service time from nearly two hours to about an hour and featuring more upbeat music, all in an attempt to engage men.

Other churches with a male bent include Grove Community Church in Peoria, Ill. Members there don’t have a pastor; they have a “coach,” who “integrates a healthy, life-giving masculine spirit throughout the entire church,” according to the church’s Web site.

Motorheads in Spokane, Wash., display more than 100 hot rods, antique cars and tractors every year at Opportunity Presbyterian Church, where organizers host an annual Car-B-Que.

Ed Trainer in Vancouver, British Columbia, began International Fishing Ministries Association in 1994 to reach guys who like to fish.

“Totally unchurched men are now attending church on a regular basis because of this ministry,” Mr. Trainer said. “It’s an absolute turn toward God through using something men are interested in.”

Mr. McKeown said that women benefit, too.

“We just encourage men to do what’s right, to love their wives and family and protect their children,” he said.

Carolyn Mills, 58, who attends United Brethren in Christ, sees the men’s movement as positive. “It made me excited to see the men getting together and discussing what they need to be doing,” she said.

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