In Mark Clifton’s book Reclaiming Glory, one of the six imperatives he discusses for revitalizing dying churches is reaching young men. It is no secret that, for many churches, young men between the ages of 18-40 are a missing demographic.
The last church I was privileged to pastor was in an Air Force community, so we had an abundance of young men in the community. Thankfully, and by God’s grace, we were able to build relationships with some of them and I was able to develop a discipleship relationship with a few of them.
While I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, I believe I learned a few things over those years that give some insight into reaching and discipling young men.
Insight 1: Young men really do care about spiritual things
Perhaps one of the lies that the church has bought says something like, “Well, young folks today, especially young men, just don’t have a spiritual life. They don’t care about Jesus, the Church, etc.” While this may be true for some young men, I encountered a great number of men in their early-20s who were more than eager to talk about spiritual things and really, truly wanted to grow deeper in their understanding of who Jesus is and, for those who had a relationship with Christ, wanted to grow deeper in their relationship with Him.
Of the young men I encountered, several had bad experiences in church as they were growing up, or they had a season where they walked away from the faith and principles they held when they were younger. But none of them had lost their spiritual compass completely. They still had a desire to know Christ more closely.
Insight 2: Reaching young men means spending time where they spend time
Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean that you need to go spend hours at the local bar. For me, I was able to encounter a number of young men by playing in a local softball league. Each week I’d spend a couple of hours at the softball field, and this was a great opportunity to build relationships, both with guys on our team and others in the league. In one case, I was asked to perform the wedding for a couple that played on our team. Even for those who weren’t believers, they often asked questions and sent text messages, asking me to pray for them as they faced various situations in life.
Particularly in a military community, some of the young men I encountered worked weird hours. So I made it a priority to set up meetings with them on their schedules. Sometimes that meant meeting for coffee at 9 or 10 p.m. A couple of times, it meant meeting a young man for breakfast at 4 a.m., after he got off work.
I understand that if you’re serving as a bivocational pastor, meeting at extremely late or early hours can be difficult, but the point is the same: figure out a way to meet with young men on their schedule. I also recommend, as often as possible, meeting with them somewhere other than the church building. I found guys were much more likely to open up and talk in a coffee shop or restaurant than in the church office.
Insight 3: Discipleship doesn’t have to be complicated to be meaningful
I’ve used a variety of different discipleship materials through the years. Some I’ve found to be very helpful, and others I’ve found to be overly complicated. Over the past several years, I’ve moved to primarily using the Bible with some good questions to help process through passages.
I began using a process from an organization called “No Place Left” that walks through the Commands of Christ with a new believer or a believer who has never been discipled. You can find that discussion guide here. It’s not complicated, but it is an effective tool to help a disciple come to know what it looks like to live as a follower of Christ.
Of course, the big thing is to start somewhere. Mark Clifton recommends getting to know one young man in your church or community, developing a relationship where you can share the gospel (if he’s not already a believer) and then begin to disciple him (if he is, or once he is a believer). As you do, pray that God will help you develop relationships with more young men and young families, which will lead to more and more relationships with young men and young families.
May God bless you and your church as you make disciples!
Published May 13, 2022