About 20 years ago when I was in academy, a friend of mine articulated something that struck me as very true: “I need to be needed.” We all need that, don’t we? Along with physical needs like food, water and air, we need to feel loved, respected and valued.
As it relates to church, I would venture that the need to be needed is stronger with men than it is with women. Let me explain where I’m coming from.
In my Thai Buddhist context, there are many more women in our Adventist church than men—about two or three times more on any typical Sabbath. From what I’ve heard and read, this phenomenon is pretty much universal in Christian churches all over the world. Why are men so much less interested in church? There are many theories out there, but the two that make the most sense to me are 1) that Christianity’s emphasis on love, gentleness and security appeals more to women than men (a topic for another day), and 2) that men are less comfortable in passivity. They want to be doing things, not just sitting in a pew or chatting at potlucks. If their help isn’t needed to get something done, what’s the point of coming? In this article, I’d like to address this latter theory with three short stories.
A lady started attending our church a few years ago after hearing about us through our radio ministry. After a few weeks, she brought her husband, Kung, and their three kids. We welcomed them as warmly as we could. We took their pictures and posted them up on our bulletin board of special visitors. We welcomed them to Sabbath schools, introduced them to the congregation during the service, invited them to stay for the potluck, and visited them at their business and their home. But after a couple times visiting us, Kung quit coming while his wife continued to visit us off and on. I later learned that Kung was attending a local Baptist church every Sunday, playing guitar in the praise team.
One day, while attending the funeral of our church member who also had friends in that Baptist church, I met Kung again. We visited over a meal, and he explained why he had chosen to join the Baptist church. “I visited your church, and I just couldn’t find the way in. I couldn’t find anything there that I could do. But at the Baptist church, I could help them with my music.”
Another man named Reywat came to visit our church, the first Christian church he’d ever been in. He saw Christianity as a Western religion, so he did his best to dress the part. He showed up in cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a button-up shirt. He made small talk, telling me how he loved Western movies, especially the old “Christian” movies like The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur. He was really trying to fit in!
Just 15 minutes into our conversation, Reywat began asking if there was some way he could help out in our church. I thought a moment. What could we have a brand new interest do? Then I got an idea. Since Reywat was from the northeast side of town where a few other members lived who had transportation problems, I suggested that he could pick up and drop off these people on his way to and from church. It was a real need, and it was easy enough for him to do. As it turned out, giving rides not only made him feel needed, it also enabled him to make friendships with the members he was shuttling. He very quickly felt at home in our church family. About a year later, after attending small-group studies with the people he was picking up each Sabbath, he was baptized. Several months later, he agreed to become a Sabbath School teacher.
I would summarize Reywat’s progression into church life as follows: 1) doing something that was needed and valued; 2) making friends; 3) gradually learning about Christ’s plan of salvation through small groups; 4) conversion and baptism; 5) further studies in a small group; 6) gradually taking on leadership in church responsibilities.
I recently had the pleasure of leading out in a music camp for young people in the Central Isaan region of Thailand. The pastor of the hosting church was himself a musician who used to play the keyboard and sing in various restaurants and bars before his conversion. He told me that he first visited a church because of a very direct appeal from an Adventist pastor. “Mr. Phikun,” the pastor said, “I need your help. I need someone to play the keyboard at my church. Would you please come and help me?” Phikun went with a purpose: to do something needed and valued. There he made friends, studied the Bible, and eventually surrendered himself to the God he now serves with all heart.
People are complex, and I’m sure there were many other factors at work in these stories. But here’s what I’m trying to say: From what I’ve seen and heard people like Kung, Reywat and Pastor Phikun say, I strongly believe that many men all over the world cannot feel content or at home in a place where they’re just sitting, passively receiving. These “doers” need challenges and meaningful tasks. These help uphold their sense of self-worth and fulfill their need to be needed. You probably won’t hear many men say it in such clear and concise words as my friend did 20 years ago, but I believe men are screaming it silently by their boredom and/or absence from our churches. So I challenge all missionaries and pastors, and every follower of Christ who wants to help win others, to begin to think outside the box about how to invite people to church. I believe church leaders need to intentionally create “jobs” or “ministries” that non-believers can begin doing immediately—jobs that make them feel needed and valued. As we all make this a priority, I believe visitors will more quickly feel at home in our midst and more readily open their hearts to our mighty and precious Savior, the greatest need of every man!