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Where have all the young men gone?

1 May 2011 | by Sheila Stephen

Where have all the young men gone?

The title of this article encapsulates a current concern in church as well as mission: the lack of British young men coming forward for preaching and mission ministries.

The answer is not simple or clear. I want to draw attention to three studies which explore some of the factors involved, and then make some practical recommendations. However, it is worth noting that one article alone cannot do justice to this subject and will be open to charges of over-generalisation. In addition, it goes without saying that the massive and sacrificial contribution made by women to the foreign mission field is incalculable.

Blind to opportunities

‘The feminisation of the church’ is a phrase that has been bandied about a lot. Are men not coming forward for mission because Christianity is being presented in a way that appeals more to women? One recent study, by a missionary in Moldova, summarises many of the arguments about ‘feminisation’.[1] The author points to a ‘gender blindness’ as a contributory factor to men’s alienation. There is a need for a greater willingness to teach on biblical manhood and womanhood as part of redressing the balance and re-engaging men.

The UK organisation Affinity published a leaflet examining the reasons why there are few men going into Christian ministry[2], where it noted that a lack of preaching opportunities for young men was a key factor. It is certainly worth thinking about what opportunities there are in local churches to engage men in contributing to the support of missions and speaking or preaching about it.

Affinity also produced a leaflet exploring the problem of financing ministerial training.[3] The issues raised in the paper have some relevance to the training of missionaries.

Think practically

Some practical considerations include thinking about how churches and mission organisations promote mission. Single Christian women can be more likely than men to view singleness as an opportunity to serve God. Therefore, do churches challenge young single men to explore their potential in this way? Is it done at times, places and in ways that will be engaging to men? Human interest stories that pull at the heart-strings are not as enthralling to men as examples of tasks accomplished and strategies planned. Where are the tales of men’s work or the ‘big picture’ stories about what God is doing?

What about the images that we use in our websites, magazines and presentations? Are they balanced in terms of what male missionaries are doing and the opportunities to work among men? Do we promote opportunities for men to work with men in our short-term programmes? Are mission organisations well represented at Men’s Conferences? Are we challenging men about this issue or has political correctness silenced us? (I ask all of this as a woman.)

Sheila Stephen is a member of AIM International’s Board of Trustees and a part-time lecturer at WEST. This article first appeared in AIM International.

[1] Christopher Ducker, Disbanded Brothers – Has A ‘Feminised’ Church Alienated Men in the UK? May 2007. Submitted for the Applied Theology Degree at Redcliffe College. Online at as well as other research papers on Men and the Church.

[2] George Hawkins, Jonathan Dyer and Richard Lacey. The Call – What do young men think? Affinity, Table Talk. Issue 16, Spring 2006.

[3] Stephen Clark. Financing Ministerial Training. Affinity, Table Talk. Issue 26, Autumn 2009.

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