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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Where have the young men gone?

Apparently, they are interested in church and alternative settings

Keeping young men interested in church isn’t a new problem. “It’s an issue we’ve struggled with since the turn of the 20th century,” said Paul Hill, co-author of Coming of Age: Exploring the Identity and Spirituality of Young Men (Augsburg Books, 2006).

Despite the problem’s history and severity, the authors didn’t find a lot of written material within the ELCA to guide their research. But their study of 88 men revealed good news: most 18- to 35-year-olds aren’t opposed to being involved in church. But as a rule they don’t like to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with others in a traditional church environment.

“Faith matters in young men—whether they are there as an organized church or not. The church has failed to listen to them and who they are,” Hill said. “It hasn’t taken their reality seriously.”

One of the most important things a congregation can do in men’s ministry is get out of its building and use alternative settings. “If I were a [parish] pastor I’d develop an external sports-related ministry that includes activities like hiking, skiing, cycling, camping, etc., and discuss Scripture around the campfire,” said co-author Rollie Martinson, who directed the study.

“It’s about how the church makes connections. What we found is the church isn’t relating to young men. Ultimately it’s about the relationship the church has with them,” Hill added.

Hill and Martinson work in the area of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., which made a financial contribution to the study. Lutheran Men in Mission, which will use the book as a core guide, provided a grant for the study and found its sample of young men. Most were ELCA.


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