KEEP IN TOUCH
KEEP IN TOUCH
BY MARK MILLARD
Have you ever noticed that the most disruptive kids during worship are…. boys? Have you ever noticed that the first kids to disengage are… boys? That the kids pushing and punching instead of doing the motions are… pretty much all boys?
Being a guy (and also being a Dad of 3 boys) this topic really hits close to home and this issue is something we Lads think about often when we’re ministering to kids. It’s also in the forefront of our minds when we’re song writing, filming music videos, planning live shows. How do you engage boys in worship?
The focus of this blog will be ‘engaging’ boys in worship. Ultimately as kid’s ministers we’d like to see more than just engagement - we’d like to see life transformation (click here to see a blog for that) - but none of that can happen unless you engage them first!
BEFORE WE START
Any blog that talks about gender and behavior needs to start off with this caveat: Not all boys act in a certain way and not all girls act in a certain way. We fully understand that and are in no way trying to make blanket statements or speak to every exception. However, within our culture most boys act in certain ways and most girls act in certain ways and this is where we are coming from.
NOTE #1 There are many issues which could be discussed related to gender. We’re not going to discuss most of them in this blog.
NOTE #2 Having a blog about boys doesn’t negate the issues facing young women growing up. As a Dad I want my 14 year old daughter to dream, to grow up in a world free of prejudice as she discovers the incredible things God has in store for her life. We’re not going to discuss those issues in this blog. However, I have a sneaking suspicion the if we allow our boys to properly mature into the men God made them to be - many of the prejudices against women would also disappear.
BOYS ARE DIFFERENT TO GIRLS - BY DESIGN
My sister had a very strong ‘no fast food’ and ‘no guns’ policy when raising her kids. That meant; no toy guys, no tv shows or movies with guns or shooting in them - nothing. Until one day when my nephew was about 2 1/2 years old she caved in and took him to McDonald’s. While there Samuel picked up a french fry, pretended it was a gun and started shooting everyone and everything around him. Boys are different to girls!
‘God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female’
God create male and then he made female. Not the same being, but different. How are we different?
From the moment of conception boys and girls are different. Boys have XY chromosomes, Girls have XX chromosomes. These chromosomes send signals for the development of uniquely different brains and bodies. Most of us simply need to look in the mirror to know boys and girls have different bodies but there are many more differences…
BOY BRAINS ARE DIFFERENT
Boys work at a task using much more of what brain scientists call ‘grey matter’ (up to 7 times more than girls). This grey matter gives them quick access to information and action processing. It’s very localized - so a lot of activity happens in one area. This is the reason boys are sometimes totally ignorant of other people or their surroundings, it gives them a kind of tunnel vision (if you’ve ever called your son to come to dinner when he is playing video games you’ll know about this) but it also leads them to sometimes solve problems more quickly.
Girls, however, use more than 10 times ‘white matter’. White matter is the networking grid that quickly accesses information from different parts of our brains making females a lot more adept at multi-tasking. Girls are more able to quickly transition between tasks, but sometimes spend much longer considering all the related issues and mulling over a problem. Girls also have more brain activity in an area called the ‘hippocampus’ which deals with memory, feelings and social cognition (the right way to act in social situations).
If you’ve spent any time with 10 year old boys, you may have come to the conclusion that they have no activity at all in the hippocampus and they generally have zero idea as to the right way to act in any situation!! This can obviously be learned, but at that age they are still functioning on primary instinct.
BOY CHEMISTRY IS DIFFERENT
Boys have higher levels of testosterone in their blood stream than girls (in some up to 20 times the amount). Testosterone causes a boy to want to perform, succeed, compete, prove themselves. It gives them higher energy levels and intense moments of focus. They love to be challenged, achieve, and become independent. Testosterone accounts for activity, aggression, and competitiveness (some boys in fact will not learn or engage unless there is competition).
Girls have higher levels of estrogen and oxytocin, which relates to bonding and relationships. This explains why upon puberty, when these individual hormone levels explode, boys seem to suddenly not care. Hormonally they lack estrogen and oxytocin (the relational hormones which lead to a ‘need for approval /or to get along with others’) thus we see a stark contrast between most boys and girls in the area of social interaction and connection with others.
Under stress boys tend towards fight or flight, girls lean towards tend or befriend.
For many boys they get an enormous sense of achievement from being good at something. Boys who go through to high school without that sense of achievement often fall into depression. So how do we minister to a boy like that? Help him find something he’s good at and affirm him in it.
There are many more differences, these ones only begin to scratch the surface and I’m sure you can already identify more. The important bit to understand: These differences are not destructive (something to be discouraged, taken away, worried about) but constructive (something to be encouraged, brought out, understood) so our young people can grow to be the very person God made them to be without guilt or condemnation.
When we as leaders allow these differences to mature. Boys grow into men and girls into women who relate to and complement each other incredibly.
"Amid the well intended efforts to level the playing field, we began condemning the very maleness of men… our culture does not understand the nature and design of boys and it enforces social systems that do not fully serve that nature and design"
RAISING BOYS BY DESIGN, PAGE 14 GREGORY L. JANTZ (PHD) AND MICHAEL GURIAN
These differences are not destructive (to be discouraged) but constructive (to be encouraged) so our young people can grow to be the very person God made them to be.
HOW BOYS LEARN
In many learning environments (school or church) the perfect student is self motivated, organized, interested; happy to sit and listen. They are happy to consider inner feelings, convictions and thoughts, happy to do what the leaders ask. The perfect student is a girl!
Boys by their make up love adventure, competition, discovering how things work, being active. In many learning environments which don’t relate to their ‘boyness’ they respond by being disorganized, restless, noisy, hard to manage.
“oh come on - they just need to learn to sit still”
Unless, by their very make up they’re not made to learn that way!! Yes, boys can adapt and to a certain extent most do. Some things like ‘listening to our inner voice’ or ‘considering other people's feelings’ are important things in life to mature into, and of course we want that for all our kids. Imagine though, if we learned to communicate the gospel in such a way that actually released not suppressed their God given ‘boy-ness’? If we could call out the young man inside of them when they hear the gospel - let them actually come alive. That’s the goal.
Society as a whole struggles to relate to boys. Check out these statistics on ‘how well we’re doing as a society with our boys’.
- 80% of high school drop outs are boys
- 70% of those struggling with learning disabilities are boys
- 80% of those diagnosed with behavior disorders are boys
- 80% of kids with ADHD are boys
- boys get 2/3s of all D’s and F’s in school
- For every girl who takes her own life, 4 or more boys take their own life
- boys are expelled from school at 3 times the rate of girls
- Among 18 - 24 year olds, to every female that is incarcerated there are 14 males
- for every 100 woman who enter college 78 men do for every 100 woman who get a masters degree 66 men do
We have this huge somehow overlooked group in society called ‘boys’. Perhaps because they don’t relate to how we do church, many of them are not hearing the gospel, connecting with God, worshiping Him or experiencing His love and acceptance. Their lives are not being transformed, they are not learning, they are not thriving.
A 2003 survey of 5,000 churches found that 61% of U.S. congregation members are female.
Boys are fast becoming the unreached people group of our generation.
IS YOUR WORSHIP “DUDE-FRIENDLY”?
Are you (even without knowing it) doing things that disengage boys? We’ve created a survey to help you find out! Some of these things relate directly to worship but others are more about the culture surrounding your kid’s ministry which can have a huge effect on whether or not kids are willing to go deeper into worship.
NOTE: You may agree or disagree with some of these points. That’s fine. Every group / church culture / community is different. The aim here is to get you thinking and beginning to analyze how you can better minister to your boys - so please take what is helpful and throw away the rest.
THE DUDE FRIENDLY WORSHIP SURVEY
Answer Yes or No
 Is your worship mostly made up of sweet beautiful love songs?
Look at the favorite Spotify or Apple Music playlists of some of your 4th and 5th grade boys. You’ll find potty humor songs, minecraft songs, ridiculous songs about jelly or narwals, songs with rapping that they can recite every single word (with pride) but very few Disney Princess ballads (eg. ‘Let it go’ from Frozen). Yet, lots of our worship music sounds exactly like Disney Princess Ballads (maybe it’s time to ‘let them go’)!!
As boys mature into their teens they’ll learn to become more familiar with expressions of love in worship (1 John 4:8 God is love!) but until that time try not to alienate 50% of your audience with worship that they are not emotionally ready for. Aim to connect them with God where they are at and allow them to mature in Him.
Sing songs about the power, strength, fun, intelligence, faithfulness and the hero nature of God. Not just the love of God.
 Do you regularly encourage kids to hold hands for prayer?
Not how ‘dudes’ relate.
 Is there an emphasis on an I.E.C (introspection/emotions/conviction) response on Sunday mornings? eg. I believe I’ve had a successful Sunday if 10 or more kids had teary eyes during the prayer time.
Boys have plenty of emotions. Have you ever watched them play video games? Or any kind of competition for that matter! Allow them to express a range of emotions when relating to God, not just the more feminine I.E.C. response. Also, be careful not to directly correlate how emotional they are with how connected to and serious about God they are - this is not going to look the same for boys as it does for girls.
 Are most of your teachers / leaders women?
Boys are highly influenced by who they look up to / role models (especially those from single parent families). If you want your boys to turn into Christ centered mature young men - - > give them Christ centered mature young men in their lives to look up to (recruit older teens / young men or even older Father figures to input into their lives).
 Do you try and spread your attention equally?
If you want a change (eg. get the boys to start singing during worship) learn to influence the influencers within the group and the culture will change.
Elementary boys are not unlike Wolves or Mustangs in a PBS documentary. If the Alpha male horse runs for the hills, all the other horses run for the hills. If the Alpha wolf leads a hunt, all the wolves go out to hunt. Boys are the same.
Step 1 is to identify the alphas in the group. Who is the boy all the others look to / copy? Who is the one who laughs first and loudest and all the others follow? If the alpha male says ‘worship is dumb’ the others will follow. If the Alpha male says ‘Jesus changed my life - so I’m totally into this!’ then guess what will happen? The culture will change and the other boys will follow.
So identify the influencers and input into them. Go to their baseball games, get them on stage to lead motions or read the bible verse, give them opportunities to serve. Also look to recruit small group role models (eg. football playing college kid who loves Jesus) that those alphas can then follow.
 Does your worship include active songs?
Some boys physically won’t be able to focus until they’ve got their jiggles out (remember it’s not cause they’re naughty or rowdy it’s testosterone, they were made this way). In fact - some boys won’t be able to focus unless they are moving at the time. Instead of spending your whole time trying to ‘make them sit still’ change what you do and teach them ‘on the move’ (This is why wrote both the Moving Song and the Praising song)
 Does your worship use motions that look like someone is picking imaginary fruit?
If the motions to your worship songs are overly feminine - change the motions (or change your songs altogether!). Most student dance academies are made up of 95% girls. Why? Boys like to ‘move’ but they don’t like ‘contemporary dance’ (or ‘sign language’ motions).
We don’t advertise this - but with Big Big Worship our target for songs and motions is a 5th grade (10 year old) boy. Why? Because those boys are the hardest to engage and once they ARE engaged, then things get really fun for everyone!
 Do you anesthetize your bible teaching?
For example if you’re teaching on faithfulness do you:
A. Teach on Ruth (a story of love and marriage)
B. Teach about how King Hezekiah (2 Kings 19) trusted the Lord in an impossible situation and an angel of God saved them by destroying 185,000 enemy soldiers in one night!
Yes the 2nd story is more more bloody / violent / intense / gross but that’s the point! If we leave out those stories we never present God as both ‘faithful’ and ‘incredibly powerful’ when we face our own seemingly impossible situations. Boys need to see this part of the character of God - they want to relate to a hero and a savior. This is why Marvel movies are so popular with boys.
 Have you earned the right to lead?
Girls will listen to you because you are the leader / boys will listen to you when you have earned the right to lead them.
Last summer we Lads led worship at a 3 day sports camp in Cincinnati, OH. During the first session we struggled to get any connection with the boys (the girls were great) and worship was like pulling teeth (half of them wouldn’t even stand up). After worship we went outside and joined in on a gaga ball competition. We joked with the boys, made a lot of noise, and tried daring gaga ball moves only an insane person would attempt. The next session of worship was so different. It was never spoken out loud but these boys we had earned the right to lead, they engaged in worship and many responded to the message of the gospel and committed their lives to Christ.
 Are there ways boys can be heroes in your worship?
Boys want to be heroes (that’s why the military is disproportionately full of men). Recognize this. Give them missions AKA opportunities to lay down their lives for others - to serve. eg. ask your biggest brainiac boy to run the tech (sound / lighting / media) team / ask your coolest 5th grade kid to be a leader to a group of 1st or 2nd grade boys for a month.
NOTE: ’have to’ won’t change boys behavior, but ‘get to’ will eg. you don’t have to be a good example - - but you ‘get’ the opportunity to be a role model to these younger guys.
 Do you generally avoid competitions?
This one is about testosterone again. Look for ways to gamify the education process (boys love to level up / upgrade) and they can be highly motivated by competition. If a boy is in a crisis situation and remembers that God is his ‘ever present help in times of trouble’ (Psalm 46:1), it really doesn’t matter if he initially learned that verse because he wanted to win a fidget spinner or if he learned it out of his love for the word. The key is - he now knows it.
Competition can be difficult for some leaders (especially if they are women) as they are sensitive to those who don’t always do well, or who get really disappointed or are always second best. This is fair enough, but if you are always focused on making things fair and avoiding “drama” then you may miss out on capturing half your audience out of fear. Try lots of different types of competitive situations - memorization is not everyone’s strong point, but neither is sports, or puzzles. Have lots of different opportunities for your boys to “level up” and watch them grow in enthusiasm and even in encouraging their buddies to get involved too.
 Are you and your kids always clean and tidy at the end of church?
Look for active learning situations. Ways that boys can get messy. They will have the time of their lives and may even learn something along the way!
So that’s our survey. Hopefully something in there tweaked a few ideas or at least helped explain why you already do what you do. Boys are, without a doubt, a hard to reach people group in our generation. But the possibilities of what could happen when you decide, instead of squelching their ‘boy-ness’, to use those very same boy-ish traits to lead them to Jesus and help them mature in Christ are incredible.
If there’s anything missing from our list, or any tip you’ve found that works great with your boys we’d love to hear it - we’re all still learning too.
Mark Millard has served in ministry to young people for more than 20 years. When he's not performing as a member of The Lads band, he's writes songs, scripts, curriculum and is part of Big Big Productions, the creators of two different kids TV series (The Lads TV and TuneTime) which broadcast to over 180 countries around the world. Based in Franklin, TN he's married to Andrea Millard and together they have 4 kids.
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