At 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, the megachurch campus of Scottsdale Bible Church was quiet, except for two tree trimmers thinning branches from tall trees near the sanctuary. In the next half-hour, seven men, ages 23 to 40, wandered into a secondstory classroom.
On the tables they dropped their keys, cell phones, day planners, drinks and "God’s Game Plan" translation of the Bible.
By the time they broke up about 8 a.m. and headed to work, they had talked about wives’ pregnancies, workplace challenges, recent sermons, watching volleyball on a trip to California, changing diapers, what death would be like, discoveries about marriage, illnesses of loved ones and a Tom Petty lyric ("The waiting is the hardest part").
The men also talked candidly about how their prayer life was going and how faithful they were in personal Bible study the past week. Tory Meyr, 23, said he had been reveling all week in being eclectic in his reading of the Bible.
"I need to pray more with my wife," said Ryan Nicholas, 33.
"My time in the Word this week has been pretty good," said Aaron Kuhl, 31, but he complained that "so many people want to give me books to read." One man said his Bible reading the past week was abysmal, prompting a companion to volunteer to telephone him to nudge him to get to reading.
Chris Kirkpatrick, 40, said the church’s retreat near Strawberry would be a perfect place for the 11 men to go for a weekend. "Let’s make it a road trip," someone suggested.
For about a year, the noname group of men has met weekly to offer spiritual support to one another. It’s a relational and bonding thing, said Kevin Cherrick, 24. "I have been wanting to do something with you guys since we started," he said. "Chris comes up with this thing, and I say, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do.’ "
At 7 a.m. in another building at the church, an older group, Men’s Cross Trainers, met to study Scripture and share burdens and triumphs of life.
Across the Valley, churches vary in their ministries to men. Groups often form around Bible study, mentoring and fellowship — and they succeed or disband based on leadership and their level of engagement.
Kirkpatrick blames churches for doing little to develop men’s fellowships or nurture relationships among men. "Until they develop that, a lot of guys just come and go," he said. Many men are never asked to do anything or join an activity, he said. The church, as a whole, has to get behind it and make men’s ministry a vital component of church life, he said.
Men are busy with work during the week, so when the weekend comes they are committed to family, recreation and catching up, several men said.
The Rev. Byron Banta, pastor of Corona Baptist Church in Chandler, read portions of David Murrow’s book, "Why Men Hate Going to Church," and said he agreed with its premise.
"The church culture tends to miss what it means to be a Christian man," he said. But he said both men and women are "underchallenged" by churches. "We tend to expect too little from people. I know men love adventure and love challenges."
The image commonly offered of Jesus is one of a man who is passive and gentle, he said. "It’s so wrong because of the things he challenged people to do," Banta said, explaining how Christ told Matthew, Andrew, James and John to walk away from their work and follow him. "How radical is that?"
The call is the same today, Banta said, for anyone who claims to be Christian, regardless of occupation. "The call to be a Christian takes the first claim on your life, and we miss that."
Banta said Murrow is correct in his assertion that men want to put their faith into concrete action, such as doing car repairs for low-income single mothers. "They want a hands-on ministry," he said.
Stephen Wibe was active in his church growing up. He dropped out during college and became active again after meeting his wife. Attending church is now a habit, said the 31-year-old man, a member of the choir at Red Mountain United Methodist Church in Mesa. Now that he and his wife are expecting their first child, he feels more compelled to have an active church life.
"I wished we could get more (men) my age into the church," he said. "It would be good for the church. You kind of worry about what is going to happen in 10 to 15 years in older churches that don’t have a younger generation coming up to support it," he said.
Scottsdale Bible Church’s Ed Grant said men offer enormous resources to churches.
"It is a matter of being able to leverage your experience with what you are gifted in," he said.
Kuhl said his Tuesday group helps hold men accountable. "There is no way in high school we would sit around and talk about women in positive aspects like this — or how we should be honoring the females in our lives," he said.