Church takes new tack to pull in men

Stateline Community Church's Easter service includes 'not your grandma's Easter show' as well as an unusual door prize.

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MILTON-FREEWATER -- Owen Frost is arming his flock and aiming high to reach the Walla Walla Valley's unchurched men, he said.

If that means offering door prizes, so be it.

Even better if one is a semiautomatic rifle, Frost is pretty sure.

Frost pastors Stateline Community Church, which is presenting four performances of "To Hell with the Devil" this weekend.

Which is, to put it mildly, "not your grandma's Easter show," he said.

The production, written by Walla Walla businessman Mark Claiborne and directed by Frost, is the traditional Christian Easter story, as told through the experience of Leroy -- an ordinary individual representing everyman.

In Claiborne's version, after a historically-depicted crucifixion, Jesus emerges from his tomb in modern clothing and intent on meeting the needs of people today, the pastor explained. "In the program we show the enemy is about to bring disaster into the lives of mankind. It's the same story, but we've got some rock 'n' roll. The format is going to be juiced up."

The seed for the concept came from a book Frost read called "Why Men Hate Going to Church," by David Murrow. The book validated many of his own reasons he believes men are outnumbered by women in most congregations, Frost explained.

"They feel outcast, that the church is laregly designed for women," he said. "So men feel ostracized. 'So,' we thought, 'what about something for men?'"

Murrow's book was published in 2005, written when the author discovered a dearth of resources about the subject. "Every church I had ever attended had more women than men, about a 60-40 divide," Murrow said Wednesday from his home in Chugiak, Alaska.

When he began doing research, he discovered there is a subset of men completely comfortable with organized churches, Murrow said. Typically, that includes men who are "highly verbal, highly relational or grew up in the church." Characteristics often seen more in women than men, he added.

His book underscores the challenge of opening the eyes of those men, helping them see that others of their sex don't share that comfort level, Murrow said, using Superbowl marketing imagery.

Those ads feature colors and concepts especially appealing to men and some women, he said. "The church is the opposite ... plenty of men like going to church, but they tend to be less bold, less aggressive. Gentler men."

Murrow's goal, through his book and Web site, is to convince churched men to think back to when they were 17 and their manhood was of the utmost importance. Then extrapolate that to men who are wary of coming to church for the same reason, he said.

His message is having an effect, the author feels.

"Churches are responding, they are beginning to change their culture and what they offer. They are taking down the lace and the decorative banners, making it more guy friendly."

Even the Christian music industry is turning a corner, producing less of what Murrow terms "love songs to Jesus," which have a romantic, "bedroom" imagery that some can find hard to swallow. "It doesn't relate to a lot of men."

He believes Stateline Community Church is on the right track with its Easter weekend program and door prize offerings, which include a laptop computer and a $500 gift card from Misbehaven Spa and Salon in Walla Walla.

As well as that Olympic Arms M16-style rifle, agreed Murrow, who didn't blink a verbal eye at the unusual carrot held out to gun enthusiasts. "Easter, Christmas Eve and Mother's Day are the three days men get dragged to church by the women in their lives. So churches should seize the opportunity to reach these men, and show them that the gospel is for guys, too."

"To Hell with the Devil" targets an adult audience and does include a suicide scene. A program for kids will run concurrently with the shows, Frost said. "Parents will want to use discretion."

The performances are free and open to all.

There is purposeful shock value in the event's title and prizes, the pastor acknowledged. "Our objective is not to be militia-oriented, but to be interesting to a male audience. The show is clear in communication and not bizarre."

Transfer of the donated gun, which comes with a carrying case and is valued at $650, will be handled by a federally licensed firearms dealer who attends church at Stateline Community, Frost said, pointing out the gun is gaining wider acceptance among hunters.

Everything about the event is equal opportunity, he added. "Women will enjoy the show, as well. Some might even be interested in the rifle."

Stateline Community Church is at 85440 Highway 11, just south of the Washington-Oregon border. "To Hell With the Devil" begins at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. Door prize winners will be anounced at the conclusion of the weekend. Childcare is available. For more information call 541-938-7552.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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