Calling fewer men: Annual event loses attendance yet continues to build relationships

Calling fewer men: Annual event loses attendance yet continues to build relationships

ATHENS, Tenn. -- At its inaugural gathering in 2008, “Calling All Men” had an attendance of 750 and was held at a Sevierville resort.

At last weekend’s spiritual retreat for Holston United Methodist Men, 83 attended the Saturday workshops and worship at Tennessee Wesleyan College. About 25 came for the Friday evening cookout and community prayer walk.

Yet the Aug, 1-2, 2014, gathering enriched the spiritual journeys for many of those attending, even as it signals the need for change, according to Eric Knoefel, president of the Holston Conference United Methodist Men.

“We’ve been dealing with declining numbers and aging members, and we’re moving from an institutional ministry to one based on relationships,” Knoefel said. “It’s hard to say what relationships we’ve fostered this weekend. Numbers really don’t measure that.”

This year’s theme for Calling All Men was “Rethinking Men’s Ministry: Bring Them Jesus.” Guest speakers were Roger Woods, UT Vols Team chaplain; Gil Hanke, general secretary, General Commission on United Methodist Men; and Linda Tozer, regional director, Society of St. Andrew. (See videos.)

The Rev. Barry Kidwell, founder of Chattanooga’s Mustard Tree Ministries, led a workshop on outreach and evangelism. The Rev. John Gargis, pastor at Knoxville’s Lincoln Park United Methodist Church, led a workshop on social media and ministry.

Participants packed 10,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now. Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens) presented a proclamation from the Tennessee House of Representatives, “warmly welcoming” the United Methodist Men to Athens. “... It is crucial that society has strong male role models who follow the teachings of Christ,” the proclamation stated.

See photos on Flickr.

Also attending were seven representatives of Price Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Cleveland, Tenn., including Pastor Teresa Oglesby. On behalf of the Holston United Methodist Men, Knoefel said he has partnered with the congregation to eventually take Disciple Bible Study into a prison in Wartburg, Tenn.

Knoefel explained that Holston had partnered with United Methodist Men in the Virginia, Tennessee, and Memphis Conferences in 2010-11 in a new ministry called DBOM (Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries).

Holston UMM hasn’t yet been successful in getting the ministry started in east Tennessee prisons because of rules, regulations and red tape, he said. Price Memorial has already established relationships with officials and inmates at Morgan Correctional Complex in Wartburg.

“We hope to use their relationship to start visiting, and in turn, we’ll help Price Memorial with the transportation to get back and forth,” Knoefel said. He also hopes to partner with churches in Holston’s Oak Ridge District, where the prison is located.

In the meantime, Knoefel hopes to help Holston United Methodist Men change their conference-wide events and other gatherings to attract more men – and also, younger men.

“The Saturday-morning breakfast model isn’t working. Millennials and Gen-Xers don’t want to do that,” he said. “We need to develop a platform of ministry to engage men where they are – and that could be in coffee shops, through homeless missions, or mentorships.”

Next year’s “Calling All Men” is likely to go on at Tennessee Wesleyan College during the first week of August, but it will include more outreach and additional partners to help foot the cost and expand the mission, Knoefel said. And it won’t be called, “Calling All Men.”