Building a Men’s Ministry: A Guide for Pregnancy Resource Centers

Catherine Coyle
Vincent Rue, PhD

Introduction

Men play critical roles in crisis pregnancy and parenting. They may do so actively by accepting responsibility and offering help to their partners or passively by deferring all decisions to their partners. Some men coerce their partners into terminating pregnancy while others vigorously seek to protect the lives of their unborn children. In any case, men may exert significant influence that affects the outcome of pregnancy as well as the quality of their relationships.

As an increasing number of men are accompanying their female partners to crisis pregnancy centers, it has become apparent that centers need to minister to men as well as to women. While this need presents many challenges, it also offers tremendous opportunities for both individual and organizational growth. Given the small budgets of pregnancy resource centers and their dependence on individual donors, funding may be a major challenge to building a men’s ministry. Another challenge may be resistance from staff or volunteers. Nonetheless, those centers that have successfully developed men’s ministries have met such challenges and experienced growth in the form of increased appreciation of men’s roles, the acquisition of new skills, and the procurement of expanded resources.

Areas of Change

The establishment of a men’s ministry within your pregnancy resource center will involve three primary areas of change. These areas are: environment, staff, and resources.

Environment

Many, if not most, pregnancy resource centers, have a very feminine décor and atmosphere suggesting that they exist exclusively for female clients. Seeming to confirm that view is the fact that the vast majority of staff and volunteers are women. Small changes to the environment can go a long way to alter the perception that these centers are solely women’s clinics. For example, having men’s magazines available in the waiting room is achievable even for centers with very limited budgets. When affordable, gender neutral artwork and a flat screen television are great additions to waiting areas. Specific items may be sought through donors who prefer giving something tangible to your ministry. There are several useful men’s brochures related to pregnancy, parenting, relationships, and abortion and these should be visible and freely accessible. (See attached Resource List.) In addition, individual centers usually produce their own brochures which include a list of services offered and those services should acknowledge men as well as women. From the moment a man enters your center, he should be getting three basic messages: 1) he is welcome at the center and it is a place for men and fathers as well as for women and mothers, 2) he is important and not merely an afterthought, and 3) his participation in the counseling process is both welcome and important.

Staff

Changes involving your staff will also be required for building a successful men’s ministry. There may be some resistance among staff, volunteers, or board members toward changing the status quo and reaching out to men. Resistance may be due to concerns about limited resources and/or to concerns that there will be a negative effect on public relations with a decrease in donors. Still another source of resistance may be related to a staff member’s past abortion. For example, there may be lingering resentment toward a male partner that has become generalized toward all men involved in a crisis pregnancy. Many of those individuals who staff or volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers have a personal abortion history; it is critical that they have processed, resolved, and found healing from their abortion experience prior to working with female or male clients.

Still another source of resistance is the nature of change. Change involves giving up the familiar, learning new skills, and vulnerability. Some people seem to thrive on change while others are averse to change. Yet, change is inevitable in life and the changes inherent in ministry expansion provide opportunities for positive growth among both clients and staff. For some men, a visit to your center may be their first exposure to an individual or organization which espouses a supportive and inclusive life perspective. This provides an opportunity to challenge and impact the biases and beliefs that clients and staff hold and, most importantly, offers what may be truly life-changing moments for your clients.

Resources

There is no question that new resources will have to be identified and acquired to build a ministry. Some resources, such as print materials, are more easily attainable while others, such as new staff, may not be realistic given budget limitations.

To begin, it will be necessary to form a ministry development committee which would ideally include men who are interested in being a direct part of the ministry as well as a member of the center’s staff. The latter can serve as a liaison between the development committee and the rest of the staff and the center’s board. This committee would be responsible for deciding what aspects of a men’s ministry will be developed, recruiting male volunteers, and securing initial funds.

After determining which aspects of ministry will be their focus, committee members will need to work on both the recruitment of volunteers and the details of delivering new services. Male volunteers may be recruited through men’s community groups and through local churches, particularly those churches that have supported your center in the past. Simply having male volunteers present and visible sends a powerful message to male clients, that their presence is an acceptable, normal part of the routine at the center. In addition to recruiting male volunteers, the development committee will also have to plan for training those volunteers and create a ‘walkthrough’ process to guide them in their interactions with male clients. Training may be nearly identical to that for female volunteers but with additional information concerning male communication styles and specific needs of male clients or a distinct training program may be developed solely for male volunteers.

Recruiting and retaining male volunteers is a challenging task. Male volunteers will be more readily available if they can schedule their visits to your center to coincide with a couple’s appointment. This allows the volunteers to contribute to the ministry without compromising their paid work obligations. Male volunteers will be more committed if they know that they are contributing their time and experience to a ministry in which they have influence. Your male volunteers should have the opportunity to provide ideas and feedback that are incorporated into your ministry as it evolves. Some volunteers may choose to meet with clients who are coming in for a first appointment while others may be comfortable serving as longer-term mentors to younger men adjusting to fatherhood.

Initial funding for your men’s ministry may be small and come from a board decision to allocate a fixed sum to be used toward ministry development. Funds for a specific endeavor may be sought via formal grant applications. As your ministry expands and awareness grows, new donors may be acquired and regular donors may choose to increase their donations. Of course, awareness depends on clearly advertising both your services and your needs. Assuming your center has a mission statement, it may need to be amended to include men and fathers. If your center has a website, the addition of information pertaining to your men’s ministry and volunteer opportunities should be easy and cost-effective. Your board might also consider highlighting the men’s ministry at fundraisers such as annual banquets, golf outings, or in other campaigns.

The most important resources gained will be your male clients. Given the goal of crisis pregnancy centers to support life, the male partners of women who come in for pregnancy tests are influential in terms of ultimate pregnancy outcome. However, men should not be viewed simply as a means to better serve your female clients. They are human beings and that fact demands an acknowledgment of their rights, responsibilities, needs, and expectations. Like women, they are going to experience insecurity and anxiety when faced with a crisis pregnancy. If we fail to recognize and respect men’s legitimate rights and roles, we become part of the problem rather than the solution. If we don’t minister to fathers as well as to mothers, our ministry may be tragically inadequate.

Components of Ministry

There are four components of men’s ministry and centers may choose to focus on some or all of them. Those components are: crisis pregnancy, parenting, sexual health, and post-abortion issues.

Crisis Pregnancy

It is in the context of crisis pregnancy that most men will visit a center for services and they will tend to do so as a support for their partners rather than for themselves. In some cases, the initial visit for a free pregnancy test will be the only opportunity for staff to interact with a male partner. Therefore, it is critical for staff and volunteers to make the most of that opportunity and begin to build a relationship with the male client and affirm the appropriateness of his presence.

A casual yet direct way to make males feel welcome is to have a volunteer (ideally another male) greet them, offer them something to drink, and take them on a brief tour of your facility. Time spent touring allows the guide to share general information about the center as well as begin to ease the client’s discomfort and build rapport. Following the tour, the volunteer and client can complete an intake form in a private counseling room. Centers may be able to use their current intake forms with some modifications for use with male clients. The intake procedure provides an opportunity to continue to build a relationship and to gather valuable information concerning the man’s thoughts about a possible pregnancy and his current relationship with his partner.

Some areas you may want to incorporate into the intake interview include: reasons for today’s visit, reproductive history, nature of current relationship with partner, his thoughts and intentions concerning a confirmed pregnancy, his concerns about pregnancy and parenthood, his need and/or desire for various services, and whether or not he is willing to be contacted for follow-up.

During the intake procedure with your male client, his female partner will be having her pregnancy test and her counselor will have the opportunity to ask her privately if she wants her male partner included in the remainder of her appointment. It should never be assumed that she wants to include her partner simply because he accompanied her to the center. He may be pressuring her to abort, he may be abusive, or she simply may want to meet privately with a counselor. If she is agreeable to having her partner participate, they will meet as a couple for the remainder of the appointment. Her permission should also be obtained prior to inviting him to her future appointments including an ultrasound if offered at your center.

When it is agreeable to your female client to include her partner in the counseling session, it is important to genuinely and fully include him. That means the counselor makes eye contact with him, emphasizes that whatever decisions are made will affect both individuals, provides opportunities for him to ask questions, and gives him practical information concerning financial, medical, and parenting resources/services. Inclusion also implies that he is welcome to participate in future appointments again with the condition that his female partner is agreeable. If she is not, there is no reason he can’t continue to receive available services from your center such as parenting classes, referrals, mentoring, or abortion recovery counseling.

Parenting

Many pregnancy resource centers offer childbirth and parenting classes for pregnant women. Male partners can also benefit immensely from such classes. Programs such as “Earn while you Learn” allow men to earn vouchers for useful products and services by participating in childbirth and/or parenting classes. Just as they do for women, these classes can help to decrease anxiety and prepare fathers for one of the most significant events and roles of their lives.

Clients may be referred to childbirth classes at local hospitals or centers may offer their own classes. When offered at the pregnancy resource center, these may include videos and outside experts who volunteer their time as they share relevant information to your clients.

Parenting classes may also be found through referrals or they may be offered at your center. The National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has produced the 24/7 Dad program which recognizes the value of fathers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The course covers numerous topics and the NFI offers facilitator training if desired. Organizations such as the NFI can provide valuable resource tools that enable centers to better meet men’s needs as parents and partners.

Individual mentoring is also an effective way to minister to men facing a crisis pregnancy or struggling with new parenting responsibilities. Mature male volunteers are essential for successful mentoring. Experienced fathers can share their hard-won wisdom and serve as role models for younger men who are new to parenthood. The mentoring relationship may provide powerful opportunities to share information concerning peripheral but relevant issues such as forming a cooperative relationship with the child’s mother, creating a secure environment for the child, developing job skills, and building financial security for the future.

Sexual Health & Relationships

Some pregnancy resource centers have a distinct ministry that focuses on sexual health and behavior. Lifewise is one such ministry that is geared to both adolescent males and females. Lifewise offers options such as a single medical presentation concerning sexually transmitted infections or a series of classes that cover a variety of topics including: setting goals for the future, media influence, choices and consequences, building healthy relationships, and refusal skills. Classes are presented by trained volunteers to schools or youth groups. The A & M Partnership is still another resource and has useful materials for abstinence and marriage education.

If your center has a nurse manager, she/he is well-qualified to present information to youth concerning STI’s and other risks of sexual behaviors. The Centers for Disease Control offer a freely downloadable power-point on those topics. Slides are periodically updated to maintain accurate, current information. Life Choices also has STI information on its website.

Post-Abortion Issues

Numerous centers have post-abortion recovery programs for female clients. Many utilize a Bible study format and conduct the study within a group. Facilitators tend to be peer counselors rather than trained therapists and the emphasis of these programs is on spiritual healing from a Christian perspective.

Centers that offer post-abortion counseling for men as well tend to see only a small number of them. This is not surprising given that men tend to be less inclined than women to seek counseling in general. The issue of abortion may be even more taboo as it is related to sexuality and represents a violation of an innate predisposition to protect life. Furthermore, men have been marginalized in the abortion debate as irrelevant and, as a result, may be confused about their reactions to abortion and how to deal with them. In short, men are unlikely to come in droves requesting help after a painful abortion experience. Consequently, it should not be too difficult to recruit a therapist or clergyperson to make him/herself available to help those men who do request help. In addition, there are programs available that have been developed specifically for men including Bible studies and retreat formats (see Resource List). These programs may be purchased for use at your center or clients may be referred to others who offer them. Staff and volunteers who provide individual peer counseling or facilitate group work should be aware of the warning signs indicating the need for a professional counselor. (see attached “Warning Signs”)

Conclusion

When developing a new ministry, focus is critical. Your focus may be broad and include all relevant components of a men’s ministry or it may be directed at one or two of those aspects. Certainly it makes sense to begin by focusing on those men coming to your center with their partners. This may entail simply including them in the initial counseling session and inviting them to return for subsequent appointments. That alone sends the powerful message that they are welcome and recognized as valuable participants.

Funding is the never-ending challenge of pregnancy resource centers across the country. Along with start-up funding, a successful men’s ministry requires a plan for sustainability. The broader the support, the more likely it will continue. Men’s groups associated with area churches or the local community may be especially supportive of a men’s ministry. Those same groups may be valuable sources from which to recruit ministry volunteers. Especially with a new ministry, funding and advertising go hand-in-hand. Centers might consider a unique kickoff event to acquaint the community with their services and needs.

As new components of ministry are added, they will need to be advertised through your print media and/or website. To save costs, centers may opt to print an insert for their current brochures that describe newer services. Websites may require additional pages to include aspects of a men’s ministry. Some centers may choose to do more targeted advertising such as posting print ads in gyms, churches, or college campuses to make men aware of what you can offer them. (For an example of a description of men’s services, see a sample website page for men here.

The decision to minister to men as well as to women rests on respect for the differences between them while also promoting equality and relationship responsibility. Men are equal partners in the creation of life and should be equal partners in caring for the life created. The inclusion of male clients enlarges your ministry context to embrace the entire family unit. Inclusion of male partners may contribute to improved relationship quality, better parenting, and family stability. This is beneficial to all members of the family (i.e. children, mothers, and fathers) and to society in general, affirming the value of each and every life.

Resources for Men Facing Fatherhood

From National Fatherhood Initiative

The National Fatherhood Initiative produces a variety of resource materials geared to men facing fatherhood, new fathers, and fathers of older children. Resources include complete programs lasting 12 weeks, workshop kits that can be completed in a few hours, and brochures. Topics include co-parenting, child development, child health and safety, spirituality, and general fathering skills. Several of their programs have been scientifically evaluated and many are available in Spanish as well as English.

Resources concerning Sexuality

Resources for Post-Abortion Men

Counseling, Referrals for Counseling, & Training for Counselors

Print Resources: Books & Bible Studies

Print Resources: Brochures, Booklets and Articles

Websites

Warning Signs for Referral to a Professional Counselor*

  1. Potential to harm the self or others
  2. Disabling depression & incapacity to function
  3. Emotional instability
  4. Excessive anxiety
  5. Hearing voices, excessive fears, and lack of awareness of surroundings
  6. Persistent signs of PTSD which may include re-experiencing the traumatic event (e.g., flashbacks) or avoidance (e.g., emotional numbness)
  7. Evidence of eating or sleeping disorders that threaten physical or mental health
  8. Evidence of substance abuse
  9. Inability to cope with daily demands (i.e. inability to care for self or dependents in basic ways)
  10. Past or present abuse resulting in any of the aforementioned warnings signs

Prepared by the Alliance for Post-Abortion Research & Training 

*When any of the above warning signs result in significant impairment of functioning, an immediate referral to a mental health professional is indicated. The client’s safety and well-being should always be your first consideration. It is possible that the client’s abortion can either cause or worsen any of the above. Appropriate intervention, establishing a caring relationship, and your commitment to assist your client are invaluable even if referral is indicated. This list was compiled by Catherine T. Coyle, RN, PhD and Vincent M. Rue, PhD and is an adaptation of the list provided by the American Psychiatric Association.

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