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Reaching out to dads

Who Let the Dads Out? is successfully engaging fathers and their children in church life

One Saturday morning in 2003 I stood at the door to Hoole Baptist Church (HBC Chester) and waited to welcome people to our parent and toddler group. On any other morning of the week I would have been greeting mums and their children, but on this occasion only dads and their little ones had been invited. Conventional wisdom had it that not many would turn up. Dads are notoriously difficult to engage in family work: they're 'hard to reach'. And when it's family work being offered by a church, no chance.

That morning, 20 dads and their children crossed the threshold of our building; only two of them had ever done so before. They came to have fun with their children, to chat to other dads and to eat bacon rolls. Who Let the Dads Out? had begun, and God was prompting a change in church outreach culture.

Addressing a gender imbalance in our churches

How many times have you heard people bemoan how few men there are in church? The reasons are, no doubt, many and varied, but when we look at the nature of our outreach it may go some way to explaining why there is a gender imbalance in the make-up of our churches. We are great at reaching out and supporting mums, children, young people, older people, but we have not been good at working with men. And definitely not with fathers and their children together.

For dads and children

At HBC Chester, when some of the mums complained about how little the fathers of their children did with the children, we knew we needed to do something to support good fatherhood. And so we started Who Let the Dads Out? Fifteen years later, it continues to grow. At HBC Chester we run two sessions: one at the church and another in the local preschool. More than 260 other churches now run a group of their own. Churches are realising that when a man becomes a dad, it’s an ideal time to get to know him: there is something about becoming a father or father figure that causes the heart to open and creates a good opportunity for the Holy Spirit to gain a foothold.

Turning hearts

Our vision is to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (Malachi 4:6), to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17). We offer churches the Daddy Cool! parenting programme and Soul Man? – a small-group format for exploring basic questions of faith and spirituality. We also deliver Ministry to Fathers training in partnership with Cliff College.

Dave, a dad to three sons, was finding it lonely being one of the only men in the room at parent and toddler groups, and when he heard about Who Let the Dads Out? at HBC Chester he jumped at the chance to give it a go. He also tried Daddy Cool! It was amazing,” he says. Everyone seemed interested in each other. They were just ordinary blokes and we were all in the same boat. I enjoyed having a takeaway and talking about home.” He moved on to Soul Man? and started to pray with his boys, even before he believed in God. After that came Alpha and gradually his faith grew.

Another dad, Mark, experienced a similar journey in a Who Let the Dads Out? group at St. Stephen’s Church in Tonbridge. I’ve noticed since the first sessions that I’ve always experienced a warm, happy feeling, almost like a presence I couldn’t quite put my finger on.” After a number of conversations with the group leaders, Mark took part in a men’s Alpha course and found it very powerful. I started to read the Bible and realised how this could change my life for the better. I was fascinated by the discussions and towards the end of the course opened my heart to Jesus.” In writing his story, Mark finishes with these words: I would like to end by giving praise to Who Let the Dads Out? It was this that got me into a church and started me on the path to faith.“

Our hope is that through the simple act of gathering dads and their children together, there will be many more fathers like Dave and Mark who will deepen their relationships with their children, believe in God and find themselves on a path to becoming followers of Jesus.

Mark Chester is the founder of Who Let the Dads Out.

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