by Matt Farrell
This semester I went to the most impactful new member meeting I’ve ever attended.
The group sat in a circle. Challenging topics were discussed passionately. Loneliness, confidence, mental health. Everyone clearly wanted to be there. There were tears, hugs and heated discussions. There wasn’t a test at the end.
Oh, one more thing: it wasn’t a fraternity meeting. The organizer actually dropped his fraternity a few years back.
Let me explain.
I was in Myrtle Beach visiting a friend who lives in town. He was raving to me about weekly G-night meetings he’d been attending, as well as the intentionality of his friend Carson who runs the show. Carson had grown up in heavily masculine environments, including football throughout school and a fraternity when he began college at Coastal Carolina University. While he built many strong relationships, the negative groupthink he experienced caused him to drift away from both. He found the groups to be pressured to act a certain way even if that didn’t reflect members’ beliefs coming in.
It’s frustrating to me that fraternity can both attract and lose people like Carson, but it shows that the experience isn’t for everyone. Above all, Carson found fraternity life to go against his values as a man seeking a life of faith.
So he started his own men’s group. The purpose was to get men closer to God, but he chose to do so in a different way–discussing topics relevant to their struggle of growing as men. He wanted men to see the benefit of God without being in-your-face about it, a problem that he had seen plague the development of other faith groups. Carson chose to vaguely call the events G-nights for that reason. Did it stand for God? Guy stuff? Girl problems? Did it matter? That was the beauty of it, according to Carson.
New member education wasn’t on my mind at all coming into the meeting. I went because my personal growth as a man has been tough. Like many young men, I drifted from my faith in college due to a new environment, independence, and unlimited daily distractions. I am not fully ready to jump back in, but wanted the overall feeling of spirituality back.
It wasn’t until the meeting got going where it really hit me that Carson was doing exactly what most fraternity new member groups aren’t.
Carson told me afterwards that he believes young men have two primary needs: to be seen and to be safe.
He felt that the former was hurting men everywhere. Most of the damaging behaviors in other men’s groups he had seen involved guys desperately seeking social approval: the status of being in X group, the party access, the crude jokes, etc. They would do whatever it took to be seen.
G-night was created for men to be safe. They can talk freely about personal hardship, express deep emotions, and touch topics that may be uncomfortable with girls or even family around.
I didn’t fully get this at first. Carson’s group resembled a fraternity chapter much more than a youth group; backwards caps, jerseys, sweats and tattoos filled the room. But they were craving safety.
This particular conversation was about the challenge of relationships. It was a rocky area that many people were reluctant to contribute to at first. Carson set the tone of vulnerability and the importance of everyone feeling safe to share and grow through the experiences of others. As the environment of trust was cultivated, it got deep. Men opened up about previous relationships where physical attraction kept them from emotional connection. Others shared their fears of not finding a partner or comparing their situations to others. One man opened up deeply about an abusive relationship with a parent that made him question his own future.
G-night was powerful, and reminded me of a similar concept I saw play out recently.
God’s Plan became an anthem of fraternities and other similar settings nationwide this spring, playing across parties and tailgates. Perhaps this isn’t surprising given the song was by Drake, an artist who makes music automatically considered cool based on the image built through his massive fan base. Listening to Drake helps people be seen.
But I’d go a step further. The song’s wide prevalence showed people were willing to listen to a message that (to me) mirrored aspects of G-nights. Spirituality was introduced subtly, as it broadly indicated that even in a stressful daily life, God has a plan for Drake and those listening. Specific pressure to be religious was avoided, but a positive message was continuously reinforced. If you want proof, definitely watch the video.
It’s a tough era to be a man, but fraternities can be the answer. Carson’s G-night model provides a blueprint.
If God’s Plan, G-night, and spirituality collectively have taught me one thing—it’s the following lyric.
“I can’t do this on my own.”
What role should spirituality play in our organizations?
Are we utilizing it to the level we could?
Could it further connect us to ritual?
Email me at Farrell@PhiredUp.com to begin a conversation! I’d love to hear your thoughts connected to spirituality and fraternity, and how it could help us make men feel both seen and safe.