YORBA LINDA — Walk into Mark Hanson’s church and nobody will greet you. The guys hanging around the foyer might even make fun of what you’re wearing, or your haircut. A sign over the entrance reads, “Grab a seat in the back and shut up. Nobody cares what you think.”
Welcome to Jerk Church.
“You know these guys,” says Hanson, the pastor and founder. “They sit with their arms folded the whole time, leave during the altar call, criticize the pastor, snort when other people state their opinions and never create lasting bonds of friendship. Their wives are always really stressed. Bingo — that’s my mission field.”
Two years ago, Hanson noticed a “growing population of total jerks” in his community that nobody was reaching with the gospel.
“They’re like white noise, filler — they’re everywhere but nobody sees them,” Hanson says. “They are trapped in their own jerk-dom. My heart went out to them.”
Hanson left a position at a larger church to plant a church aimed at this population. He played around with names like “Church for Guys,” but ended up going straight to the heart of the matter.
“I want pure jerks — the guy who cuts in and out of traffic on the highway, the guy who knows everything at the party, the guy who’s upset about politics, the guy who doesn’t know when to stick a sock in it,” Hanson says. “That’s my tribe.”
Attendance spiked when Hanson informed local churches that he was looking for “grumpy husbands and skeptics.” Some churches started recommending certain guys switch congregations. Others gave their men a choice: marriage counseling or six months attending Jerk Church. Most men chose the latter.
Hanson has designed sermons and church literature to “shut guys up before they can start.”
A prominent, attractive display in the foyer showcases every major objection to Christianity ever conceived, and invites men to read the original works before “ranting.”
“It demonstrates that I’m not afraid of their little arguments,” Hanson says. “They come in thinking their opinions are original. When they realize they are thousands of years old, they get real quiet. Nothing shuts up a jerk like being exposed as a follower.”
Hanson also knew the men would complain about everything, so he prepared answers in advance. When guys grouse about the volume of the music, too loud or too soft, Hanson tells them, “Maybe it’s ‘cause you’re getting old and your brain can’t handle it anymore.”
When they say the seats are uncomfortable, he invites them to “lose the extra 35-pound hog carcass you’re carrying around your midsection.”
On a recent Sunday, Hanson greeted them from the pulpit with, “Look at this roomful of former hotshots who became grumpy old men. Why are you here? Did your recliners break? Is your wife sick of you, big man? Or did you just lose your fishing pole and you’re too poor to buy a new one?”
Foyer conversation is argumentative. When guys aren’t poking holes in each others’ theories they stand around waiting for someone to say something so they can critique it. Now and then someone storms off to the restroom while the others snort and mock him.
Water baptism services are far from normal. A man named Darrell was baptized recently. Hanson prodded him to give his testimony.
“I’m doing this to shut up my mother-in-law,” Darrell said.
“Anything else, you wuss?” Hanson said.
“Nah, just do it,” Darrell said.
Darrell came up from the water looking annoyed, snatched a towel from someone’s hands and exited the tank. Amid a smattering of applause one man yelled, “Loser!”
“You’re the loser!” Darrell yelled back.
A cautious sense of camaraderie has emerged among the men. If a guy acts up during the service, other guys muscle him into a “time out” room which Hanson has labeled “Nursing Mothers” to humiliate them.
“I don’t need ushers. The guys patrol themselves,” Hanson says. “They know when to make each other feel like a big baby.”
Hanson fills the church schedule with events that don’t actually exist.
“Men’s breakfast at 7 a.m. on Saturday? No guy in our church would attend that,” he says. “I announce it just so they feel good about skipping something.”
Services often don’t end in prayer. Rather, Hanson just says, “I’m done. I’m not even praying for you guys today. Get out of here. Go on.”
“I want them to know I love them, but not so much that I’m a sucker,” he says. “My life would actually be more pleasant without them. I don’t hide that.”
The church web site reaches out to wives of jerks and offers a script for them to read to their husbands: “Honey, you’re a jerk. Nobody can stand to be around you. But I have a place for you …”
Jerk Church strictly enforces a “No wives” policy.
“Having a wife around gives them an audience for their stupid, critical observations,” says Hanson. “I want plain, unadulterated jerks with no place to hide and no one to listen to them.”
In their heart of hearts he says jerks just want someone to push back.
“They know they’re not right all the time. They want someone to let them know why,” Hanson says.
Guys admit they attend because Hanson “gets” them.
“He knows I’m a cantankerous, moody old b****** but he loves me anyway,” says one man shrugging. “Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll go from jerk to recovering jerk. Don’t tell my wife.”