Monday, May 04, 2009

So is it True That Men Hate Going to Church?

I am wondering about men and church. No, it is not the first time, but I would like your thoughts. Let me share a little background.
"Why Men Hate Going to Church" is the title of a best-selling book by David Murrow. At least it is a best-seller among certain church circles. I read most of it about two years ago when I was investigating the issue of men in church--or more precisely the lack thereof. I did some other reading as well, and I wrote an article for "Mutuality" which is a magazine that is published by Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE).
The article is called "Is My Church Feminized?" and if you like you can read it here.
Anyway, I printed some copies of the article to take along for an information booth at our Assemblies of God district council. A long-time pastor acquaintance stopped at the table to see what I was up to. I'll call him Tom, which is not his real name. An interesting conversation resulted.

One end of the table--me and a lot of CBE Material

The other end of the table--me and some of my own stuff.

Looking down at the table, he saw my article and took a closer look. Then he sort of backed up with an odd expression on his face--not exactly a positive look. (And on the slim chance, friend "Tom," that you are reading this post, I'm just writing it like I saw it, and I still like you.) I said, smiling, "Have a copy, Tom. I'm published!" He didn't take one, just looked at me. "Go ahead. I'd love to hear what you think, whether or not you agree or disagree with me."
"Well," he said a little hesitantly, "It is a subject I'm very interested in." "Perfect," I said. "So please do take one and give me your honest feed back." Poor guy. How could he say no?
A few hours later Tom was back. "I liked your article very much," he said, "and I tried but I couldn't really find anything I could disagree with." (An honest man!)
I admitted that I had expected him to disagree with the article. We talked some more and then he asked, "So, do you agree that the church has a problem?" I said yes, but that to blame it on women or the so-called "feminizing" of the church is a straw man (straw woman?) argument that is demeaning and insulting as well as misguided.
He mentioned the book, "Why Men Hate Going to Church." I told him I thought the book was poorly researched, simplistic, and had so many sweeping generalizations in it that I could not take it seriously. He looked thoughtful. Then (to my surprise) he said, "I think this article is really good. I think that what you are saying needs to be heard. Why don't you send it to Leadership or our AG ministers magazine, Enrichment? After a moment said I would. And I will, even though I will be extremely surprised if it sees the light of day at either of those magazines. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I was quite gratified and happy that my friend had made such a quick change in opinion (and thanked God).
However, ever since our conversation I have been thinking. IS there a problem? According to some surveys, about 60% of the American church is female. Is that true where you are? If so, what do you think is the cause of that? If women and "feminization" is not the reason for less men in church these days, what is? What can we do? I'll do a follow-up post with some further thoughts after I give some time for others to comment.

19 comments:

much2ponder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
much2ponder said...

Just read your article for the second time and as you have probably guessed several thoughts came to mind. As I read I began to wonder why you don't interview some men who are not in church or who have left the church and find out what they think?

This reading prompted me to ask Ray some questions which I will gladly share with you in an e-mail.

One thought that I can't get away from is the fact that gender is even an issue. It makes no sense because it is contrary to the way that I believe God sees men and women.

I am not interested in what the church perscribes for women, though it is good and has a place; I would much rather be taking action and getting the meat offered to men over the flowers and cotton candy women are expected to settle for.

I personally feel that when the church has so many gender specific "ministries" there are many people who don't really fit in any of them. Why can't we all just be people instead of men and women?

Jesus was meek as you say here and he was strong also, but more important he was relevant! He was real! We all need someting that is relevant, real and will point us to God without a plan of action or imposed need based on what someone decided women or men need in the church.

We need to get back to basics and simply get into what the Word says. I am hungry for a closer relationship with God, not another program that is designed to enlighten and make me feel good.

Seriously, my feeling about it is that the church is so busy trying to create what is percieved as a need for men, women and children that they are totally missing the point.

Relationships that last must happen naturally. God draws us to himself naturally...he does not need some plan of action to create the perfect scenario or condition to bring our hearts to him. Could we just get real; please?!

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I want to read your article, but the computer seems to be on a siesta mission right now, so maybe tomorrow it will go faster and I can read it.

As in most churches, we have a lot of women attending, and since there are more widows than widowers, the older crowd is mostly women. But in some families, I've noticed that the women and girls "do" church; the men and boys don't.

We've had more women than men volunteer (or be asked) to do a number of the public roles, for the last 25 years or so, such as worship leader, reader, giving the sermon, lead Sunday School, etc. And yet...I'm pleased to say that in the last several years, a number of men have stepped forward to do some of these jobs. And lately, a very small group of men are very active and getting more men involved in many ways. Currently our whole paid staff is women and a good strong part of the volunteers are men. It has been an interesting evolution of leadership and I'm pleased to see what is happening.

I think that in the "old days" when the man pastor did everything, the men, if they were in the pews, didn't have to do much, but the women still did a lot, because there were always the kitchen and cleaning duties. And the duties with the children in the parish. Roles are changing. We now assign both men and women to the kitchen duties. The men used to just wait around for the wives to finish in the kitchen; now they are in there pitching in.

Well enough for now until I get to read your article.

Kristen said...

The church I go to has a pretty even balance of men and women. It allows both men and women a wide range of ministries and is a vibrant, growing church. I enjoy the services and feel like I meet God there.

However, I have spoken to women who go to churches where there are a lot more women attending than men. Some of these women have told me that their church isn't really that great for them: that the sermons don't engage them, that the worship doesn't uplift them-- but they keep going out anyway, out of a sense of duty and "for the children." So that makes me wonder-- maybe with some churches, the overbalance of women is a symptom, not part of the problem. Men are largely conditioned by our culture to do as they please in their off-work hours. If they don't like going to church, they just won't go. Women, on the other hand, are much more conditioned to do things because we feel obligation or duty, whether or not the thing gives us any pleasure.

So-- for some churches, not all! --maybe sometimes nobody really wants to be there. But the women are the ones who stick around anyway.

Diane said...

I think there is a problem, but I agree with you that the book in question is poorly researched and full of generalizations.

Gilly said...

I very much enjoyed your article - a lot of challenging ideas there.

Where I am in the UK - an Anglican church, middle of the road, not Evangelical, we have more women than men. But that is, I think, because our women are in the older age bracket. Many of them are widows.

It seems to me that churches that attract families, have men in the congregation. Where young families do not attend, then there is a preponderance of women.

So the aim would seem to be to attract families. Including the men. If you "catch" the children, you "catch" the women. And the men find better things to do. If you "catch" young men then you get the women along too.

Many churches have a very family based outlook and programme. Singles, of either sex, feel left out, isolated. And if they don't attend church then, why should they come when they are married, with a family?

I don't know what the answer is. If I did, someone would have thought of it long ago! But certainly in England, I think (without any research or statistics to back me up - just a hunch!) that the Anglican Church is seen as an old woman's church, whilst the Evangelical Anglican churches, and non-Conformist (Baptist, Methodist, AOG, Elim etc.) can be flourishing. Or appear to be - it has been said that as many go our the back door as come in the front door. But that is totally another matter!

I've never met "girly" worship, but I have found, sometimes, powerful worship which both men and women have participated in. And I have heard boring sermons from both men and women! If it really was a matter of men v women "up front" then surely those churches that forbad women to be ministers would be full of men? And they are not.

When it comes down to it, I don't think there is any one answer. Not very helpful, am I?

mannaword said...

I look forward to reading your article when I have a few moments to do so. Thank you for the link. I do not think there is one single reason for more women than men. However, I do believe that in the conservative evangelical branch we have burdened the men with this "godly man image" which no one can effectively bear. I believe they are expected to be and do far too much and as a result they feel inferior, ineffective and eventually back completely off.
If we would forget these "roles" and images (women ones included) and just work together in the Kingdom I believe there would be a proper balance.
As I said, not one answer, but this I believe is part of the problem.

Ruth said...

I've not been in churches that are mainly women for a very long time. I have no clue what the difference is. I *have* been in churches that were predominantly "grey hairs" and some that had very few of those elders. In some ways I think the age difference is more noticable than the gender issues, at least that I've observed.

I'll ask the men around me why they do/don't go to church. It would be interesting to hear their reasoning.

Bad Alice said...

I hadn't really considered this. I will have to look more closely next time I'm at church. It has always seemed as if there were as many men as women. They are definitely active. In fact, I've always felt a bit that the women's group seems a bit bland (teas and inspirational speakers on "women's topics") while the men seem to be honest with each other about their problems and challenges (at least according to my husband). Perhaps the men at my church just feel that there is a place for them -- that they don't have to be godly, upright, and strong and they can safely admit that they aren't and be encouraged.

much2ponder said...

What Iris said here is so good. I agree wholeheartedly. "However, I do believe that in the conservative evangelical branch we have burdened the men with this "godly man image" which no one can effectively bear. I believe they are expected to be and do far too much and as a result they feel inferior, ineffective and eventually back completely off.

But I too have felt this sting and I am a woman.

Anonymous said...

As a "Manly Man" I think it is self fulling statements. "Real Men" don't go so if you are a "Real Man" you won't want to go. You will find something else to do with your time that is more manly. I love the bumper sticker that says "Real men serve God". That is want a "Manly Man" should be doing, not letting someone else dictate their feelings or choices as far as going to church.
It matters little who is the pastor or song leader.
I don't have a username.
This is Ken

nightmare said...

I'm not a fan of it, but it's not because I'm a man. It's because the churches I've been to focus on the acorns and are oblivious to the forest. I could barely go to church without hearing that we as Christians need to fight to keep the movie 'Dogma' from being released, fight same sex marriage, fight to get creationism in schools, AIDS is God punishing us...there is some horrible event we must fight agaianst every week. I saw way too much of that, and so much less focus on Jesus' love. It seems to me I remember Jesus hanging out with lepers, prostitutes, the downtrodden, and he showed them how to live a life to honor God, and it wasn't him blaming them for their sins, pointing fingers, talking down to them. He lifted them up, he did not shame them, they were not rebuked, they were shown love, mercy, and compassion, something sorely missing from a few of the churches I no longer attend.

Oh, and if my churches had a 60/40 female split...I MAY have shown up more. Well, if they were single. ;)

LutheranChik said...

I honestly don't know what a "feminized" church means.

In our church we have a good male/female ratio, I think because we have an influx of younger families with kids. We also have a balance of women and men in leadership positions. Yet we have a hard time organizing men's events, so our monthly calendar, at a glance, seems more skewed toward women's groups. But that's not representative of how our church actually functions.

What exactly are these men wanting in a "masculine" church (other than a detected subtext of all authority and exclusive access to leadership roles)?

Sally said...

I think that almost 70- 80% of the Church in the UK is female, but the leaders are still mostly male.

My take on this is simply that we must stop making divisions and start acting like a family, there are too many divisions, male/ female, young/ old.... etc etc....

High time we owned our common humanity and started being honest with one another.

Chris said...

This has absolutely nothing to do with the post itself. (WARNING!! FLUFF ALERT!!!)

I absolutely ADORE your new look! Honestly, it makes you look twenty years younger and just BEAUTIFUL. I don't know what inspired it, but YEA YOU!!!

On a more serious note, I'll be thinking of you as we both go through our first Mother's Day without our moms. It does get easier, but I still miss her every day.

Blessings, SO!

RevSis said...

I haven't yet read your article, though I am looking forward to spending time with it.

As a female pastor serving a slightly rural (we're outside the urban loop and there are no grocery stores or Walmarts in a 10-mile radius)...I have tried to be conscious of the needs of men in my congregation. We actually do not even have a "women's group" but we do have a men's group that focuses solely on serving the community. My adult Sunday school classes are led by men and I do have a male youth director. We probably have a slightly higher number of women in worship but leadership is evenly distributed.

My concern is in addressing the needs of men as a female pastor. Some will come to me with their issues but not nearly as many as women.

You raise some interesting ideas in your post, and once I read your article, I am hopeful that I can take some of these insights and start asking some questions. Thank you for offering this for us to ponder and consider!

Beth said...

I know this is a serious subject, but I couldn't resist a tongue-in-cheek comment: I hope your title question isn't true in our house--my husband is a pastor!

Mary Beth said...

I need to think more deeply about this and will come back to comment. We do have a very strong and present group of men in my church; now I am interested to count heads!

But want to say that I am so proud to know you and call you friend! GO GIRL!! The article rocks and you are courageous and prophetic within your group (and onward). May your words be heard!

Grady said...

Much2Ponder - I think you've hit the nail on the head when you stated
"We all need something that is relevant, real and will point us to God without a plan of action or imposed need based on what someone decided women or men need in the church."
Gender is real, and there are times to focus on it, but that will always be secondary to God's love and calling for each individual. I doubt that any church which is fully focussed on the reality of God and His Word will have much gender imbalance ...