Wednesday, September 8, 2010

No men in the pews? Could be church's fault

By: John Longhurst

Posted: 4/09/2010 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Evangelical practices mean more women attend church than men, writes David Murrow.

RICHARD VOGEL / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Evangelical practices mean more women attend church than men, writes David Murrow.

Do men hate going to church?

David Murrow says yes. "Christianity's primary delivery system, the local church, is perfectly designed to reach women," says Murrow, author of the book Why Men Hate Going to Church.

Noting that studies in the U.S. show that women make up 60 percent of a typical congregation, he asks: "What is it about modern Christianity that is driving men away?"

For him, the answer is simple: Churches today are designed for women.

"Christianity's primary delivery system, the local church, is perfectly designed to reach women," he says of the warm colours, robes, candles, flowers, sharing, tapestries, long sermons and soft, romantic worship music that are the hallmarks of many churches today.

"This church system offers little to stir the masculine heart, so men find it dull and irrelevant," he states, adding that men who do go to church seem passive and bored.

Why is church not inviting for men? According to Murrow, it's because men are drawn to risk, challenge and adventure. "But these things are discouraged in the local church," he says. "Instead, most congregations offer a safe, nurturing community -- an oasis of stability and predictability."

At the same time, he maintains, the very definition of a good Christian has become feminized. Christians, he says, are supposed to be gentle, sensitive and nurturing, focused on home, family and hospitality. The godly are supposed to be calm, gentle, polite and sociable.

Men who grew up in the church hardly notice this "feminine spirituality," he says. "We hardly notice it; we can't imagine things any other way. But a male visitor detects the feminine spirit the moment he walks in the sanctuary door."

Murrow is particularly critical of the style of music found in many evangelical churches today.

"Here's one of the great, unspoken assumptions of worship today: The more emotional the response, the truer the worship," he says. "Great worship results in sensation, passion and good feelings. The worship leader's job is to help the people generate a warm, gooey feeling in their hearts about Jesus.

"Whether passionate emotion equals true worship is not what I'm here to debate. I'm merely pointing out the fact that if ooey-gooey feelings are what we're shooting for, worship will be much easier for women than men."

All this adds up to making church a place where men don't feel welcome. "It's hard for a man to be real in church because he must squeeze himself into this feminine religious mold," he says.

Murrow is aware that his observations might offend, particularly when you consider that the church is almost entirely led by males -- and entirely by males, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church. All that means, he says, is that "the modern church is an army of women led by a few male generals."

It's not just Americans who are exploring this topic. "How do we communicate life with Jesus to the average Australian bloke?" asks Brian Winslade, National Director of Australian Baptist Ministries. "If they turned up at church next Sunday, would their experience make them want to come back for a second look?"

His answer: No. "The style of our communication, language, d├ęcor and cultural climate is much more appealing to women than to men," he says, adding that many of the songs sung in Australian Baptist churches "appeal to a feminine motif of love and intimacy."

Interestingly, a study in England found that there is no gender gap in Islam, Buddhism, Judaism or Hinduism in that country; slightly more men than women attend worship services in those religions.

You may not agree with everything Murrow says; I don't. There are lots of churches with lots of spiritually fulfilled men, and lots of people who defy the stereotypes he promotes in his book.

But his message seems to be resonating with many, and finds support in an unexpected place. A study from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found that the presence of involved men is statistically correlated with church growth, health and harmony, while a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline.

As congregations "become increasingly populated by women," the report says, "those congregations that are able to even out the proportions of males and females are those most likely to grow."

Concludes Murrow: "Men, if you've felt out of place in church, it's not your fault. If you've tried and failed to get a men's ministry going in your church, it's not your fault. If you can't get your buddies interested in church, it's not your fault. The church system is getting the results it's designed to get. Until that system changes -- radically -- men will continue to perish, both inside and outside our congregations."

KATIE NOTES: This is an interesting point. Of course I know there are many godly men who attend church, and many churches that aren't "feminine" but I do see this person's point... Masculinity in general is sadly lacking, period, in our culture...

4 comments:

Joshua Schwisow said...

Interesting article, the author assumes pelagianism and therefore in my opinion suggests a solution which will only create more disinterested men. I agree that many churches have often been feminized. This is sort of inevitable when none of the men will lead. The author discusses peripheral issues (candles, flowers, emotive worship, etc.) that don't really deal with the real issue. The men were not discipled and were not taught what they were supposed to be doing so they left the church seeing no point to remain. That or the Gospel was never properly preached to them.

Biblical manhood isn't an outward masculinity built around certain stereotypical ideas of strength, coarseness, and so forth. If this were the case we might as well start building churches in the middle of hunting properties and next to motorcycle bars. The problem is most of these men leaving or not attending are unregenerate and therefore, feminine flowers or not, will not care to attend the gathering of the saints.

What are your thoughts Katie on the decor of worship in terms of masculine and feminine? I don't think this issue is unimportant I just think this isn't the real issue here.

Thanks for sharing!

Katie said...

Thanks for your comment Josh :) I always like an invigorating discussion, as I know you do...

So, I definitely see your point that the REAL issue is a lack of discipleship and of course, I would 100% agree with that. Fathers have failed utterly (for the most part) in passing godly wisdom and truth and MASCULINITY on to their sons, and this IS the root issue, without a doubt. Thanks for pointing that out. In retrospect, I should have said something about that in my note, I just didn't think of it :) Thanks for doing it for me!

As for my "thoughts" on the decor of worship etc, I don't think that is a big deal at all. Flowers are not going to (or shouldn't) scare men away from church. I guess I THOUGHT the deeper point of this article was that men are becoming more and more feminine, period. To state the negative, men have failed to lead not only in families and social settings, but in politics as well. You know my views on that subject :)It's always the enemy's goal to undermine the family. A big way he does that is through reversing of roles. And if he's used the feminine approach of some churches to scare "manly" men away, then he's succeeded in one aspect. But I do think a bigger tactic (and more important tactic) he uses is to make women think they MUST lead since men are not doing it, and SOMEONE'S GOT TO DO IT. I honestly feel this way myself sometimes so I know! Another observation is that more and more churches are being led by women, hence the perhaps for feminine FEEL of the church. A true Christian shouldn't be attending a church where women are leading anyway, so we arrive back at square one... For the sake of argument, let's say the church is upstanding and led by men. But it seems "feminine"--lots of flowers, pinks and tans only, hushed atmosphere, etc. Is this WRONG?? No I would say not. As you say, there are different and deeper issues at stake besides whether or not a church feels "feminine."

Sorry my comment is sort of all over the board. I am still in camping mode I think *wink*

Joshua Schwisow said...

Katie, I think your right. Men have become extremely feminized. Ironically, there often appears a male gloss over that feminization. That is they may still have a "rough and rowdy" factor but true marks of manhood such as maturity, leadership, servanthood, etc., are utterly missing. The culture feeds a version of manhood that on the wrapper looks masculine (at least some of the time), but ends up being quite feminine in reality. The attempt to make men and women equal in authority structures only destroys authority structures and seems to create a sexist power struggle where men will most likely head for their beer and pizza and women will be left running the major structures of society. Pretty scary...

Katie said...

I wholeheartedly agree :)