Why Men Hate Church
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CBN.com -- Cliff is a man’s man. On the job he’s known as a go-getter and a very hard worker. He’s a good provider who loves his wife and kids. He’s well respected by his neighbors. Cliff drives a humongous four-wheel-drive pickup. He loves the outdoors and takes every opportunity for a little hunting and fishing. He enjoys a cold beer and a dirty joke. He does not go to church.
Ask him why he doesn’t go to church, and he’ll offer up words like boring, irrelevant, and hypocrite. But the real reason Cliff doesn’t go to church is that he’s already practicing another religion. That religion is masculinity.
The ideology of masculinity has replaced Christianity as the true religion of men. We live in a society with a female religion and a male religion: Christianity, of various sorts, for women and non-masculine men; and masculinity . . . for men.
Cliff practices his religion with a single-mindedness the Pharisees would envy. His work, his hobbies, his entertainment, his follies, his addictions, everything he does is designed to prove to the world he is a man. His religion also demands that he avoid anything that might call his manhood into question. This includes church, because Cliff believes deep in his heart that church is something for women and children, not men.
Cliff is not alone. Men have believed this for centuries. In the 1800s, Charles Spurgeon said, “There has got abroad a notion, somehow, that if you become a Christian you must sink your manliness and turn milksop.” Cliff sees Christianity as incongruous with his manhood. It’s a women’s thing.
CHURCH ...A WOMEN’S THING?
We’re only in chapter 1, and I know I’m already in trouble with a lot of you. I can just imagine what you’re thinking: Church is not a women’s thing—it’s a men’s thing! It certainly looks that way, doesn’t it? After all, a man and His male disciples founded Christianity, most of its major saints and heroes were men, men penned all of the New Testament books, all of the popes were men, all of the Catholic priests are men, and 95 percent of the senior pastors in America are men. Feminists have been telling us for years that the church is male dominated and patriarchal. Are they right?
The answer is yes and no. The pastorate is a men’s club. But almost every other area of church life is dominated by women. Whenever large numbers of Christians gather, men are never in the majority. Not at revivals. Not at crusades. Not at conferences. Not at retreats. Not at concerts. With the exception of men’s events and pastoral conferences, can you think of any large gathering of Christians that attracts more men than women?
Visit the church during the week, and you’ll find most of the people working there are female. Drop in on a committee meeting, and you’ll find a majority of the volunteers are women—unless it’s that small bastion of male presence, the building committee. Look over the leadership roster: the pastor is likely to be a man, but at least two-thirds of the ministry leaders will be women. Examine the sign-up sheets for volunteer work, prayer, Sunday school, and nursery duty. You’ll be lucky to see more than a couple of men’s names on these lists. One pastor recently told me, “If it weren’t for the postman, every visitor to the church during the week would be a woman.”
Male pastors come and go, but faithful women provide a matriarchal continuity in our congregations. Women are the devoted ones who build their lives around their commitments to Christ and His church. Women are more likely to teach and volunteer in church and are the greatest participants in Christian culture. The sad reality in many churches today is this: the only man who actually practices his faith is the pastor.
With so much female presence and participation, the church has gained a reputation as a ladies’ club in the minds of men. Cliff does not attend church for the same reason he does not wear pink: neither is proper to his gender. Does Cliff know why he hates going to church? No. Can he offer a detailed explanation of his feelings? Of course not. He’s a guy, remember? Cliff knows one thing: he hates going to church.
HOW THE GENDER GAP AFFECTS WOMEN
If you are a woman, you may have picked up this book because a key man in your life does not go to church, or if he does attend, it means little to him. You are not alone. Connie is a lifelong Episcopalian, a fifty-six-yearold mother of four boys. She says, “None of my sons goes to church anymore. Two of them are divorced, and now all four are living with their lady friends. It’s sad.” Bernice from Connecticut says, “I have a large extended family. Not one of the men goes to Mass, let alone confession.” Vicki’s husband, Ron, attends their local Baptist church. “But he’s a total hypocrite,” she states. “He screams all the way to church. Once he’s inside the sanctuary, he puts on a smile and plays ‘Mr. Charming.’ Why won’t he let God change him?” Caroline is a twenty-nine-year-old single woman who won’t date non-Christian men. “But I’m beginning to rethink that,” she admits. “I go to a small Pentecostal church. There are no single guys my age. This man at work was pursuing me, so I told him our first date would have to be church. He came, but I think it freaked him out. He never called again.”
Connie, Bernice, Vicki, and Caroline know from personal experience: the modern church is having trouble reaching men. Women comprise more than 60 percent of the typical adult congregation on any given Sunday. At least one-fifth of married women regularly worship without their husbands. There are quite a few single women but hardly any single men in church today. Every day it gets harder for single Christian women to find men for romance or marriage. Step into any church parking lot, and you’re likely to see an attractive young mother and her brightly scrubbed children scurrying to Sunday school. Mom may be wearing an impressive diamond ring on her left hand, but the man who gave it to her is nowhere to be seen.
WHERE ARE THE MANLY MEN?
Although males have not completely abandoned the church, manly men like Cliff have all but disappeared. Tough, earthy, working guys rarely come to church. High achievers, alpha males, risk takers, and visionaries are in short supply. Fun-lovers and adventurers are also underrepresented in church. These rough-and-tumble men don’t fit in with the quiet, introspective gentlemen who populate the church today. The truth is, most men in the pews grew up in church. Many of these lifers come not because they desire to be transformed by Christ but because they enjoy participating in comforting rituals that have changed little since their childhood. There are also millions of men who attend services under duress, dragged by a mother, wife, or girlfriend. Today’s churchgoing man is humble, tidy, dutiful, and above all, nice.
What a contrast to the men of the Bible! Think of Moses and Elijah, David and Daniel, Peter and Paul. They were lions, not lambs—takecharge men who risked everything in service to God. They fought valiantly and spilled blood. They spoke their minds and stepped on the toes of religious people. They were true leaders, tough guys who were feared and respected by the community. All of these men had two things in common: they had an intense commitment to God, and they weren’t what you’d call saintly.
Such men seldom go to church today.
Furthermore, of the men who do attend church, most decline to invest themselves in the Christian life as their wives and mothers do. The majority of men attend services and nothing more. Jay is such a man. He’s in church most Sundays, but he’s not very excited about it. “I go mainly for my kids and my wife,” he says. “Church is okay, but it really doesn’t enthrall me like it does her.”
Who is being touched by the gospel today? Women. Women’s ministries, women’s conferences, women’s Bible studies, and women’s retreats are ubiquitous in the modern church. Men’s ministry, if it even exists, might consist of an occasional pancake breakfast and an annual retreat.
How did a faith founded by a Man and His twelve male disciples become so popular with women, but anathema to men? The church of the first century was a magnet to males. Jesus’ strong leadership, blunt honesty, and bold action mesmerized men. A five-minute sermon by Peter resulted in the conversions of three thousand men.
Today’s church does not mesmerize men; it repels them. Just 35 percent of the men in the United States say they attend church weekly. In Europe male participation rates are much worse, in the neighborhood of 5 percent. This hardly sounds like a male-dominated, patriarchal institution to me.
What’s worse, nobody seems to care about the absence of men. Have you ever heard a sermon on the church’s gender gap? I’ve never heard a pastor or church leader bring it up. Heck, I’ve never heard anybody bring it up. It’s just one of those things Christians don’t talk about.
WHO’S TO BLAME FOR THE GENDER GAP?
For decades those few people who noticed the gender gap have assumed that men are to blame for it. Sometimes they are. Many men intentionally reject the Christian faith. Some men are proud and want to be their own God. Men hate to admit weakness or neediness. Millions are captive to sin, unbelief, and other religions that preclude commitment to Christ. Men get distracted by the concerns of this world and lose interest in spiritual matters. Men suffer abuse at the hands of church people and fall away.
But let’s be honest—women grapple with these same issues. Women are just as susceptible to sin, atheism, other religions, and pride. There’s nothing in the Bible to suggest that women are more virtuous or less sinful than men. Women are just as likely to have father issues or be victims of abuse. So why do women seem drawn to the church when men are not? What’s the difference?
Let me be blunt: today’s church has developed a culture that is driving men away. Almost every man in America has tried church, but two-thirds find it unworthy of a couple of hours once a week. A wise Texan once told me, “Men don’t go to church ’cuz they’ve been.”
When men need spiritual sustenance, they go to the wilderness, the workplace, the garage, or the corner bar. They watch their heroes in the stadium or on the racetrack. They plunge into a novel or sneak off to a movie. Church is one of the last places men look for God.
More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only two out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.
Men’s disinterest in Christianity is so consistent around the world, it can’t be explained by pride, father issues, sin, or distraction. Neither can we say, “Well, men are just less religious,” because this is untrue. Male and female participation are roughly equal in Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. In the Islamic world men are publicly and unashamedly religious—often more so than women. Of the world’s great religions, only Christianity has a consistent, nagging shortage of male practitioners. What is it about modern Christianity that is driving men away? That’s the question I hope to answer with this book.
NOW FOR SOME GOOD NEWS
Can the church turn the tide with men? Yes! It not only can, but it must. Jesus built His church on twelve Spirit-filled men who changed the world. We must do the same: you cannot have a thriving church without a core of men who are true followers of Christ. If the men are dead, the church is dead.
Fortunately, pioneering churches and parachurch organizations are enjoying remarkable success in reaching men for Christ. New forms of worship and ministry tailored to the needs of men are springing up in the unlikeliest places. Some of the fastest-growing churches in America are also those most successful in reaching men. To learn more about these ministries, visit my Web site, www.churchformen.com.
Can your church turn the tide with men? Yes! But please don’t hand this book to the minister and say, “Pastor, you need to do this!” Many of the needed changes cannot be imposed from above, but must bubble up from the congregation itself. Too often it’s not what the leadership imposes but what the laity demands that causes the church to repel men. If your church has a large gender gap, it’s probably not the pastor’s fault. The people in the pews hold the steering wheel on this one. In the coming pages I suggest dozens of ways to make your congregation more attractive to men. Your job is to read, pray, and take action wherever you can. Individual churchgoers have more influence than they think.
ABOVE ALL, DON’T DESPAIR!
As you read the dire statistics on male participation, don’t panic! This low ebb may be part of the church’s natural cycle. Over time the church tends to get out of balance and lose its masculine spirit. Then God raises a lion—a Martin Luther, John Wesley, Charles Finney, or Billy Sunday—to drag the church back into balance. The men return. The great revivals of the past three centuries always transformed large numbers of men.
God has balanced His church many times before. He will do so again. Our job is to confront the current gender gap for what it is: a strategy of the evil one to weaken the church. We need to understand what causes the gap and have the courage to remove the barriers that discourage and demoralize men. God will call men back to Himself. Will the church be ready?
Dream for a moment. What would church be like if the majority of the worshippers were men? Not just males taking up pew space, but strong, earthy men who were truly alive in Christ. Men who were there not just to please their wives, to fulfill religious tradition, or to go on a power trip, but men who were there to rock their world. Can you even imagine what that would feel like? Imagine what such a church could accomplish for the kingdom of God!
Impossible you say? Just read the book of Acts. The church was like this once; it can be so again.
Let me say this in the strongest possible terms: the answer is not a maledominated church. I am not advocating the “submit to me, woman,” brand of Christianity in which men are kings and women are pawns. Not only is this model unbiblical; it doesn’t create spiritually mature men. The answer is a balanced approach: teaching, practices, and opportunities that allow for both masculine and feminine expression in the church.
Please read this book with an open mind. Some of my conclusions may upset or shock you. I’ve tried very hard not to stereotype, but you can’t write a book about men without making some generalizations about the sexes. (For example, I say that men are more competitive; women are more cooperative. Not every man is more competitive than every woman, but considering the genders as a whole, the observation is true.) If you agree with 90 percent of what you read herein, please don’t throw out the whole book based on the 10 percent that makes you mad. This book is not a perfect plan to bring men back. Rather, I hope it is the match that ignites thousands of conversations and millions of prayers about a problem we’ve ignored far too long. I pray God’s people take what’s written in this book and test it, refine it, and use it to bring multitudes to Christ.
There are hundreds of great Christian books written to help men come closer to Christ. This is not one of them. This book does not contain the usual calls to repentance, purity, and holiness. You won’t hear me talking about the sins that commonly ensnare men. I’m working the other angle. As I said earlier, I am not calling men back to the church. Instead, I am calling the church back to men.
At times this book may not read like a typical Christian tome. I won’t offer many suggestions such as “we need to pray more” or “we need to show men God’s love.” Nor will you find a Scripture reference on every page. Prayer and Scripture are vitally important, but in this book I focus on practical barriers to male participation, because so little has been written about them.
Nor is this another book about how men ought to be. It’s designed to give you insight into men’s hearts, to illuminate the chasm between men’s needs and the ministry of the local church. So let’s make a deal: I’ll give you the straight story on men, and as you read, you resist the urge to utter the phrase, “Well, men should just . . .” This is not a book about what men should be. If we can’t start with men as they are, we’ll never reach them.
You might be interested to know I pitched this book to a number of publishers who rejected it. One publisher thought Christian women couldn’t handle my message because it wasn’t “sweet enough” for them. Women, what would you rather have—a book that tickles your ears or a book that tells you how men really feel? I think you’re tough enough to handle the truth about men, even if the message isn’t sugarcoated. This is a prophetic message and may at times sound negative. Please don’t take it that way. I’m confident the church will get back on course, and you will play an important role in this turnaround story.
Here’s how I see it: imagine a ship leaving England for New York. If that ship is just a couple of degrees off course for the entire journey, it will land in Boston instead of the Big Apple. This is where most churches are today—a couple of degrees off course. We’re doing the things Jesus told us to do. Great things are happening in many areas of the world. But we need a few gentle course corrections to bring men back. Only then will we reach the goal Christ laid out for us. The longer we wait, the more drastic the corrections will need to be.
With all this talk of changing the course of the church, you may have the impression that this book is for pastors and church leaders. Not true. It is really a book for laywomen. I truly believe women must play a key role if men are to return. Because women dominate in attendance, leadership, and volunteerism, they hold great sway in the local church (even if they don’t realize it). Women must humble themselves, pray, and allow the men of the church to lead the body toward an adventure. A frightening adventure. A “we’ve never done it that way” adventure.
Women, will you allow yourselves to be swept into this adventure, or will you stick with the safe, predictable, tried, and true? Will you allow men to take risks, dream big, and push the envelope within your local church? God made men for adventure, achievement, and challenge, and if they can’t find those things in church, they’re going to find them somewhere else. But if you allow your church to embark on a great adventure, the men will return. Slowly but surely, they will return.
Reprinted by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN., from the book entitled Why Men Hate Going to Churchcopyright © 2005 by David Murrow. All rights reserved.
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