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Is the Church Driving Men Away?

It happens every time.

A link to my article on why men hate going to church gets reposted to a social media outlet. And the knives come out in the comments.

Some of the barbs are directed at David Murrow, who wrote the bestselling book Why Men Hate Going to Church, from which I drew content for the article. Here are some examples:

  • It’s a “shallow assessment” with “many stereotypes and fallacies.”
  • “This is just divisive.”
  • “He has no idea what a Spirit-filled church is. Run from this.”

Many readers, responding from their own experience, deny that any problem exists:

  • “I’m a man, and I love going to church!”
  • “We have plenty of men in our church, and they all love going there.”
  • “This absolutely does not even come close to the truth.”

So, are American churches really drawing more women than men? Do a significant number of committed Christian men hate – or, at least, strongly dislike – going to church? If so, why?

A Real Issue, Especially in Smaller Churches

An examination of statistics reveals that Christianity is the only major world religion with a large gender disparity. The typical church in North America draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female.

“Count noses at church next Sunday,” Murrow says. “If your congregation is typical, the majority of those noses will have lipstick underneath.”

U.S. churches have attracted more women than men since colonial times. The only exception was during a brief period after World War II, when men flocked to churches. That period also was the high-water mark for total church attendance. Today, women consistently express a much stronger desire to attend church and demonstrate that desire with higher attendance rates.

While different surveys yield slightly different results and attendance patterns vary across denominations, almost every church attracts more women than men. The disparity is most pronounced in historically black Protestant churches, where women account for 70-75 percent of Sunday morning attendees. Declining mainline Protestant churches are around 65 percent female. The disparity is less noticeable in evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches, but women still outnumber men in most.

Most U.S. churches are relatively small, with fewer than 100 attendees on Sunday morning. A typical small church needs volunteers to work with children and youth, to perform music, to care and cook for the sick, and prepare meals for church social events. “Which gender is usually more comfortable in these roles?” Murrow asks.

Like a glove that gradually conforms to the hand of its wearer, churches tend to reflect the tastes and sensibilities of their most valuable members: empty-nester women, who have the time, talents, and resources to keep the church running. The congregation eventually becomes what Murrow calls a “Grandma-cracy” – led by women in their 60s and 70s. A church of, by, and for grandmothers has a very difficult time attracting men, especially young men.

No Immunity, Even in Megachurches

Gender gaps are smallest in the fast-growing megachurch segment. “Megachurches are very intentional about reaching and deploying men,” Murrow says. “They got rid of all the grandma things: quilts on the walls, lace doilies on the communion table, construction-paper bulletin boards in the children’s area. Men walk in and think, ‘OK, maybe this is a place for me – not just for my wife and kids.’”

But men can fall through the cracks at megachurches, too. Especially young men.

Adults with school-aged children often attend megachurches because there are lots of other children there. “Many churches are leaving behind the old sit-in-chairs-and-behave model of Sunday school, in favor of something more kinetic and visually engaging,” notes Murrow. “That’s great for boys.”

As boys become teens and switch from children’s ministry to youth group, however, they often lose their enthusiasm. “Many youth groups are abandoning ‘fun’ in favor of lengthy singing and long preaching,” says Murrow. “I’m all for serious discipleship, but teen boys don’t thrive by staying motionless in a dark room for an hour.”

Nor do men. Youth group meetings mirror typical Sunday morning worship services, which consist of four or five lengthy worship songs, including what many men call “love songs to Jesus,” an offering, and a sermon of 30 or 60 minutes that includes few or no visual elements. Rather than feeling like active participants in worship, many men feel like spectators.

And spectating from home is easier than driving to a church building.

A recent Gallup survey revealed that, when pandemic restrictions hit American churches, men’s participation in church dropped more than women’s. While attendance by women has since recovered completely, men's attendance remains significantly lower than it was pre-pandemic.

Does the Church Need Men?

When an article asserts that fewer men than women attend church, some readers vilify the men who don’t attend:

  • “Men who hate or refuse going to church need to read their Bible.”
  • “The only men who hate going to church are those who aren't Christians.”
  • “Sports keeps them home because sports is their idol.”

The implication is that the missing men really aren’t missed very much. “Men can sense they are not needed in church,” says Murrow. “A typical congregation can function quite well without the men, but if the women disappeared the ministry machine would grind to a halt. Pastors know this, so they work very hard to keep their adult women happy, giving, and volunteering.”

But men are needed. Desperately. “Many studies have shown that a lack of male participation leads to church decline,” Murrow says. “Meanwhile, fast-growing churches always have enthusiastic men who bring their families. Children with devout fathers are more likely to stick with church as adults.”

Young men are the key to church growth. “When your church attracts young men, the young women aren’t far behind,” Murrow continues. “Jesus started the church with 12 young men. The original church growth strategy still works today.”

But attracting and retaining young men is tough. According to research by Man in the Mirror, the rate at which young men are becoming dechurched – going from regular to rare attendance – is increasing. Seven of 10 men ages 27-45 report that their religious peak was 10 or more years ago. For many Christian men, a transformative religious experience has become a distant memory.

Calling the Church to Men

Murrow wrote his book not to call men back to the church but to call the church back to men. He started an organization, Church for Men, for the same reason: to help churches become more welcoming to men and boys.

Murrow recommends that every congregation put together an action plan. “Look at everything your church does through the eyes of a young, unchurched man,” he says. “Ask yourself: Would this make sense to him? If not, then it might be time for a change.”

Churches that have followed Murrow’s advice often experience growth. “I worked with a large church in Arizona that made my book mandatory reading,” he recalls. “They’ve expanded to 12 campuses in recent years. Their biggest community outreach is sports leagues. Men flock to this church because they know they are wanted and needed.”

Some pastors worry that, if they target men, then women will feel left out. “Not likely,” Murrow says. “A lot of women I talk to are tired of being the de-facto spiritual leaders in their homes. Women love worshipping in a church with enthusiastic men. Women want to see their sons, boyfriends, and husbands excited about following Jesus.”

To help pastors, Murrow has launched a new ministry called The Online Preaching Coach. He’s teaching pastors how to make their sermons more watchable, memorable, and shareable online. “A 40-minute monologue from a talking head isn’t very engaging to young men who’ve grown up on TikTok,” Murrow says. “There are many ways we can make our sermons more engaging without compromising our message.”

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/SbytovaMN


Chris Bolinger is the author of three men’s devotionals – 52 Weeks of Strength for MenDaily Strength for Men, and Fuerzas para Cada Día para el Hombre – and the co-host of the Empowered Manhood podcast. He splits his time between northeast Ohio and southwest Florida. Against the advice of medical professionals, he remains a die-hard fan of Cleveland pro sports teams. Find him at mensdevotionals.com

 

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