Ever wondered why it’s so hard to get men involved at church? Why less than 40% of the adults in your worship services are male? Why more than a fifth of married women in your congregation sit alone every Sunday? Why the really committed ones have names like Sarah, Andrea, Victoria, and Lauren?
I studied this phenomenon for three years. What I learned drove me to write a book: Why Men Hate Going to Church. Be warned: What I found may shock you.
Most people assume that men are just less religious than women, but this is untrue. Other religions have little trouble attracting males. Jesus was a magnet to men. But today, few men are living for Christ, even as many are dying for Allah. Why do rival faiths inspire male allegiance, while ours breeds male indifference?
A business guru once said, "Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting." Christianity’s primary delivery system, the local church, is perfectly designed to reach women and older folks. That’s why our pews are filled with them. But this church system fails to stir men’s hearts, so men (especially masculine ones) stay away.
What do I mean? Most churches offer a safe, nurturing community, an oasis of stability and predictability. Studies show that women and seniors are the groups most likely to seek these things. Our comforting congregations provide women with what they long for, so naturally they show up in large numbers.
On the other hand, men and young adults are drawn to risk, challenge, and daring. While our official mission is one of adventure, the actual mission of most congregations is making people feel comfortable and safe – especially longtime members (Pastors, can I have an amen?) Church insiders routinely block anything challenging or innovative because it might make people feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This caution keeps the peace in the short term, but it drives men and young adults away over the long term.
Then there’s our reputation as a place for little old ladies of both sexes. Many guys feel church is a "women’s thing." Most men are introduced to Christianity by women – nuns, nursery workers, Sunday school teachers, and mom. Boys meet a feminized Jesus – a tender, sweet man in a shining white dress. Most volunteer opportunities in church involve traditionally female roles: singing, sewing, cooking, caring for children, teaching, planning social gatherings, etc. There’s nothing for a guy to do – unless he has a passion for attending meetings or passing out bulletins.
Since guys are so useless in church, it begs the question: Do we even need them? Yes! A lack of male participation is one of the surest predictors of church decline. The denominations with the biggest gender gaps are also those that have been losing members and shutting churches. On the other hand, churches with robust male participation are generally growing.
Bottom line: if you want a healthy church for the long term, attract men. This was Jesus’ strategy. It still works today. In my book, I offer more than 60 pages of proven principles for creating a man-friendly church.
Here are seven of them:
Principle one: Cultivate a healthy masculine spirit in your church. A man must sense, from the moment he walks in, that church is not just for Grandma, it’s something for him. It can’t feel like a ladies’ club. The quilted banners, fresh flowers, and boxes of Kleenex in our sanctuaries make a statement. So do practices such as holding hands with your neighbor, "prayer and share" times, or highly emotional displays. Our goal is not to get men to cry; it’s to get them walking with God, however that may look.
Principle two: Make men feel needed and wanted. Encourage men to use their gifts, even if they don’t fit traditional models of Christian service. Encourage them to serve the poor by working on cars or fixing up houses. Let men plan adventures and do "guy things" together.
Principle three: Present Christ’s masculine side. Pastors often focus on Jesus’ tenderness and empathy. This is a good thing, but presenting soft Jesus week after week runs the risk of turning men off. What man wants to follow Mr. Rogers? Even more bewildering are today’s praise songs – many of which feature lovey-dovey lyrics set to a romantic tune. Guys may feel unnatural singing romantic words to another man. Men want a leader, not a love object.
Principle four: Avoid feminine terminology. Christian men use terms such as precious, share, and relationship — words you’d never hear on the lips of a typical man. We talk a lot about the saved and the lost; men don’t want to be either. And here’s a term that puzzles a lot of guys: a personal relationship with Jesus. Christ’s bold, masculine command, "Follow Me!" is now, "Have a relationship with Me." We’ve recast Jesus’ offer in feminine terms.
Principle five: Preach shorter sermons.
I know pastors will hate this principle, but men say that "long, boring sermons" are the #1 reason they avoid church. Thanks to TV, today’s men have an attention span of six to eight minutes (the length between commercials). Why not use this to your advantage? Break your sermon into six- to eight-minute segments with a song, drama, video clip, or object lesson in between. Remember, Jesus’ most beloved lessons were his parables, none of which takes more than two minutes to teach. His parables survive today because men remembered them.
Principle six: Become students of men.
Although most pastors are male, few truly understand men. Women keep the ministry machine going, so pastors focus on keeping females happy and volunteering. This must change. I challenge every pastor in America to study men. A good place to start: read John Eldredge’s bestseller, Wild at Heart.
Principle seven: Create a culture of person-to-person challenge.
In many a church, the pastor challenges from the pulpit, but the people don’t challenge each other. Person-to-person discipleship, in small teams, is the only way to bring men to maturity in Christ. Where do you start? Choose a handful of men and personally disciple them, with the understanding that each man will recruit his own small group after one year. Continue to disciple these men as they become disciplers of others. This is the model Jesus left us, and it
is awakening men in churches across the nation.
Dream for a moment. Imagine your church filled with men who are coming alive in Christ. Men there not just to please their wives, fulfill religious tradition, or go on a power trip, but men laying their lives down for God. Imagine what your congregation could accomplish for the kingdom!
The church was like this once; it can be so again. If this article has stirred something in your heart, please join me in calling our churches back to men. For more information, visit my website, www.churchformen.com.
David Murrow is director of Church for Men, an organization dedicated to restoring a healthy, life-giving, masculine spirit in the local church. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife and three children. His book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, will be in bookstores March 24 or can be pre-ordered online.
©Copyright 2005. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Show Me How Video’s:
"facts are clear: churches
are slowly losing their men and
boys. What was once a trickle
is becoming a flood."
"A lack of male participation is
not only heartbreaking, it’s
strongly associated with
overall church decline."
"The idea behind Go for the
Guys Sunday is to attract a
wider variety of men to church.
Go for the Guys Sunday helps
your congregation broaden its
outreach to the not-soreligious
guys Jesus attracted."
Why do we need a special Sunday targeted at men and boys? Isn’t the church already male dominated? Although most of the senior pastors in America are men, the pews are dominated by women.
Consider the facts:
• The average US worship service draws an adult crowd that’s 61 percent female and 39 percent male. (This compares to 53-47 percent in 1952)
• About 90 percent of the boys who are raised in church abandon it during their teens and twenties.
Most never return.
• This Sunday in America, six million married
women will worship without their husbands.
That’s one out of five.
• Most churchgoing guys are “lifers” who grew up in church. Men are the hardest group to reach.
• Less than 10 percent of churches can maintain a thriving men’s ministry.