I’ve been reading a book Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow and for me it really hit home. Here is a summary of some of the key points I found helpful in the book and I hope you will consider them as you think about men’s programs in your church and how men react to church in general. Murrow also has a website churchformen.com and there are sections specifically for churches which may be of interest to you.
It seems that men have always been under-represented in the church (except in the clergy). On any given Sunday the audience in most churches is about 60 percent female (up from 53% in the 50’s). Nationally, that’s well over 13 million men AWOL from church. But there are other troubling statistics as well. About 25% of married women worship without their husbands. Less than 10 percent of churches are able to maintain a thriving men’s ministry. About 90 percent of the boys raised in church abandon it during their teens and 20s never to return. In a Men in Balance survey (http://meninbalance.org) of churchgoing males, only 56% say their family sees them as a strong spiritual leader.
On the positive side, when a mother attends church, the chances of the rest of the family attending are about 17%. When the father attends, the chance that the entire family will attend jumps to 93%. There’s good reason to get men more involved in the church.
David Murrow suggests a number of reasons why men do not attend church in larger numbers. While I am aware that many of the reasons men give for not attending church seem flimsy, there are a lot of things which we can do in churches to make them more “male friendly.”
Listed below are some of the complaints men have with church and suggestions made in the book. Please look them over and see if they merit further dialogue or action. Feel free to forward this memo to staff, church leaders, and other pastors if you feel so led.
Problem: Men like challenge and risk; church is geared toward safety, security and protection.
Suggestion: Find ways to challenge men from the pulpit and in church programs. Consider in every sermon having some concrete challenge which men can relate to (e.g. “During this coming week, make a mental note of how many people you see offering to better understand each other as opposed to debating each other.” or “Plan to spend at least 2 nights this week reading the gospel—preferably in more than one version.”). Men need concrete specific challenges–and even better, ones at which they can succeed.
Problem: The church looks and acts too feminine.
Suggestion: Look over the entire decor of the church–especially the sanctuary. All the neutral colors, the flowers, and the soft lighting can come off as “feminine” and not very hospitable to men. Not that you can redecorate the sanctuary, but consider some rugged appointments which are more masculine. Look at the hymns that are sung–if they talk about holding His hand or looking into His face, they do not typically represent male values. Also hymns that are sung in keys that are difficult for men are not welcome. Where appropriate, include some songs with emphasis on strength and mission. Make it clear that casual dress is welcome.
Problem: Most of the opportunities for involvement in the church seemed geared toward women.
Suggestion: Take a close look at the jobs for laypeople in your church and inventory those that are geared toward men. Many men complain that other than ushering and serving as parking attendants or attending Finance meetings, there are no real jobs in the church geared toward things men enjoy doing. Yes they can teach Sunday school and lead Bible study, but many men do not feel comfortable doing that. Unless you are building a Habitat house or painting the parsonage, men struggle to find their niche in church. Consider establishing a committee to take a hard look at opportunities for involvement and how they might be more male friendly.
Problem: Most small groups require a higher interpersonal engagement level than many men are comfortable with.
Suggestion: Suggest that church leaders not use as a facilitation technique having everyone read aloud or “share” their feelings about the subject. Reading aloud or in unison, sharing feelings, praying aloud–these may not be things that men feel comfortable doing (at least they feel upstaged by their more verbal female counterparts). Create an environment where men can participate at the level they are comfortable with–maybe sitting attentively but silent. Build in some humor—even goofy humor is OK. Keep in mind that men are probably not coming to the meeting to build relationships. Where appropriate, consider having meetings out of doors.
Problem: Many things in the church are done in an amateurish fashion and are not professional.
Suggestion: Many men have positions of considerable responsibility in business and take a lot of pride in a professional job. They may go to great lengths to make sure the product is properly presented because they know it has an impact on sales or productivity or image. At least make the effort to have error free communication pieces, glitch-free presentations and measurable goals and objectives for key programs. Keeping a program because it would hurt someone’s feelings to drop it seems a sham to men (although a lot can be said for the need for more empathy from men) but keep in mind that in their work environment, productivity and cost effectiveness are key measurables they deal with on a daily basis. Insist that committees reach conclusions, develop recommendations—not just keep meeting. Action oriented agendas are important. Develop leaders within the church who model good practices (and train your staff as well).
Problem: Jesus is too often presented with emphasis on his meekness and gentleness.
Suggestion: In sermons and Bible studies, balance the image of Jesus’ gentle nature with his powerful side. Overturning tables in a temple and challenging authority is not exactly a milquetoast image; allow the more masculine traits of Jesus to be presented and applauded as well. Speaking of Jesus as a friend or guide is fine; men might prefer to hear him described as a warrior, a commander, a partner or brother. Similarly, sermon or Bible study anecdotes demonstrating achievement, strength, assertiveness, challenges or accomplishment are far more likely to capture men’s attention than stories with a sweet moral lesson.
Problem: Some men see the sermon as too complicated, too long and boring and not connected to their real life.
Suggestion: Consider breaking the sermon in distinct modules of 8 to 10 minutes and include visuals or props to help make a point. It’s not necessarily that men have shorter attention spans, but they do expect succinctness and getting to the bottom line pretty quickly. (This is good advice for all presenters not just those presenting to men.) Use business or sports examples occasionally.
There are other ideas for leaders (including a downloadable action plan) on the website at http://www.churchformen.com/leaders.php
and resources for men as well http://www.churchformen.com/formen.php
and for women http://www.churchformen.com/forwomen.php
Men in Balance™ is also starting a blog topic on this issue and a survey to garner men’s opinions on this issue. Please go to the blog and weigh in http://balanceforum.blogspot.com/
This can be a learning experience for all of us and a chance to bring more men into the church.
Your feedback, questions, comments are welcome and solicited!
Jerry Hancock, Executive Director
Men in Balance™