Why men hate going to church

I found this interview at crossmatch.com with David Murrow author of the book Why Men Hate Going to Church. I was fascinated, partly because I (as a motorbike riding not very typical female) related quite well to a lot of the “male” characteristics he lists but also his comment on worship music:

“Tom is less than thrilled with today’s church music – it’s often too high for him to sing. Reformation hymns spoke of battle, blood and victory. But modern praise songs invite the singer to imagine Jesus as his lover. Verses repeat over and over and over and over and over.”

Do comment below and let us know what you think. Here’s the interview:

Q: Your book highlights that far more women than men attend church. Could you give us some statistics from around the world on this?
DM: Most of my statistics come from the US, since the American church is the most studied on earth. Here in the States the typical church draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female. About a quarter of our married women attend church without their husbands on a typical weekend (the reverse is rare).

Worldwide, the results are much the same. Churches in Asia and the Middle East draw many more women than men. So it is in Africa. Russian churches attract many aging babushkas, but few young men. The fast-growing Pentecostal congregations of Latin America are led by men but filled with women. I’ve been told the gender gap is present in the UK as well.

Look beyond Sunday morning and the gap widens: 70 to 80% of adult participants in midweek activities, small groups and Bible studies are women. Youth groups consistently draw more young women than men. Nearly all the church employees are female. In 2005, for the first time in history, the Anglican Church will ordain more women than men. By the year 2050, I predict the priesthood will be 90% female.

Q: Does the gender gap vary across denominations?
DM: There’s some evidence to suggest that Greek and Eastern Orthodox churches draw as many men as women. However, there is no stripe of Catholic or Protestant church that comes close to gender balance.

Look to other religions and you’ll find men. Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism are roughly 50-50. Of course, Islam has no problem attracting young men. Among world religions, only Christianity has a consistent, nagging gender gap.

Q: Why is it that men are missing from the church compared to women?
DM: Let’s say Tom and Tina are churchgoers. Both are Christians. Both love Jesus. But from the moment he arrives at church, Tom is at a disadvantage, because the church “system” is stacked against him. So even a man like Tom, a genuine follower of Christ, may become discouraged in church. Here’s why:

Church is a highly verbal environment. Studies have shown that the verbal regions of Tom�s brain are smaller than the corresponding regions in Tina’s. Tom has a hard time remaining alert through a long sermon. Tom must also read the words of hymns, choruses, prayers and Scripture. Adult Sunday school classes also reward verbal expression. After church there’s another tongue test: chit-chat. Tina easily outperforms Tom in verbal expression and comprehension, thanks to her female brain.

We also reward churchgoers for empathy, sensitivity and nurturing. Churchgoers are also supposed to be highly relational. Again, Tina seems to have the advantage.

Most volunteer opportunities in the local church involve traditionally feminine roles: childcare, teaching, singing, cooking and gathering. Tina’s experience in these areas makes her a very valuable volunteer. On the other hand, Tom may feel ill qualified or even emasculated by these roles. (Of course, some men are highly verbal, empathetic, sensitive and relational. We call these men pastors and priests.)

Then there are the little clues we send. We often decorate our churches like a Victorian parlour with lace doilies, quilted banners, boxes of tissue and fresh flowers. We speak of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, thereby transforming the gospel into every woman’s fantasy: a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally.

Tom is less than thrilled with today’s church music – it’s often too high for him to sing. Reformation hymns spoke of battle, blood and victory. But modern praise songs invite the singer to imagine Jesus as his lover. Verses repeat over and over and over and over and over.

Tom and Tina attend a Spirit-filled church, which encourages its members to surrender control of their bodies and mouths to the Holy Spirit. Weeping is highly regarded. Tom doesn’t do public emotion as easily as Tina does. Corny, sentimental, or tear-jerking moments often leave Tom cold. Tom doesn’t enjoy hugging or holding hands with men he barely knows.

Is Tom an insensitive brute? No, he’s just a normal man. He loves the Lord. He prays regularly. But he’s still a man. For him to fit in at church would require more than a conversion experience, he’d need a personality transplant.

I could go on. I offer more than 100 pages of insights in my book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. But it all adds up to this: today’s church is a perfect environment for soft-hearted, receptive, relational, and highly verbal people to meet Jesus. Women are more likely than men to possess these personality traits. So most women do church better than most men do. Indeed, the men who really excel in the church environment are those who are in touch with their feminine side. But your garden-variety male will feel more comfortable prowling a football pitch than sitting in a pew.

Q: What is it about men that the church has failed to understand or speak to?
DM: We’re not speaking men’s language. Men are all about goals, adventure, risk, challenge, etc. Think about your last trip to church? How risky was it? Was it truly challenging? And we tend to challenge men in just two areas: reading and relationships.

Advertisers know how to speak to men’s hearts. They spend millions of pounds to influence male behaviour. Let’s benefit from their research. Tune in a football game on the telly. Watch the commercials. Look at the images and humour they use. Not particularly nurturing, gentle or sensitive, are they? How about the video games boys play? Do people talk about their problems in video games?

My wife and I enjoy renting a DVD on the weekends. I usually choose “action” films. They feature a hero who saves the world against impossible odds. My wife chooses “romantic comedies”, which feature a heroine who finds a happy relationship with a wonderful man. Now, connect the dots: today’s gospel is all about finding a happy relationship with a wonderful man. Can you see why so many blokes are jumping off the gospel train?

Q: How do you think the churches need to change in order to attract men?
DM: Men have to know, from the moment they walk into a church, that this is something for them, not just for grandma. Traditional British congregations have earned a reputation as a place for “little old ladies of both sexes”.

I encourage you to re-examine everything about your Sunday morning experience through the eyes of a 21-year-old construction worker. Examine the decor, the imagery you deploy, the lyrics of the songs. Then have the courage to make some changes.

Let me also encourage you to re-invent your Sunday school. Anywhere from 70 to 90% of boys who are raised in church abandon it by the time they’re 20 years old. Its not hard to see why: in Sunday school the girls usually win and the boys usually lose.

What do I mean? Look at the behaviour we value in Sunday school: sit still, read, verbalise, memorise, find Bible passages, empathise, be relational. If those are the goals we’re pushing students toward, the girls will win every time, simply because they’re better at them. By the time a boy reaches sixth grade, he’s got this message: you can’t cut it at church. You’re a loser. The girls are better than you. Its no wonder they’d rather stay home.

Q: What do you see as the greatest needs men have?
DM: Men don’t follow ideas, religions or philosophies. They follow men. Every man is looking for another man to follow, one he can look up to, love and respect. Ask a man about the person he most admires and respects, and he will always mention a man (the only exception is mum). Always. Ask a Christian man, “Who led you to the Lord?” It’s usually a man.

Unfortunately, our church system makes it hard to create man-on-man discipleship opportunities for men. We tend to put men in classroom situations, where learning is the goal. Men don’t bond over shared ideas; men bond over shared experiences.

Men also want to be a part of a team. You see this in movies men love: a band of brothers comes together to save the world, to pull off the big caper, to win the championship. Christ assembled his team of men before he began his ministry. He showed us that little teams of men are the basic unit of the church!

We’ve gotten away from the structure Christ gave us. We put people in classes, not teams. This is why men are not coming to maturity: they have no male leader and no team around them. Isolated men fall off the train.

Is there hope? Yes! Jesus knew how to attract regular blokes. The key to reaching them is hidden in plain view, in the pages of Scripture. Now is the time for God’s people to humble themselves, pray, and follow his example once again, by intentionally forming small teams of men. Make it your top priority. Your congregation and your community will never be the same again.