When I was a new Christian, I noticed something off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. There was something going on and I knew it had something to with men. First of all, I noticed the gender gap.
But there was other things too.
The way the Bible was presented in any church I’ve been to since I was a child just didn’t… eh. As an adult I’ve noticed that often only one side of the Bible is presented… the nice side.
I noticed that in every church I went to there was lots of men standing around looking bored, with their hands in their pockets, while the women had their arms outstretched and their eyes brimming with tears, every Sunday in every church I went to.
As a uni student, combing the internet for articles on how to pull an all nighter and get assignments finished off at the last-minute, I stumbled across the most famous and influential mens interest blog on the internet today – The Art of Manliness. Then it hit me.
The Christian church, for as long as I could remember, was utterly hostile to men (you’re already offended… aren’t you?).
Now when I started this blog, it was not an apologetics blog. Originally it was about Christianity and manhood.
Almost from the moment I switched to writing about apologetics, things have felt different. I’ve enjoyed the posts I’ve been writing. Writing is easier, comes more naturally, and my blog is growing.
This weeks blog post is all about Murrow’s book: Why Men Hate Going to Church. It’s the last blog post I will write that is explicitly and officially about Christianity and Men.
This post is my chance to pay my respects to the original theme of this blog and give myself some closure now that we’re moving forward. I learned a ton about blogging over the last two years and a big part of my newfound momentum is thanks to what I learned while writing about manhood.
Finally, I’m writing this post because the topic of men and the church has more to do with apologetics than you might think, and I’m going to talk about that too.
So please enjoy this part book review, part closing ceremony and part apologetics post.
Fact: There is a man shortage in church
No denying it. This is probably the least controversial thing Murrow’s book has to say. Go to church… you know it’s true, I know it’s true. Here’s Murrow’s opener:
More than three thousand Presbyterian women had just wrapped up their gathering in Louisville… I entered the room and did a double take. It was tiny, with seating for fewer than one hundred. I checked the sign on the door: “2007 Presbyterian Men’s Churchwide Gathering.” I was in the right place.
Presbyterian women: 3,000+.
Presbyterian men: 88.
On average churches the world over are predominantly female. In the West the ratio is about 2 women for every man. In some cases women make up to 70% of the congregation. Overseas some churches report a gender gap of almost 10 to 1!!
There has been a gender gap in the church going as far back as almost the 14th century. About the time the Crusades ended, which I think is perhaps not a coincidence.
The gap has opened and closed over the years, but never more frequently, or more dramatically than the 20th Century. Increases in male attendance have always been temporary and short-lived.
Fact: Most men in the United States still self identify as Christian.
Christianity is definitely still the dominant religion, and yet less than 1 in 6 men attend church on Sunday. Of the men that do attend, many of them are also not engaged. Many men are there for the family, they graciously acknowledge its importance in their lives and, like Brussel sprouts, just hold their nose and swallow. For most men, church is a wire brush for their soul.
Consider this. On average women are more likely to:
- be involved in discipleship
- participate in Sunday School
- hold a leadership position
- participate in a small group
- read the Bible
- attend church
- share their faith
- donate to a church
Here’s the clincher… Now, just appreciate the seriousness of the next point, because at the end of the day, this is the only thing that really matters:
About 46% of women in the US have beliefs which classify them as saved, according to the Bible.
Men however, it is only 36%. That’s a difference of over 10 Million in the US alone…!
Let that sink in.
There are currently millions more women in the US who will receive eternal life right now today, than men in the US. So not only is there a gender gap in church, but there will be a gender gap in heaven if something doesn’t change.
At the time of publishing, the gap was widening. This is bad news for the church, for men, and for women.
Men who go to church report being happier. They’re healthier, they have better marriages, better relationships with their children (and vice versa), and they’re less likely to commit suicide… and on and on and on go the benefits church attendance has for a man, and his family, and society.
Again, the statistics don’t lie. According to Murrow, once a church starts losing men, it starts losing everyone. Once you hit a 70/30 difference your church is toast. Men draw a certain masculine energy to the church which brings growth.
The fact is that Christianity has for centuries been increasingly pushed towards feminine values, and it’s pushing men out of the church.
Sound ridiculous? Yeah I know.
God is love right? That’s not feminine, that’s just biblical. Jesus was loving, tolerant, compassionate, gracious and soft-spoken right?
I agree, except that… Jesus was also very often aggressive, intolerant, dismissive, abrupt and extremely out-spoken!
Do I really have to quote scripture? You can probably already guess the ones I’m thinking of can’t you?
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
Matthew 23:33 – via Bible Gateway
And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
John 2:15 – via Bible Gateway
Most men say the real reason they don’t go is because of … insert lame excuse … (hypocrisy, boredom, ‘not for me’, etc.) but most of these reason’s don’t explain the gender gap, because they’re just as true for women as men. There is something deeper, something specific that puts men off.
You see… It’s been this way for so long now that it’s almost weird to think of it any other way. A lot of what Murrow writes in his book will even sound quite shocking to some people, even unchristian. So deeply entrenched is the feminization of Christianity that it’s almost inconceivable to think that it could be different (or should be).
There is almost unanimous agreement that ‘true christianity’ is a nurturing, loving, compassionate faith (it certainly sounds true doesn’t it?)
Note: Yes of course, I agree that is all biblical. It is! But, as Murrow explains, it’s also only half of the truth. This book explains that there are two Jesuses, the lamb of God, and the lion of Judah. The lion of Judah has been taking a backseat for the last century or so, in favour of the lamb. The problem is it’s the lion of Judah that men respond to more readily. The lion of Judah is the conquering King, the lamb of God is the soft spoken, compassionate Jesus who is delicate and loves children. The lamb of God nurtures the soul, the lion of Judah convicts, rebukes and turns tables (literally).
The first two-thirds of Murrow’s book, digs deep into this conundrum, and explains in an almost common sense way why this has all happened. The last section of the book focuses on what churches can be doing to help resurrect the masculine spirit of Christianity, and call men back to the church.
There are lots of reasons why
1. The Feminization of Christianity
Church theology, culture, attendance, books, music, teaching, structure, and just about everything you can think of is unambiguously feminine, or designed to target women. This is true in all denominations, but arguably for different reasons.
Go to your local Christian store and look at the major sections, how much room is dedicated to explicitly ‘male targeted’ material? A shelf, maybe two if it’s a big store.
What about the decor? The knick knacks for sale in Christian book stores are a big giveaway. Endless shelves and spinning towers with flowery bookmarks with Psalms and pictures of doves. Little Jewellery boxes with footprints in the sand carved into the lid. Feminine coloured mugs and key rings and picture frames.
Murrow explains this in a way that’s almost self-evident.
During the Victorian era especially, as the industrial revolution kicked off, most men went off to work laborious, 7 day per week jobs in mines and factories etc. This left the women in church, all alone.
Long story short, it quickly became apparent to anyone teaching Christianity, or anyone who was trying to make money out of Christianity, who their new target audience was.
Churches adorned themselves with feminine decor, flowers, handmade tapestries, the works. Christian authors began gearing their material to target the desperate Victorian housewives. Pastors began softening up the edges of their sermons, emphasising God’s love and Jesus compassion and love for the church.
It was during this time that children’s care groups were basically invented.
Over time this snowballed, working to keep men at a distance, in turn increasing the attendance of women, and the targeting of women in church culture, teaching and commercial enterprise.
One of the reasons no one has caught onto this problem, is because it doesn’t look like there’s a problem. Most Christian pastors, clergymen, bishops, priests etc. are all men. And yet overwhelmingly most members, volunteers and regular attendee’s are women… and these women have power; power to keep things the way they like it… feminine.
What about cars, evolution, money, sex and video games? Aren’t men just apathetic by nature? Murrow says sure, but that’s not the only explanation. The Bible is not a feminine book. It is, if anything, complementarian, patriarchal, offensive and challenging. The world has just as much to offer women, as it does men.
There are also a lot of reasons common to most churches. There are many things which are obvious, like the homemade patchwork decor, extended prayer and share times, lengthy repetitive music which is often grossly sentimental, just to name a few.
But there are more subtle reasons too.
- Churches value stability and security, as opposed to risk and innovation (the riskiest, most innovative churches are the biggest mega-churches in America which is no coincidence)
- Decisions are made the feminine way – slowly, diplomatically and behind closed doors
- Conflicts are handled the feminine way – again behind closed doors, ‘with the eyes’, under the surface
- The right choice is always the soft one – between turn the cheek vs defend the weak… in the modern church the cheek always wins
Church is a woman’s forte. Almost every aspect of Christian ministry is simply better designed to meet womens natural talents. Men are forced into volunteer positions that they find awkward, difficult or just plain uncomfortable.
Church culture has a very feminine bent to it too. Bible studies involve a lot of reading, sitting still, asking personal/vague/open/discussion style questions that are either difficult for men to answer, or too indirect for them to illicit any interest or engagement.
It’s not just church but youth ministry too that’s better suited for girls than for boys. Many youth programs today are for youngsters who can sit still, read well and clearly, listen, enjoy music and dancing to songs with lots of actions (like making a love heart in the air with your fingers… yikes). When boys are at their most energetic age, and most in need of enormous amounts of exercise, competition and tactile stimulation, youth programs require them sit and be quiet.
Church language is ridiculously feminine. In almost every way, the kind of language used in church is anti-man. From prayer language, to imagery. Even when language that might be more masculine is used it is often used vaguely or is conjoined with something feminine so it loses its masculine appeal. For example describing intimacy with God as ‘powerful’, doesn’t make it any less feminine.
But here’s the biggest culprit: relationship.
Murrow says again:
“While a number of Bible passages imply a relationship between God and man, the term “personal relationship with Jesus” never appears in the Scriptures. Nor are individuals commanded to “enter into a relationship with God.” Yet, despite its extrabiblical roots, personal relationship with Jesus Christ has become the number one term evangelicals use to describe the Christian walk. Why? Because it frames the gospel in terms of a woman’s deepest desire—a personal relationship with a man who loves her unconditionally.”
I take special note of that last bit where Murrow says this is how we ‘frame the gospel’. Because really that’s what we’re doing. It’s not the gospel message itself that is feminine and the feminine language itself is not unbiblical. It’s just the kind of wrapping paper that we’ve been taught for over a century to use to describe the Christian faith.
The gospel itself, ‘believe in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved’ is gender neutral.
I’ll tell you what is biblical, is that as Christians we are commanded to: follow Christ, and pursue righteousness… even to the point of trial and persecution.
Now that is the kind of faith a man can sink his teeth into.
2. Men are men
Church today has a reputation for femininity, and this is one of the biggest barriers. If you don’t think this is true, then you probably don’t know many non-christian dudes.
Many men would not talk to their mates about going to church on Sunday in the same way they would talk about fishing, or golf, because they don’t want to be labeled a sissy (or ignorant, which is also important for men).
A man can spend a lifetime earning his masculinity, and lose it in a moment. There are many things men can do that invalidate their man card, but nothing gets you kicked out of the club faster than doing something girly.
For many men, going to church is exactly one of those things.
You can scoff at this if you like. You can blame ‘toxic masculinity’ or whatever, and try to tell men that they should be less macho or insecure about their masculinity, but men are men whether you like it or not, and it won’t help them or the church by alienating them. More importantly, when Christianity in the Bible is a gender neutral faith, started by a man and his 12 male followers but is now attracting more women than men, at some point you have to wonder whether it’s really the men who have the problem?
The world can continue to spiral into moral and gender fluidity, but the church does not have to follow suit. It’s not just about acknowledging that men will always be men, no matter how much you tell them not to. Having manly men in the pews is a good thing for the church, and bringing men in ‘as they are’ is exactly what we want.
3. Men are not as fearless as they seem
OK, so I’m dangerously close to outright plagiarizing the book for this next bit, but this is one of the best parts of Murrow’s book.
In one chapter he outlines the 12 things men fear the most about church, most of which have some influence on their respective sense of masculinity. I won’t go through all of them, but here are some that really struck me.
“I’ll lose control”
I loved this one, because it spotlights an important concern about how modern Christianity is presented. Murrow explains it this way:
“For Sam to embrace this message, “You need to give control of your life to God and enter into a personal relationship with the One who will never leave you or forsake you.” he would have to face his deepest fear—loss of control. But for Sally, the gospel means she’ll never have to face her greatest fear—she’ll never be unloved. (emphasis added)”
“If I become a Christian I’ll go soft”
Whether or not this is true, I think anyone who is honest enough can understand why men would come to think something like this. Becoming a Christian will make many think that they need to start being ‘nicer’, stop having fun, start having tea with old Aunt Betsy once a week, etc.
“Church is tough on single guys”
OK so I only included this one to kind of make fun of it honestly. Murrow doesn’t say what his actual opinion of these guys are, he just says this is one of those problems. Murrow quotes in his book the perception for some single guys:
“going to a singles’ meeting feels like “walking into a roomful of bees with honey smeared on your face.””
Oh cry me a river mate.
You poor little honey pot would you like me to pull out the violin?
Listen up fellas… if you’re not going to church because you think there are too many single ladies and old clucks trying to get you hitched… you. are. a. loser… and you need to hand in your man card, right now.
“Christians don’t get laid”
OK that’s much better, and possibly quite valid too. I mean, fornication is a sin after all. The Bible is quite clear that any lustful, behaviour outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is sin. So there’s biblical precedent for this concern.
However, I would argue that this is not even the biggest concern keeping most men out of the church. Especially considering Murrow’s motivation, which is to get men in church who are not going, but otherwise consider themselves Christian.
Most men want to be in committed monogamous relationships, eventually, and only non-christian guys really are all that interested in having lots of empty sex with lots of women, and let’s be honest Casanova… are you actually getting laid all that much? Don’t let your lack of a sex life get in the way of eternal life big fella.
If you’re waiting for the right girl to come along guess what… the right girl? She’s in a church somewhere (not to negate my next two points or anything).
Pretty fair concern. Christianity implores us to have an intimate relationship with God. What man can honestly compete with Jesus? For many men, church is their competition. It takes their wife’s time, attention, love, effort and energy away from him. Why would he want to encourage it, or give it his support and approval?
This is actually a really serious problem, and David goes into a lot of detail about the ramifications of the almost vulgar characterisation of our Christian faith often in extremely romantic terms.
So much Christian literature and teaching frames Christianity as a love affair with God. Besides the fact that this is utterly repulsive to any self-respecting man, think about how he feels knowing that his wife is completely sold out for it and yet he is somehow expected to bend the knee to this playa?
“I’ll be held to an impossible standard”
Married Christian men are expected to be super-husbands. Kevin Leman writes,
“Not only are [Christian] men supposed to attend morning Bible studies, but they’re also supposed to get home in time for dinner, spend time alone with each child, date their wives once a week, and earn enough money so that their wives can stay home with their young children. This is a heavy load, and some Christian men start to resent it.””
As man I kind of embrace the challenge to be the best I can be and yet, even I can wholeheartedly relate to this (though I don’t resent it one little bit. I love my life so much). Modern Christianity has taken the worst aspects of feminism, and moulded and repackaged them into a traditional Christian package.
Christian men are expected be the perfect slice of everything that is good about tough men, and everything that is good about sensitive men, and none of the bad.
You cannot drink, you must bring home the bacon. You cannot be a cry baby, but you must be sensitive and aware of my needs. You mustn’t be a child, you must be the perfect father. You must be equal parts handyman, brick-layer, leader, confidant, father, loving caregiver, spiritual head. You must work hard everyday, but not be a workaholic.
You must be good with our finances, but also give exceedingly generously to the church, missions, the poor and the occasional guest speaker at church.
And what is a man’s reward… well if you’re really, really, really lucky, you’ll be blessed with a wife who isn’t a massive sexual prude.
OK, it’s starting to sound like I’m giving the christian ladies a hard time. I’m not. In many ways this gender gap is no ones fault. It’s an organic phenomenon that has simply evolved over time mostly as a result of this reinforcing loop between increased female attendance leading to increasingly female targeted material.
And I’ve only covered 6 out of the 12 fears David talks about!
So fellas please, form an orderly line.
4. What about the men in the church?
Fact: There are men who fit in quite comfortably. Some men are generally more able to sync with this nurturing faith. They tend to be more communicative, mild-mannered and relational. I’m not saying they’re effeminate, just not blokey macho types.
The above might create the illusion that it’s the guys who have the problem, they need to just stop being so macho and become ‘more like Christ’, but this is really narrow-minded. This gender gap transcends Western culture, and is possibly worse in some other countries. Plus, bookish, mild-mannered, soft-spoken men are the exception, not the norm, and many of these guys are manly in their own ways, but they have natural qualities which don’t rub so hard against modern Christianity. No I’m sorry, but manliness is not the problem.
Here’s what I think.
There are really two kinds of guys in church, the more sensitive guys who are pretty much happy about all this regardless… and there are manly guys who are there, because they’re totally legit. These men are committed Christians and they put up with a lot of this, and they do it because they know Christianity is true and even embrace it as some sort of righteous test of manhood.
Christian guys will slap on a pink apron and go and bake pancakes at their local public school fundraiser because it kind of feels like a challenge, like walking barefoot across a pit of hot coals, or wrestling a crocodile (of course, guys do also love helping out in really tangible, practical ways; especially when it involves pancakes!).
These guys figure if they can endure a 45 minute bridge during a Sunday worship session, and they’re still a man… then they’ve passed some kind of test. These men survive because they take it as a challenge, a rite of passage because let’s face it, “you’ve got to be a man to wear tights”
So what does apologetics have to do with all of this?
Amazingly, apologetics is something David Murrow is totally silent on… Murrow’s view of the manly man is very practical. He speaks indirectly about the softer, bookworm types. But he never tackles gender contrasts like logic vs empathy, compassion vs reason, truth vs relationship.
This is fair. It’s not relevant to David’s main thesis and goal, which is the overly non-masculine packaging of modern Christianity.
But reading through David’s book, I think the writing is all over the wall… in hot pink spray paint. I think this is a very important piece of the puzzle which is at least worth exploring. Here’s my question…
Can some of the gender gap be explained by the decreasing emphasis on the importance of apologetics and the intellectual pursuit of Christianity from the pulpit (or vice versa?)
When I was a new Christian, I had noticed this problem, as I said in my introduction, there was something about church that felt off and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Eventually I realised the problem, but I also noticed that I was immune to it.
Why was this anti-man church vibe not affecting me? I could certainly feel it there, but it wasn’t enough to scare me away. If you read my testimony, then hopefully you can guess what it was.
Whatever my predilections about church culture, theology, teaching, structure, etc. I knew that the Bible was true. It was the impenetrable bulwark against any opposition to my faith.
Apologetics is the pole that I swing from. My faith is unshakeable because I know that Christianity is objectively true.
Personally I think that this should be true of both men and women, but biologically speaking, this is definitely more true for men than women.
Women it seems, are more content to trust in God’s love and their relationship with Jesus Christ. It is this relationship that gives them their strength, and assurance in God’s love, and keeps them firm in their faith. This is great.
For men, not only did everything I just say sound super gay, but it is simply not what men are interested in, nor will they find it valuable and convincing. For men, even macho dudes, the cornerstone for their faith is going to be whether or not they think it’s true, or to put it another way, worth their time and effort.
Men are busy, they have no time for sentimentality and ceremony. They want the meat. Men want to know what Christianity has to offer them, and what that is, is the truth.
I’m not saying women aren’t interested in truth and facts, but what they are definitely interested in, is relationship. So women can survive in a Christian environment where apologetics, reason, science, history and textual criticism are not emphasised (or flat-out neglected if I’m being honest), whereas men die a slow and painful spiritual death.
Going back to the commercialisation of Christianity, what other section of the typical Christian bookstore has been in decline over the years besides the ‘men only’ section?
Answer: The apologetics section.
Why? Because if you’re an average Christian woman with a tight budget and you walk into the Christian bookstore and you see two book titles:
Which one sounds more appealing?
You see, it’s not that women aren’t interested in apologetics, it’s just not their first pick. Women will go to church and listen to a sermon based on God’s reckless love for them, more readily than they will listen to a sermon about the exegetical value of the tower of babel story.
Not convinced? Look at the aesthetics and the design of the front cover of most Christian books, and compare them to the apologetics books.
Consider the titles of some of these apologetics books:
And last but not least, the winner for the most masculine sounding title is:
The thing I love about the free market, and the thing that the social justice movement just can’t seem to fathom, is that the free market is not sexist, or bigoted, or political, or anything. The free market is greedy. It cares about one thing only: profit.
This is true of the Christian commercial market too.
These apologetics books are adorned with masculine titles, masculine cover art and fonts. Another example I saw not listed above has deep earthy colours with the image of a target in the background.
Because the apologetics market knows it’s audience. Even though Christianity is feminine in general, and the majority of Christian books are sold to women, this little niche of Christian books dedicated to defence, reason, truth, logic, philosophy etc. is the exception, and the publishers know it.
Let’s not even mention that the overwhelming majority of the authors of apologetics material are men!
Note: If you’re a lady, and you’re really passionate about apologetics, you’re my hero. You’re amazing and you’re the exception. I shouldn’t have to explain that I’m always talking about averages… averages people.
It’s not just the authors of these books. Think of all the most famous Christian apologists you know…
William Lane Craig, J Warner Wallace, Lee Strobel, Ravi Zacharias, Ken Ham, Spike Psarris.
Here’s another point to consider… Conflict resolution. Not only do men love conflict, but they also hate (hate, hate, hate) cowardice and passive aggressiveness.
Conflict of any kind is extremely taboo in modern Christianity.
And yet, what is apologetics, literally? It is the defense of the Christian faith. Conflict is implied in the term itself.
Apologetics thrives on healthy, reasonable, respectful debate. When a church utterly refuses to allow individuals (especially men) to engage in healthy disagreements, debates and discussions, men can’t stand it. Men are violent at heart. This is indisputable. I would posit that one of the best alternatives for men to actual physical violence, is through rigorous intellectual debate.
As long as Christianity continues to preach the empathetic, relational side of Christianity, and fails to discuss and defend the objective truth of Christianity and the Bible, from the pulpit, I predict that we will continue to see a gender gap.
Overall David’s book is excellent, and I haven’t covered even half of the material in it.
The whole final third section of the book covers a host of simple strategies for tackling the man shortage in the church.
David explains what men are really looking for, and what is required to draw them in. He explains that it is not as simple as building a ‘thriving mens ministry’, nor do we need to completely overhaul the system.
Many of the changes are small, simple and imperceptible.
Start with the decor. Look around your church and ask yourself, what would your average blue-collar worker think if he walked in here for the first time. Look at your welcome table… do you have a hundred and one teeny pamphlets with even teenier writing on them?
Do you have a table with fresh flowers on it?
How long are your sermons?
Do you keep sharp to your time?
Does your church have practical volunteer opportunities that make use of men’s natural talents? (think yard cleaning gangs, weekend warriors, handyman services)
What about your Bible studies? Murrow has a lot to say about Bible studies… here’s a few points to think about
- Bible studies that are separated by gender
- Men’s study groups designed for men (as opposed to a women’s Bible study for men)
- Short, low pressure, conversational style prayer sessions
And much more.
So as the last post I write which is deliberately closely aligned with the topic of Christian Manhood, I would like the last thing I officially say on the topic to be to read this book. Whether or not you agree with everything in this book, or think your church has a gender gap, this book will change the way you think about church culture, Christianity, Evangelism and worship.
If you’re a man reading this, tell me, did any of this make sense?
Are you a pastor who’s been frustrated at the lack of engagement in your congregation?
Are you offended to the core by this entire blog post?
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.
Thank you and until next time remember, don’t fear the critics. Share your faith with confidence, because it’s true. Amen brothers.
Editor’s note: I have no affiliation with David Murrow or any of the products at all endorsed in this blog post. This post contains no affiliate links and I will not earn any money from any purchases made through this website. But for you guys it means, unfortunately, no discounts. Sorry!