Another Look at the Church’s Missing Men


Dan is Missing!Last June, I blogged about the George Barna report that showed that the American Church’s face was largely female, with many men skipping church altogether. Since that time, another male-centric book has appeared on the market, David Morrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church. This tome joins the mania created by John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart in seeking to find out why men feel bored in the pews on Sunday. Morrow even has a website that delves deeper into the mystery of the church’s missing men.

Like John Eldredge before him, Morrow’s solution focuses on recovering lost masculinity. While Eldredge aims to recover a masculine “adventure,” Morrow looks at masculinizing the Church:

We have to give men opportunities to use their strengths and their gifts in the service of God instead of trying to squeeze them into roles that they feel are feminine or emasculating. We need to start valuing masculine traits such as aggression, boldness, and competitiveness and figuring out ways that we can integrate that into every area of church life.

But are these assertions the real reason behind the church’s missing men?

Having been a part of two churches with extensive ministries that were strongly male focused, I contend that Morrow’s response does not play out in reality. One of those churches had a popular sports ministry and brought sports illustrations into nearly every sermon. The pastor of the church served as chaplain to a number of professional sports teams and was a well-known author. Still, that church was about 60% women. Again, in the second church, wacky humor, Eldredge’s reliance on movies to pitch the Gospel, numerous men’s groups, and plenty of ministries that called on uniquely male gifts did not budge the number of men. They were still only 40% of the attendees.

So what is the problem?

I alluded to this earlier in my post “Advertising Ashes.” The main reason that men are not in church is that they simply are not seeing the Holy Spirit move in power. At the risk of alienating the many women who read Cerulean Sanctum, I want to make a bold point: even if the Holy Spirit were not present in a supernatural way in our churches, I still believe women would still show up on Sundays. The Church has no problem attracting women because women are naturally drawn to the community and relationships that a church provides. However, this attractor does not work for many men. Men need a profound experience of God in order to get them to sit up and take notice. If the Holy Spirit doesn’t fall on them in power, then the positives a church can provide outside of the supernatural make little difference. A church can hypermasculinize itself to death and still not break that three women to every two men ratio if the Spirit is barely discernible on Sundays. Men have a better built-in B.S. detector than women do and function more out of the rationale of “prove it to me.” Without the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit in our gatherings, we have little to combat a set of crossed arms and a raised eyebrow.

The second problem is also one I have mentioned in the past, the issue of a man’s career. You almost never hear any sermons about jobs. Most churches have nothing in place to help the unemployed within their ranks. And the Church in America no longer speaks to the business world on issues of cut-throat downsizing, outsourcing, discrimination against older employees, and the relentless expectation that employees put in longer hours at work. In short, the Church in this country has almost nothing to say about the one thing men spend more hours doing than anything else in their lives. That silence speaks volumes to men.

In an e-mail I received from David Morrow in response to this, he wrote that as many women work today as men, yet despite their jobs and greater limitations on their time, women still make it to church. To this, I have a few counters:

  • Our society still defines men by their jobs. Introduce a man to a group and the first question he’s asked is, “So what do you do for a living?” This emphasis on work is taken to extremes because the gold standard espoused in Evangelicalism is that the husband is the sole breadwinner while the wife stays at home with the kids. A man without a job has no place in society’s eyes, but a place is still available to women who do not work.
  • A caste system still exists for men. Men are categorized by their work and valued accordingly. The doctor and the mechanic are not viewed as having the same worth, even within many churches. Again, this system does not plague women to the same extent. The man making minimum wage is perceived in a far worse light than the woman who works for the same pay. No one ridicules women in traditionally male jobs, but a man who performs what has traditionally been a female job is usually held up for scorn—particularly by other men.
  • Women marry with an eye to financial security, but this is not the case for men. Therefore, the onus is always on the man to bring in money. To meet this need, the man is usually the one striving to succeed in his career. Our society continues to reinforce this for men, while placing less burden on women to reach the pinnacle of success in their field.

A woman’s job and a man’s job, therefore, are not the same. To treat them as such is to ignore cultural mandates that simmer beneath everything a man does in his life. If the Church in America cannot grasp this, then we should not wonder why men see the Church as having little to say about how they define themselves using the cultural constructs placed on them in our society. With this paucity of wisdom about the key role a man plays for eight to ten hours a day, why should men abide church at all?

I believe that the reason the message of Eldredge and Morrow resonates with many men is that those men can’t put a finger on what they are truly missing. If you’ve never tasted champagne, why would you miss it? In this way, if our church gatherings are not filled with the Holy Spirit and our churches are not speaking to the one thing we still use to define a man, then the loss of both cannot be fully appreciated by the man who feels empty after the church service is over. All he knows is “Well, that wasn’t it.” So he goes off to hunt bear with a pointy stick or to climb mountains like Eldredge says. And while that might captivate him for a while, it does not fill the vacuum in his soul. His expectation then becomes that of simply muddling through the day. He can’t even look forward to the gold watch at retirement because the company he works for now fires (or forces into an early retirement with subsequently diminished benefits) everyone over fifty before the watch can be attained. At sixty-five and with his funds cut short, the job as a greeter at WalMart never looked so good.

We as the Body of Christ have got to do better than this or we may someday look around our churches and see no men at all.

21 thoughts on “Another Look at the Church’s Missing Men

  1. Further complicating all that is the full-time pastor: even if he *did* speak to the issues that concern those in the business world, he’s doing it as an outsider.

  2. Karen,

    Good call. You’re right about the disconnect between full-time pastors preaching about the business world when they’ve not been in it.

    Randy Frazee has written a couple books on simplifying life and creating a more personal church (The Connecting Church and Making Room for Life) and he said in one of those that it should be no problem for a Christian employee to tell the boss upfront that he/she will not work more than eight hours a day. All I could think was, “What planet is Frazee living on?” He confesses he’s always been a full-time pastor—it shows in a comment like that. An employee laying down that kind of expectation may be able to pull it off, but I can promise you they’ll be the first one pink-slipped when downsizing or restructuring comes.

    Does this mean it is impossible for church leaders to speak to the business world and to men’s work lives? No. There are many pastors who came out of the business world or have good friendships and connections within that world that could keep them in touch.

    Still, someone has to speak to these issue. We’ve got our heads in the sand about all manner of people’s work lives, not just men. Women feel a lot of pressure to get plastic surgery (and men now, too) so that they don’t stand out as looking “too old” with respect to their co-workers. With companies letting the “gray hairs” go simply to appear more youthful, fresh, and to not have to pay salaries to folks who have accumulated a lot of cost-of-living increases over the years, something has to give. One of the pastors at my old church preached a blistering message on how we Christians should not be concerned with our physical appearance, but come Monday morning if we’re the old-looking one in the office, we may be out of a job the next time the axe falls. There are many women in sales roles who are over forty, but remarkably few of those let their hair go gray. And you won’t see a single woman in upper management in a corporation who is gray, either. Sometimes appearance matters.

    The world operates on a much different set of rules and we Christians are not confronting this in wisdom.

  3. You didn’t offend this woman worshipper. Thought you were correct. Men don’t necessarily appreciate sports pandering, back slapping, lingo driven sermons…they appreciate authenticity and, as you suggest, the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    I once attended a prison service where one of the most effeminate men I have ever known kept over three hundred prisoners attentive. Why?..he was real! human! compassionate! authentic! and the power of the Holy Spirit had resided in him for a long time. He had suffered much, and his palpable sufferings were suffused by a grace and glow which evidenced God’s power in weakness.
    Keep writing on this.

  4. Bowden McElroy

    I think the problem of the church not addressing issues of men and their jobs goes beyond sermons on “cut-throat downsizing, outsourcing,” etc. It’s a much more basic question of how to be “in the world” and “not of it” simultaneously. Most men have spent a lifetime learning the rules of the game as the world plays it; and now need help both unlearning those rules and learning a whole new game. As I see it, this has little to do with machismo or masculine “adventures” and much more to do with a fundemental understanding of how to live one’s life.

  5. Dan,
    I agree the first thing necessary for growth amoung men is the Holy Spirit’s freedom to manifest Himself. I also thing it is the answer to the second problem on work. If we allow the Spirit to change, and to transform us into the vessels of His design. We will surely be of more value in the workplace. Having more wisdom, and knowledge, and understanding, with the joy of the Lord. Daniel comes to mind, he was ten times wiser than all the other counselors. That ought to bring a price in any marketplace.
    Be Blessed,

  6. Michael Finegan

    I just wanted to tell you that my blog, To Be Least, is now at a new url. The new one is So please update your links and stop by, thanks!

  7. Bowden,

    I’ve thought a lot about the issue of “playing the game.” Part of the problem is that Christians are not making the rules by which that game is played, the world is. This means that if we want to play, we have to play by at least some of the rules the world sets. The Scriptures tell us that we will not be able to change the rules until the End of All Things.

    So what does that mean for us? Last year in Newsweek they had an article about The Office of the Future. It was like an eight page gatefold spread. The curious thing was that every person depicted in that spread was under the age of thirty-five. This would make one think that the Office of the Future has no place for gray hair. Next week, Newsweek had an article on Botox. It should be no surprise that many people were getting Botox injections so as not to look old at work. With many companies firing older employees just for looking old, who can blame people for getting the injections? This flies in the face of much of what the Bible says about being only appearance-oriented, yet our society is making that rule. What is the Christian response to that rule?

    Now you could say don’t play by it at all, but then the Church in America is not ready for the fallout when older Christians who won’t play the game start losing their jobs. Considering that the Church here has bought into the idea of rugged individualism—not at all Christian—those people who take the stand and lose are then told by the Church that the Church cannot help them get a job to replace the one they lost because they took that stand; they’re on their own. It’s a vicious cycle. Until the Church makes it safer for people to stand up against the system’s rules, who can afford NOT to play by those rules.

    Thanks for the comment.

  8. Dan,
    Great post. I have been looking around your blog a little and like it very much. You really try to look at things from a Biblical perspective and try to get people to look at their paradigms. Trouble is people tend to like the status quo.

    One thing the Church seems to lack to me is a bigger purpose than just growing the membership. God made men to be battle fighters and conquerers. God must have made us that way for a reason I would think. Men bond and rally around each other when there is a common cause that is bigger than themselves, a battle to fight if you will. Thats why groups of men like to climb mountains and play on sports teams.

    The Church in America is more about being comfortable and safe. Men want to see the Church make a difference in the world and join in. Sadly, we can’t take the chances and fight the good fight because the church has to pay the morgage and staff. As Scripture says the Kingdom is advancing forcefully and forceful men lay hold of it. I don’t know any statistics but I wonder if more men aren’t gravitating away from Church and towards para-church ministries?

    I for one am more inclined to miss spectating at the Sunday morning show and going out on the “front lines” as it were.

    Great blog, I am adding it to my blogroll and linking to this.

    God Bless and keep up the good work,
    Mike Bennett

  9. Mike, thank you for the kind words. I’ve never been anything else but a square peg, even in the Church, but the Lord needs square pegs, too. He likes them a lot!

    I don’t follow John Eldredge’s paradigm, though. I think there are enormous battles to be fought right now inside every church, but too many men don’t find prayer exciting and don’t see the challenge in taking care of the people in the church by being a man of prayer who tears down strongholds. Honestly, the Enemy is attacking our kids, our wives, our families, our pastors, and we somehow miss that battle right under our noses. I’ve blogged about this before, but I feel one of the battles we men aren’t fighting is for the purity of the young women in our churches (and young men, too.) We’re not standing in that gap right now. And that’s just a single way the Enemy is attacking us.

    Now I do not ascribe to the excesses of the current dominion movement, but I do believe that God put the Church here to take back the territory that was His and now lies in the hands of the Enemy. Climbing a mountain is easy. Fighting the Prince of Lies and his hordes through the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony is much harder. Why do we so easily run from that battle in search of streams to kayak or winding roads to street luge?

    THAT’S the million dollar question.

    I’ll check your blog out, too, Mike. Thanks for coming by and for the blogroll link!

  10. Anonymous


    Good article! You’re correct there was nothing new in D. Murrow’s book “Why Men Hate Going to Church”. First, I don’t think most men have enough passion to hate it! It just isn’t relevant to them. Second, church is all about teaching and preaching and teaching some more. Problem with that is again it’s so irrelevant to most men’s lives. The messages are very basic, avoid controversy, and leed only to yet another sermon. Third, it’s so obvious it needs no explanation. Pastors are interested not in you or your family but your donation and attendance. It’s how they make comparisons between themselves.

    D. Murrow’s book’s already been tried over and over in most churches and had no impact. It isn’t anything new.

    On the website there are folks who argue for substantial change in church organization and function but they always get put down and belittled.

    It’s a good thing we don’t need a pastor or organization to serve God.

  11. Anonymous

    You all have some good points, but
    I think the real issue is fear.
    Hebrews 13:6 tells us that if we
    are really trusting God, and obey-
    ing His commands, we should be
    able to boldly say, “The Lord is
    my helper, and I will not fear
    what man shall do unto me.”
    Concerns about aging and the
    possibility of economic loss are
    real. So were concerns about
    being martyred for one’s faith
    at various times in church history, including today. We are
    SUPPOSED to be willing to truly
    trust God in ALL these things,
    as the heroes of the past did.
    Many of them suffered far worse
    fates than being laid off. What
    the church needs is empowerment
    from God to empower all of us to
    have that same courageous faith
    that motivated Christians of past
    I’m not any more courageous
    than any of you. I just think I
    see a more fundamental aspect of
    the problems under discussion.

  12. Anonymous

    This entire debate is occurring
    within the context of the flaccid,
    milquetoast American evangelical
    church of the 21st century. We
    have all become so spoiled that
    we no longer need to trust in God
    for most of what we need. Just
    imagine Martin Luther worrying
    about the Catholic authorities
    reducing his retirement benefits!
    As for the idea that men can’t
    respond to sermons because of
    inferior ability to function
    verbally, well, did the Puritans
    come to America because their
    wives nagged them (since they
    couldn’t process the sermons they
    heard, or read)? Was it only
    women who responded to Jonathan
    Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of
    an Angry God”? No, men are fully
    capable of responding to the Word
    of God. Let’s not let some
    secular psychologist convince us
    Come on, let’s stop the game
    playing. Men are just not as
    dedicated to studying and obeying
    the Word of God as they were 100
    or 400 years ago. Those who
    settled this country left every-
    thing behind, and thus faced much
    greater problems than those who
    fear forced early retirement. But
    they truly knew God, and loved
    Him, and feared Him, and obeyed
    Him. We do not.
    I’m as corrupted as the rest of
    you, and have no easy solutions.
    But let’s at least recognize our
    flaccid, milquetoast condition,
    and ask for a true outpouring of
    the Holy Spirit. Only He will
    know how to make things right.

  13. Anonymous

    Great article, especially for even addressing the issue of the missing males. I have found that many men in the non-Christian world don’t want to be burdened by Church because it represents morality. They want to be able to have a drink, say what they want, play the field and sow some wild oats without having a parental organzation, the Church, tell them their lifestyle is wrong. Morality is perceived as feminine. Adventure is masculine. And the church is hardly an adventurous place.

  14. LoverofTorah

    Exodus 20:8-11

    “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

    REST. What a concept. Men are tired and women too for that matter b/c the church continues to disobey what Yahweh has commanded.. The church system was never what the Lord intended. Men are to be the priest of the home, and teach their own family the Word. The community of fellow believers should only enhance a family’s life, not be a drain on it.

    I am so thankful for the Sabbath. Our family gets together with other torah observant believers about once a month to study scripture and fellowship. On the other sabbaths we just spend time resting as a family, studying, eating, enjoying each other and Yahweh. It is truly wonderful and I feel sorry that so many in the church have made it complicated and are missing out.

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