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 www.churchformen.com 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.