Is the American Church Too Macho?


Gunplay between brothers?If there’s been a clarion call in churches the last few years, it’s the alarm of people decrying the feminization of the Church in America. We hear over and over how there’s no place for men in the local church anymore.

But the more I think about this, the more I wonder if it’s the presence of too much femininity that is driving out the masculinity, or have men traded-in genuine Christianity for a macho fake?

Consider this…

Your church decides to start two new “ministries” that meet on different nights:  an intercessory prayer group and a fantasy football group primarily for church attendees.

Here’s my bet: In the vast majority of cases, men who claim they have very little extra time outside of work and home will flock to the fantasy football group and shun the prayer group. Well, that’s obvious, you say. Let me fine tune it, then:  If you remove the fantasy football group from the mix and start just the intercessory prayer group, in most churches the attendance for that prayer group will still be 75 percent women and 25 percent men. And in some cases, it will be even more lopsided in favor of the women.

Is this the result of a feminized Church, or a Church where men dropped the ball on genuine Christian masculinity?

Men are typically hopelessly outnumbered by women in many churches in the following areas:

Children’s ministry

Visiting the sick & shut-ins

Visiting the elderly

Intercessory prayer

Christian education

Ministry to the disadvantaged

What gets me is that none of those ministries is intrinsically feminine.

But if the church sponsors a barbecue cook-off, you can bet that 80-90 percent of the cooks in that competition will be men. They’ll be in the church parking lot at dusk with their slow cookers, camping out all night, ready and eager to display their masterpieces in pulled pork by noon the next day.

In fact, it seems to me that men come out in droves for stuff like church-sponsored softball games, fishing trips, men’s retreats, and all the stuff that smacks of being the caricature of manliness. Meanwhile, in actual ministry-related work that supposedly favors neither male nor female, it’s the women doing most of the heavy lifting.

And don’t say it’s because of the 3:2 numerical advantage women have over men in the American Church. I don’t buy that cop-out.

Case in point…

I was part of a church at one time that had about 3,500 attendees. That church had a fairly level ratio of men and women. At that time, the church had groups for motorcycle-riding, gun-shooting, and many others with a  “just for the fellowship” emphasis that would appeal to men. Fine by me—I’m all for fellowship groups. The only problem was that this same church had one men’s Bible study and about a dozen women’s Bible studies. I was painfully aware of that inexplicably lopsided ratio too. Why? Because I was the men’s Bible study leader. When I asked why there was only one men’s Bible study group, the answer I usually got was that they’d not been able to maintain more than one or two for any length of time. (What made it even nuttier was about half of the ten or so men that filtered through my group on a regular basis didn’t even attend the church.)

It seems to me that men will show up for church stuff when they have a chance to show off their machismo, but flex some spiritual muscles? Not so much.

So I don’t think it’s as much of a case of the Church being feminized as it is a case of men surrendering their God-appointed roles as spiritual leaders within the Church. They’d rather watch March Madness than bow their knees at  a 24-hour prayer meeting for the soul of the nation. Meanwhile, elderly grannies are keeping the devils at bay.

So the next time I hear some guy whimpering about how women are taking over the church, maybe a swift kick to the ‘nads will get him to wise up.

Or some spiritual equivalent. 😉

43 thoughts on “Is the American Church Too Macho?

      • Ronni

        I’d say it’s half and half. I have met more spiritually mature men here than any other church… and they have pulled my husband into maturity. Yes they still do silly stuff, but they might go to the shooting range and later on I find out they spent time at waffle house talking about God and holding each other accountable. It’s incredible.

        The people at my church now that have impacted my life the most are the men. Strange actually now that I think about it, and there are well… more men here then women generally. Wow. I never realized that before.

        There were mens breakfasts monthly and I’d say about the same amount showed up for them (from how many showed up at my house when we hosted it) as do women for the ladies meetings. In fact in our house church night last week, we had like 9 men and 3 women. Definitely pretty cool.

        We are blessed!

    • David,

      The fact that most church intercessory prayer teams are populated mostly by old ladies has always stuck in my craw. That’s been the case in so many churches I’ve seen that you can almost name a theory for it.

  1. Bob Young

    I’m not excusing the men or condemning the women, but I fear you may have overstated your case a tad. There is also the possibility that after long days of work the last thing men want to do in the evening is have to think deeply about anything (and probably already have numerous demands upon them at home), while the women’s bible studies you mention are possibly held during the day and attended by non-homeschooling homemakers who have time to clean the house, go to the gym, shop at the mall, and watch Oprah. It is possible…

    • Bob,

      No one has ever accused me of being subtle. 😉

      If there’s not enough time for the work of the church at the end of a man’s day, then that man
      1. Has the wrong priorities
      2. Needs to reexamine the balance of commitments in his life
      3. Isn’t all that serious about the Lord
      4. Pursues a cultural Christianity rather than a living relationship
      5. Needs to start talking with other Christian men about finding a third way
      6. All of the above

      As for the women, let the women do what the women do. I don’t think they are the main problem here. I especially question the interpretation that they are doing too many other frivolous activities, especially if they are being blamed for mounting a full-on assault on maleness within the Church. You can’t be frivolous and be behind a ruthless conspiracy at the same time.

  2. If the man is so burdened that he has no time to be still before God maybe it’s time for said homemaker who “goes to the gym, shops at the mall, and watches Oprah” to get a part time job and time for the family to get on a tighter budget (cut the gym memberships, do less – or heaven forbid no – shopping at the mall for example) so the family will be less burdened building their own kingdom and together can release more time for God’s kingdom.

    • David,

      Most families don’t think that way. They pursue “their lives” and then try to squeeze in ministry. Very few pursue serving the Lord first, while adding time for “their lives” second. This is very easily seen when you compare the Church in America with lands where the Gospel is growing in penetration. In those lands, it all comes down to getting the Gospel out. Here, it’s all about keeping up with the Joneses.

      • Ronni

        So true. I actually just quit my job and we moved and downsized big time so that we could put ministry where it belongs in our lives. Costly to our fleshly wants and desires (like central air… oy… ask me August how I like that….) but there is a cost to this call and if we aren’t willing to give up our fleshly comforts, how will we ever impact the world? How? We won’t!!! Plus me staying home means hubby doesn’t have as much stuff here to do when he gets home leaving him more time to mentor the younger ones and be the man he is called to be… I think a part of this also Dan is women are so ingrained into “womans lib” thinking that they won’t step back and empower their men to be the men God wants. Yes, I can fill any role in the church God calls me to but I need to examine if I’m doing it because nobody else will instead of a call from God. If a role stands empty… maybe we could see a MAN step up and fill it instead of the line of ever ready women staying busy!

  3. Bob Young

    David, I didn’t say the man has no time to be still before God; perhaps these hypothetical men spend time in the morning before work being still before God, praying, reading the Word, etc. but are not in a position to attend many (or any) of the numerous programs the local church has created as spiritual aids for which they dump non-Christian manipulative guilt on people for not attending.

    Maybe these hypothetical men spend their evenings fixing broken things at home, loving their families, and – gasp – developing relationships in their community that don’t require tons of mental time but are more relational in nature (and that aid in expanding the kingdom).

    Maybe we’re touching upon symptoms of a much deeper and more pervasive problem, and one that isn’t necessarily rooted in people’s fault for not showing up at church when the doors are open for whatever new program has been created to consume their lives while their heads get full of knowledge and the world goes to hell around them.

    Maybe ineffective quasi-study of scripture on Sundays – replaced by a largely non-participatory event where beautiful people sing songs at you and some guy gives 3 bullet points on PowerPoint about the 9 fruit(s) of the Spirit – maybe this has something to do with things as well.

    Maybe our very traditional approach to (none dare call it) liturgy and maybe our not-so-good-news of merely trying to get people into a pleasant afterlife and escaping eternal torment – maybe this has something to do with things as well.

    I suspect if we started preaching the good news Jesus actually proclaimed, we’d discover two things: 1) the needy would flock to it like thirsty souls to water, and 2) the religious establishment would want to crucify us.

    I know I’ve said a number of things you could take wrongly and I suspect you’ll trip on one of them and throw it back at me. I hope, however, you’re able to get past that and see my real meaning. To say more would require its own blog.

  4. David R.

    Men around the world, in whatever religion, are less likely to be involved in that religion until they are near death. The exceptions to this rule are those religions that call upon men to pick up the pointy stick and prove their manhood in some way. I tend to agree with what Dan is saying, especially since he is, partially, disagreeing with his own previous statements about the feminization of the church.

    Prayer meetings do tend to be at 9AM on Tuesdays. Welcome to any, but peopled by women. Why is that? But then, how many people showed up at the last Sunday evening prayer service? Probably the same women that show up every Tuesday at 9AM.

    Paul, as he went about founding churches, had a lot of female supporters. Why is that? Do men find the pursuit of God troublesome in some way? Or is there something else involved? Perhaps, as Bob articulated, men are just “too tired” making a living to come out in public with their relationship with God? (My personal feeling is that men are too busy watching TV to have a relationship with either God, fellow believers, or their family)

    I don’t believe that a man can develop a relationship with God apart from the body of believers. The question for me is whether that church on the corner is a body of believers. If it is, then praying with one another is a natural part of fellowship. If it’s not, then it’s a ritual or a social club.

    The bible says that we should not forsake the fellowship of believers. Next time you sit in the pew, ask yourself if what is happening around you is the “fellowship of believers” or just empty ritual.

    If it’s just a ritual, then be a man, and seek those whose desire is to seek the face of God. We can’t do it alone.

    As much as we’d like to.

    • David,

      I still think some feminization of the Church has gone on, but I think that male non-involvement in the important things matters just as much to that feminization.

      You make several good points. Thanks, as always, for your contribution to the dialog.

      • David R.

        My wife is reading “The Man in the Mirror” given to her at a women’s bible study. It’s full of good stuff about how I can improve spiritually. Notice I said that she was reading it and that other women gave it to her…

        …The need is obviously seen, but I guess is not being acted on with the alacrity needed…

        …Anyways, one of the bullet point lists the author puts in was rather interesting to me from the perspective of order:

        >Love and know God
        >Care for and love your wife and family
        >Do good works

        • David,

          My idea of a “man’s book” is Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. But then again, I’m a weirdo. 😉

          I’ve actually read The Man in the Mirror. What struck me was how hard the dust jacket tried to sell the author’s qualifications by noting how successful he’d been in business. I always thought that to be very American.

          Question for you: How well do you think most Evangelical men do in living up to that list of 5 items (and in that order)?

          • David R.

            I think the stereotype would be:

            >Good works as expected by others (not cheerfully given)
            >God (in a perfunctory way)

            Note that “rest” is not in there, simply because I don’t think most men understand God’s concept of rest.

            I get the increasing feeling that many men have never left childhood, and the caravan of SUVs and ATVs that pass through our town every weekend heading towards the hills behind us bear that out.

            In the Christian walk, that translates to most men never getting past the point of “playing” Christian and actually entering into “practicing” and then maturing to “working” Christian.

  5. Bob Young

    One thing I’d like to add (as if I didn’t say enough already)… the deepest times of growth for me personally have been over lunch with brothers in Christ. Period. Not at a bible study alone or en masse, not at a church service or special religious event. Just guys who love God wrestling over vittles trying to figure out how to put this all into practice. If you don’t have such lunch buddies, I feel sorry for you and hope you find some.

    • Bob,

      No doubt there’s a place for what you describe. I tend to like the “disorganized” events more too. But what does it say about male leadership within a church that men are running point on a lot of very important ministries.

      Honestly, where are the men in children’s ministries? Some churches are better than others at seeing men involved in that good work. But all too often, this is considered women’s work until the kids get to be teens, and then a male youth leader comes out of nowhere (often with limited involvement from his wife) to take the reins. Yet who can escape therhetoric from church groups that families need both a man and a woman to be effective? We get that preached to us and the culture constantly, yet we think it’s okay that the vast majority of Sunday School classes are taught solely by women? What does that tell our children? Can’t we see the hypocrisy in that?

      Or does it come down to men pleading, “Dude, that’s not my ministry to be a co-teacher with my wife in a Sunday School class”?

      • Bob Young

        It seems that you’re approaching this as if church programs were the very means Christ & the apostles recommended to us. Looking at Jesus’ and Paul’s approach, I don’t see it. I think my work as manager in the local little league or taking my son to a Detroit Tigers game does far more to advance the kingdom than if I taught a Sunday School class – it’s the things that happen along the way that are caught, grasped, assimilated moreso than force-feeding kids Bible stories on a weekly basis. Real Christianity is about cultivating a RELATIONSHIP with God and others, not filling up the cranium with more and more Bible facts. We give lip-service to relationships as important, but in the end that’s the MAIN thing Jesus taught about.

  6. So I should cancel my cable sports package, hang up my gloves, sell my hog, roll my grill into the garage, trade in my ‘Vette for a minivan, and stop lifting weights at the gym so my ripped physique can atrophy as I lay prostrate my heavily tattooed arms in prayer? Wow, Dan, you drive a hard bargain.

  7. Men are typically hopelessly outnumbered by women in many churches in the following areas:
    Children’s ministry
    Visiting the sick & shut-ins
    Visiting the elderly
    Intercessory prayer
    Christian education
    Ministry to the disadvantaged

    You forgot one: Leadership. Oh, wait that’s still almost entirely male dominated. That is, unless there’s been a huge influx of women breaking down that glass ceiling and become pastors/preachers/grand-pubas/whatevers when I wasn’t paying attention. To decry the feminization of churches when almost all of them are lead by a man is joke for this reason as well.

    • David R.

      Actually, from a Christian perspective, actively praying, learning, and serving is leadership. The title of pastor/preacher/grand-puba is just that, a title, and means nothing.

    • If it wasn’t for the fact that those leadership positions are largely paid staff positions that entail large does of macho pride I would agree with you sidfaiwu. That is not to imply that males in those positions do it for prideful reasons, simply that the other positions (visiting shut-ins, intercessory prayer etc) do not. In fact, they require something altogether different: humbleness. It seems that in historically patriarchal societies (america, latin american, slavic) woman are more naturally hard wired to assume these positions.

      That last bit is just my personal theory though. 😛

  8. Don Fields

    Amen! We’ve abdicated spiritual leadership and then complained about the result. I love the “swift kick” idea! That very “manly” idea made me chuckle. 🙂

    Bob makes a good point about not measuring a man’s spiritual health by their attendance to a men’s Bible Study, yet the fact that many don’t desire spiritual growth in any form is very telling. As well, just because women ask for and attend a Bible Study is not a great indicator of spiritual desire. Many times it is just an “excuse” for gathering to talk about their personal lives and the Bible time keeps being shortened.

    • Don,

      I’ve found that many men are either self-feeders who avoid outside instruction or they need tons of instruction but eschew it in favor of “more manly” church activities. Either path can be a snare. The first leads to a “my way or the highway” understanding of Scripture, while the second punts learning entirely.

      The perfect blend would be men who are self-feeders, who can also acknowledge the need to learn more, and learn it within a group of committed believers.

  9. Elizabeth Anne


    (Although my inner snark will note that I argued this exact same thing about a year and a half ago in the comments box and got told I didn’t understand the problem of feminization. :P)

    My inner historian, however, will note that this is an old, old phenomenon. In Paul’s letters he is frequently thanking women for keeping the show running. The early Church was frequently condemned by the Romans as an institution “full of hysterical women and slaves”.

      • Elizabeth Anne

        The next question is what do we do about it?
        What disturbs me is that often, it seems that all the answers suggested have to do with women giving things up. We all know THOSE websites: the ones that claim that if you’re a REAL Christian woman, who wants a real Christian husband, you won’t work, even if you feel that your real calling is in work outside the home. You won’t shop for yourself (see above). You won’t be involved in any ministry not wholly restricted to women. You won’t take time for yourself not justified by church work. You will nurse for at least 2 years, and of course you won’t take any positive action to space out children, so your diet will be constantly restricted. And of course, if you question any of this gospel, you’re a dreaded Feminist, who has put her own selfish needs in front of God’s plan and your family’s well being.
        It’s exhausting. And I don’t remember Christ having anything to say about Attachment Parenting.

  10. Dan,

    I didn’t do so well on “A Few Good Men” comments… 🙂

    But I agree with you on this one. I think it’s going to take a generation of real men to start raising up sons to get their priorities straight: God, wife, children, church, and the community at large.

    I think we have several things at work here. We have many single parent/broken/women-having-kids-without-husbands families that is a primary cause of boys not having male role models. This a primary and basic problem with generational impacts.

    Then the families that have fathers are simply not teaching their sons the things of God and substituting machismo for true Christian masculinity: courage, integrity, emotional and spiritual strength, and probably most of all, faith!

    Thanks for the post. It’s caused me to look at the feminization issue from a different angle.

  11. Good post Dan. And you are right on with what you have said. I wonder if it’s the same in other parts of the world?

    I’m leading a men’s Bible study and it has a few very loyal attenders but not the numbers that we would hope for. I get all kinds of excuses when I ask some of our men about coming.

    But the women’s LIFEgroup that my wife attends is very well attended even by single women who work all day and then go to the LIFEgroup for 3 hours or so on Tuesday. Many of these women have children but they find a way to have them cared for while they are at their meeting.

    I believe you’ve hit on something by saying that “Very few (men) pursue serving the Lord first, while adding time for “their lives second.”

    Also, I wonder how much this subject is discussed in deacon’s meetings or elder’s meetings or other ‘leadership’ meetings?

  12. I went to a new church today, whose entire congregation consists of immigrants from a certain southern part of India. Among the things I noticed when I first went in was that the “ladies’ meeting” had its own slot on the outdoor schedule. A men’s meeting was not listed. During testimony time, the youngest children “testified” first, which consisted of reading Scripture or repeating a memorized phrase.

    The oldest ladies testified next. Then the younger ladies testified. This included a testimony of lower back pain being healed during worship and the pleas for prayer for a distant relative with inexplicable pains in his head. A teenaged girl stood up of her own accord, it seemed, and testified, too, of her thankfulness toward God.

    When the attention switched to the male side of the congregation, no one said anything, including me. I considered standing up and quoting from Psalm 133 and about how much I felt like I was supposed to be there (when I could rattle off a roster of other, “foreign” congregations I have visited, but not faithfully). But I did not, in part from latent stage fright, in part because I was a newcomer.

  13. Chris

    Thanks Dan for your comments; it isn’t too often I hear positive comments from men in the church-usually I end up feeling patronized. I would like to suggest that maybe the problem is related to the way church is done; there was a time when the church was centered in the home of believers and hence around family life-now it is centered around a specific location for the most part and maybe that hampers the ministries that are based out of it (I am not advocating home churches), I don’t attend anymore at all.

  14. brian

    Dan, you make a fair assessment of false christianity resembling masculine worldy pursuits. But when I think about feminizing of the church I dont think about works of service or ministry, but rather attitude and personality of the individual. It seems to me that for too long being like Jesus meant being a weak, un-assertive, and indecisive. I dont think Jesus was like this, but it seems that men have very little imagination when it comes to how to implement masculine qualities in a godly manner. Its pretty pathetic in my opinion, but Im applying this to myself too. I have very little creativity when it comes to serving the poor, my wife, or the church, so I spend a lot of energy thinking about how to do it, Ive spent years trying to make service and ministry a habit. I think men just need help to re-direct their masculine characteristics into better things than football, or grilling.

  15. Captain Kevin

    Thank you, Dan. I’ve been mulling this over for some time. You nailed it! I see this in our church worship. Who sings out? Lifts hands? Closes their eyes during more intimate songs? It’s the ladies. The men sit there with arms folded, staring forward as if to say, “Go ahead, just try and get me to worship.” Be careful of spiritualizing your last thought. Just kick ’em!

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