Men don’t find enough action at church, it has become a feminized institution and modern Christianity is driving males away, writes David Murrow in his book "Why Men Hate Going to Church."
"It’s not an institution that is built around men’s needs, so why would they go there?" asks Murrow, who seeks to explain why 20 percent to 25 percent of married women go to church alone and why many men avoid darkening a church door — except perhaps for Christmas and Easter.
A 2003 U.S. Congregational Life survey found that American pews are 61 percent women and 39 percent men. Studies of all Christian denominations and sects show women’s attendance routinely exceeds men’s. The disenchantment seems most evident in longestablished mainline denominations, Morrow has found. "In many cases, faithful women are keeping the door of these traditional churches open, but with scant male participation, they seem unable to reverse the fortunes of their congregations," he writes.
Murrow said he went through his own crisis of faith attempting to be a man and a Christian at the same time. He struggled with the Jesus of the Bible — "a masculine, very wild, unpredictable and unsafe character" — versus what the church was portraying him as — a "very safe, predictable, nice guy."
In his investigation, he found the shift to a feminized church began in the fourth century with Constantine and gained speed in medieval times. "The emphasis was away from boldness, heroics and sacrifice and toward passivity and receptivity," he said. "Several branches of Catholicism began to celebrate and venerate Mary above Jesus — a feminine deity, which you still see today. Their bridal mysticism began to sweep the church, the whole idea that individual Christians were supposed to be receivers of Jesus."
Then, with the required celibacy of priests, "you had a movement away from a very muscular masculinism . . . toward a more feminine piety, which has been brewing for about 800 years."
"Men are wired toward risk, adventure and challenges, and our churches are not providing that," said Murrow, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, and is an elder for a church affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. He points to music, sermons, care ministries, hand-holding rituals and classroom education, all of which resonate with women but do not engage most men.
In his book (Nelson Books, $13.99), Murrow argues that "Jesus had no problem attracting men. Fishermen dropped nets full of fish to follow him, but today’s church can’t convince men to drop their remote controls for a couple hours a week. The good news is, Jesus is alive today. He wants to speak to men. If only the church will let him."
Valued church goals like nurturing, stability and being a close-knit community are regarded as "feminine gifts," said Murrow. Men often enjoy the challenges and risks of starting a church — finding land, raising money and seeing walls go up, but once it is established, men, who are typically less relation-oriented, lose interest and want more action. "Men need vision — not just relationships — to stay motivated in church," said Murrow.
He recognizes three primary gender gaps at play:
• The gap of presence — Men want large churches that buzz, additionally allowing for networking opportunities. Men don’t follow programs; they follow men. While men still dominate the "leading role" as pastors, "the supporting cast is almost totally female."
• The gap of participation — Women are 100 percent more likely to be involved in discipleship, 57 percent more likely to take part in adult Sunday school and 33 percent more likely to volunteer for a church, according to George Barna Research studies. Women’s fellowships, circles and faith support groups flourish, while men’s groups struggle and fold.
• The gap of personality — Men seek strong, risk-taking leaders to show them the way — and healthy role models for their sons. The verbal, cerebral men who typically gravitate to ordained ministry tend to be "soft males" who lack machismo and personify "tamed" men. "Real men don’t want to be safe — they want to be dangerous," said Murrow.
All churchgoers need to do a better job understanding men, he said.
"Women cannot and should not be the pack mules of modern Christianity," Murrow argues, but men don’t feel they have a place in today’s church.
Murrow will be launching "Church for Men" summits this fall. "I get people who want to drive 500 miles for these things," he said.
Some churches’ target audience is men, Murrow said, based on the idea that "if you get the woman first, your odds of getting the family are very slim. But if you get the man, it is almost a slam-dunk that the family is going to come along."