By David Murrow
A few years ago, my faith in Christ was hanging by a thread. I loved God, but I hated going to church. Sunday morning would find my body in the pews, but my heart was elsewhere. I was so desperate I began exploring alternative religions, including Islam. Did I mention I was an elder in my church?
I was not alone. Truth is, a lot faithful, churchgoing men are not all that excited come Sunday morning. Quite a few attend out of habit, surviving on the memories of victories won years ago. Others attend services simply to keep their wives happy. Most guys do nothing midweek to grow in faith. Few churches are able to sustain a viable men’s ministry.
Why are men so bored in our churches? Of course, there are the hypocrites. But even men who are born-again, Spirit-filled, longtime Christian guys are clamming up and dropping out. What’s going on?
A business guru once said, “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.” Christianity’s primary delivery system, the local church, is perfectly designed to reach women and older folks. That’s why our pews are filled with them. But this church system offers little to stir the masculine heart, so men find it dull and irrelevant. The more masculine the man, the more likely he is to dislike church.
What do I mean? Men and young adults are drawn to risk, challenge and adventure. But these things are discouraged in the local church. Instead, most congregations offer a safe, nurturing community — an oasis of stability and predictability. Studies show that women and seniors gravitate toward these things. Although our official mission is one of adventure, the actual mission of most congregations is making people feel comfortable and safe — especially longtime members.
How did Christianity, founded by a man and his 12 male disciples, become the province of women? There is a pattern of feminization in Christianity going back at least 700 years, according to Dr. Leon Podles, author of The Church Impotent: the Feminization of Christianity. But the ball really got rolling in the 1800s. With the dawning of the industrial revolution, large numbers of men sought work in mines, mills and factories, far from home and familiar parish. Women stayed behind — and began remaking the church in their image. The Victorian era saw the rise of church nurseries, Sunday schools, lay choirs, quilting circles, ladies’ teas, soup kitchens, girls’ societies, potluck dinners, etc.
Soon, the very definition of a good Christian had changed: boldness and aggression were out; passivity and receptivity were in. Christians were to be gentle, sensitive and nurturing, focused on home and family rather than accomplishment and career. Believers were not supposed to like sex, tobacco, dancing or other worldly pleasures. The godly were always calm, polite and sociable. This Victorian spirituality still dominates our churches. Those of us who grew up in church hardly notice it; we can’t imagine things any other way. But a male visitor detects the feminine spirit the moment he walks in the sanctuary door. He may feel like Tom Sawyer in Aunt Polly’s parlor; he must watch his language, mind his manners and be extra polite. It’s hard for a man to be real in church because he must squeeze himself into this feminine religious mold.
Men, if you’ve felt out of place in church, it’s not your fault. If you’ve tried and failed to get a men’s ministry going in your church, it’s not your fault. If you can’t get your buddies interested in church, it’s not your fault. The church system is getting the results it’s designed to get. Until that system changes, men will continue to perish, both inside and outside our congregations.
Some of you don’t know what I’m talking about. A feminized church? Some guys are happy with church just as it is, and see no need for change. But try to see church through the eyes of a typical guy. It’s intimidating for a man to hold hands in a circle, to cry in public, or to imagine falling deeply in love with another man (even if his name is Jesus).
If we’re going to be fishers of men, we’ve got to do a better job considering men’s needs and expectations. Jesus did it; so must we.
My book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, offers more than 60 pages of practical ideas for bringing a healthy, life-giving masculine spirit to your congregation – and to your own walk with God.