ScientistOne out of five scientists who describe themselves as atheists or agnostics go to church on occasion.

Why would these mostly-male nonbelievers* participate in an institution based on a fairy tale? Their reasoning sheds light on why the local church has such a weak hold on churchgoing men.

The scientists said they attend services because: 1) they want their children to be exposed to religion so they can make up their own minds about what to believe; 2) many think the church may provide their children a better understanding of morality and ethics; 3) occasional church attendance is seen as a way to ease the conflict with a spouse who sees religion as a value to the children.

What’s the common thread? Church is for children. The only reason these well-educated men go to church is to benefit their kids. These highly intelligent men see church as something that helps youngsters develop a moral framework – but once that framework is developed, there’s no value in staying with it. (The study also found that most of the churchgoing scientists dropped out soon after the kids flew the nest)

To paraphrase the famous cereal commercial: Silly Christians, church is for kids!

How have so many men come to perceive religion as a children’s thing? Maybe because it is.

One hundred fifty years ago, children’s ministry did not exist in the local church. There was no Sunday school, no youth group, not even a church nursery. But today, children’s ministry is typically the largest program of the church in terms of volunteers deployed. In the typical Protestant church more than 40 percent of the people ministered to during the week are children.

The local church is like the Titanic: it’s women and children first.

With so much focus on the young, church is gaining a reputation as a child development program. Fathers take their children to church for the same reason they take them to kiddie birthday parties – it’s their duty as good dads. But the fathers rarely participate; preferring to stand aside and watch the mothers run the show.

Men know that church has something to offer children. That brings a few male bodies into the house. The key to winning their hearts is to convince them that church has something to offer men.

 

*Although the study does not report the gender of these scientists, the vast majority of physical scientists and science faculty are male. Therefore, the study provides a glimpse into how a subset of well-educated, mostly male individuals perceives Christianity.