Churches from Moscow to Melbourne to Minneapolis are asking: Where are the men?
Women comprise more than 60% of the adults in the typical worship service in America. Some overseas congregations report ten women for every man in attendance. Volunteer ranks are heavily female.
No other religion suffers the enormous gender gaps that plague Christianity.
It’s not just attendance where men trail women. Men are less likely to lead, volunteer, and give in the church. They pray less, share their faith less, and read the Bible less.
The men who do go to church seem passive and bored. It’s often impossible to get churchgoing men to do anything other than attend services.
The church’s gender gap is often invisible because the top tier of church leadership is still heavily male. Over 90% of Protestant pastors and 100% of Catholic priests are male. But Leon Podles put it best: “The modern church is an army of women led by a few male generals.”
Men need the church but, more importantly, the church needs men. The presence of enthusiastic men is one of the surest predictors of church health, growth, giving, and expansion. Meanwhile, a man shortage is a sure sign of congregational paralysis and decline.
Church for Men is an organization dedicated to helping the local church reach more men and boys. At Church for Men, our focus is not male dominance, but male resurgence.
Why I Started Church for Men
I’m David Murrow, Director of Church for Men. A little over a decade 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?
I decided to do research that ultimately led to my writing a book and starting this website. What I found was that many American churches have become feminized. They don’t appeal to men. But churches can change to appeal to men. And they must change…or die.
The Feminized Church
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.
Why Men Hate Going to Church
Church: A Women’s Thing?
Ninety percent of American men believe in God. Five out of six call themselves Christians. Yet only about one in six can be found in church on any given Sunday. Those men who do show up often seem passive, bored, or out-of-place. Like the Doobie Brothers, men think “Jesus is just all right”, but the very idea of churchgoing gives them the willies. While some men have had specific, negative church experiences, others simply feel a general unease.
Men like Lance are common. “My wife Laura loves church, but it just doesn’t work for me,” he says. “The whole feel of it just doesn’t connect.” Why do millions of Lauras feel right at home in church, while millions of Lances feel as out of place as a ham sandwich at a bar mitzvah?
Look at it from a sociological perspective. What other behaviors do men avoid? What other venues make men uncomfortable? The answer is obvious: in our society, men avoid any behavior (or venue) that might call their manhood into question. For example, men don’t go to baby showers, fabric stores or “chick flicks.” So it is with church: men believe, deep in their hearts, that church is a women’s thing. Men approach Christianity with the same apathy or discomfort they display when forced to watch a Meg Ryan film. It just doesn’t resonate with them.
You may be thinking, Church is women’s thing? How can men think this? Haven’t we been told for decades that the church is male-dominated? If you’re speaking of professional clergy, then yes, the church is male-dominated. The governing boards of some congregations remain men-only. But almost every other area of church life is dominated by women. Armies of women.
Like a glove that gradually conforms to the hand of its wearer, Christianity has, over the centuries, subtly conformed to the needs and expectations of its most faithful constituency, women age 40 and older. So instead taking up the epic struggle Jesus promised his disciples, today’s congregations focus on creating a warm, nurturing environment where the top priority is making everyone feel loved and accepted. We gather. We worship. We love each other. We sing. We instruct children. We comfort the hurting. This lineup is both beneficial and biblical, but these things alone will not galvanize men.
Why not? I think John Eldredge says it best: men are wild at heart. Though men see the goodness of the Christian faith, they are not swept up in it because church life is so soft and sweet. The cautious, sensitive culture of today’s church fails to match the adventurous spirit found in most men. However, women and older folks are more likely to crave the safety and predictability the church provides. They flock to the pews, earning our congregations the dubious reputation as a place for little old ladies of both genders.
The signals we send to men
Every Sunday, without even realizing it, we send subtle signals to guys: you are in feminine territory.
The signals start in Sunday school. Think of the pictures of Jesus you saw as a child. Didn’t they suggest a tender, sweet man in a shining white dress? As our boys grow up, whom will they choose as a role model: gentle Jesus, meek and mild, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, the action hero? The irony here is that the real Jesus is the ultimate hero, bold and courageous as any man alive, but we’ve turned him into a wimp.
There are signals in the sanctuary. Let’s say a common working stiff named Nick visits your church. What’s the first thing Nick sees? Fresh flowers on the altar. Soft, cushiony pews with boxes of Kleenex underneath. Neutral carpet abutting lavender walls, adorned with quilted banners (or worse: Thomas Kinkade paintings). Honestly, how do we expect Nick to connect with God in a space that feels so feminine?
Nick looks around at other men. Some are obviously there against their will, dragged by a wife or mother. Others are softies. Research finds that men who are interested in Christianity are less masculine than average; seminarians also exhibit more feminine characteristics than the typical male. Even the vocabulary of churchgoing men is softer. Christian men use terms such as precious, share, and relationship, words you’d never hear on the lips of a typical man.
The signals keep coming during the service. Nick may be asked to hold hands with his neighbor. He may be asked to sing a love song to Christ, such as, “Lord, You’re Beautiful,” or “Jesus, I am so in love with You.” Someone may weep. Then Nick will have his male attention span put to the test by a monologue sermon. When this torture test is finally over, Nick is invited to have a personal relationship with Jesus.
Let’s spend a moment on that last one: a personal relationship with Jesus. That phrase never appears in the Bible. Yet in the past 50 years it’s become the number one way the evangelical church describes the Christian walk. It’s turned the gospel into a puzzle for men, because most guys don’t think in terms of relationships. Let’s say Lenny approaches Nick and says, “Nick, would you like to have a personal relationship with me?” Yuck! Men don’t talk or think like this, yet we’ve wrapped the gospel in this man-repellent package.
The signals keep coming: Nick comes alive outdoors, but 99% of church life takes place indoors. Nick was never much of a student, but taking classes, reading the Bible, and studying books are presented as cornerstones of a living faith. He lacks the verbal skills to pray aloud, or to sit in a circle and share his feelings.
Let’s say Nick makes it through this minefield and decides to volunteer. The typical church needs people to care for infants, to teach children and youth, to sing, to cook meals, to serve on committees, and to usher. Given that list, where do you think Nick will sign up? Somewhere in church history, most of the masculine roles were discarded (or assigned to professional clergy), while roles for laywomen multiplied. Today, Christian service revolves around tasks that women have traditionally performed. Men want to serve God, but many feel ill-prepared or even emasculated by the ministry opportunities we’re offering them.
The bottom line is that today’s church is no longer designed to do what Jesus did: reach men with the good news. To borrow a term from advertising: women are the target audience of the modern church. The feminine atmosphere in our churches causes women to feel loved and nurtured, but men to feel hesitant and restrained. The only men who can function in this feminine milieu are those who happen to be particularly sensitive, verbal, dutiful or studious. The more masculine the man, the more alienated he feels in the modern congregation.
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.
The Gender Gap and Your Church
Quick Facts on the Gender Gap
You’re not just imagining it. American Christianity is short on men. Here are the facts:
- The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories. 
- On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches. 
- This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands. 
- Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants. 
- The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male). 
- Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return. 
- More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church. 
- Churches overseas report gender gaps of up to 9 women for every adult man in attendance. 
- Christian universities are becoming convents. The typical Christian college in the U.S. enrolls almost 2 women for every 1 man. 
- Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry. 
Odds are that your church has a gender gap. Why should you care?
If you do nothing, your congregation will be dead in 30 years.
Research is clear: the bigger your man shortage, the more likely your church is in decline. The denominations with the largest gender gaps are also those that are losing the most members.
Look at the evidence: mainline churches suffer huge gender gaps, and they are losing tens of thousands of members each year. Meanwhile, non-denominational megachurches are growing fastest – and they are also the most likely to attract men.
The presence of enthusiastic male worshipers is statistically associated with the following outcomes:
- Congregational growth
- Congregational health
- Unity in the church
- Increased giving
- Retention of young men and women
According to a study from Hartford Seminary, gender-balanced congregations are three times as likely to be growing as female-dominated churches.
Jesus showed us how to grow a healthy church: focus on men first. Christ loved women and children, but he spent most of his time and energy developing a handful of men. He knew a truth we’ve forgotten: if you transform men, you transform the family, the community and the society. Draw a man to church, and you often get the family in the bargain.
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Our church needs a men’s ministry.” Not necessarily. Instead of launching yet another program, why not focus on “manning up” the programs you already offer?
That’s our emphasis at Church for Men. We want to help you make your existing ministries compelling to men and boys. You don’t have to create something new; just learn how to imbue your existing programs with a healthy masculine spirit.
FOOTNOTES: “U.S. Congregational Life Survey – Key Findings,” 29 October 2003, <www.uscongregations.org/key.htm>.  This statistic comes from Barna’s figures on male/female worship attendance, overlayed upon the Census 2000 numbers for adult men and women in the U.S. population.
 I came up with this figure by taking the U.S. Census 2000 numbers for total married adults and overlaying Barna Research’s year 2000 percentages of male vs. female attendance at weekly worship services. The figures suggest at least 24.5 million married women attend church on a given weekend, but only 19 million married men attend. That’s 5.5 million more women, or 22.5%. The actual number may be even higher, because married people attend church in much greater numbers than singles.  Barna Research Online, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America,” 6 March 2000, <www.barna.org>.  Ibid.  “LifeWay Research Uncovers Reasons 18 to 22 Year Olds Drop Out of Church,” PowerPoint presentation accompanying study, available at the LifeWay Web site, http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/article_main_page/0,1703,A=165949&M=200906,00.html, accessed 12 September 2007.  Barna, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America.”  I get an e-mail message about once a month from a pastor overseas whose congregation is almost totally female.  Camerin Courtney, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Christianity Today, Single Minded. View at http://www.christianitytoday.com/singles/newsletter/mind40630.html.  Based on a show of hands at the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries meeting in 2005. The consensus in the room among hundreds of men’s ministry experts was that less than 10% of congregations had any ongoing ministry to men. Compare this to the 110% of churches that offer women’s and children’s ministries.
Why Men Matter
Church is good for men:
- Churchgoers are more likely to be married and express a higher level of satisfaction with life. Church involvement is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness. 
- Church involvement moves people out of poverty. Its also correlated with less depression, more self-esteem and greater family and marital happiness. 
- Religious participation leads men to become more engaged husbands and fathers. 
- Teens with religious fathers are more likely to say they enjoy spending time with dad and that they admire him. 
And men are good for the church:
- A study from Hartford Seminary found that the presence of involved men was statistically correlated with church growth, health, and harmony. Meanwhile, a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline. 
Footnotes:[1, 2] “Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability,” The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, 1064, 25 January 1996, . Penny Edgell (Becker) and Heather Hofmeister, “Work, Family and Religious Involvement for Men and Women,” Hartford Institute for Religion Research, <http://hirr.hartsem.edu>.  Christian Smith and Phillip Kim, “Religious Youth Are More Likely to Have Positive Relationships with Their Fathers,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 12 July 2002, findings based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1997).  C. Kirk Hadaway, FACTs on Growth: A new look at the dynamics of growth and decline in American congregations based on the Faith Communities Today 2005 national survey of Congregations.
Pastors (and Other Church Leaders)
- Lakeside will draw three women for every two men.
- Almost one-fourth of the married women who attend Lakeside will do so without their husbands.
- Lakeside will attract a healthy number of single women, but few single men.
- The majority of men in Sunday worship will be there in body only. Their hearts just won’t be in it. And few will do anything during the week to nurture their faith.
Lakeside is the norm in Christianity – in the U.S., and around the world. Your church profile is probably similar. Count noses this Sunday – you’ll be surprised. A 60/40 gender gap (or larger) probably affects your worship services, midweek meetings, Bible studies, ministry teams, youth group, etc. In today’s church, women are the participators, and men are the spectators.
How did we get here? How did a faith founded by a man and his 12 male disciples become anathema to men? Why do Christian churches around the world experience a chronic shortage of males, when temples and mosques do not? Why are churchgoing men so hesitant to really live their faith, when men of other religions willingly die for theirs?
As a church leader, the lack of male participation may not be one of your top concerns. After all, if you want a smooth running congregation, women are the key. Women keep the ministry machine going. They sing in the choir, care for children, teach classes, cook for potlucks, and serve on committees. George Barna puts it this way: women are the backbone of Christian congregations. Men are like hood ornaments on cars: nice, but not necessary.
Over the long term, however, a lack of men will doom a congregation. The gender gap is associated with church decline, according to the latest studies. The denominations with the fewest men (per capita) are also those that have been losing members and shutting churches. On the other hand, churches with robust male participation are generally growing.
If you want a healthy church for the long term, attract men. This was Jesus’ strategy. It still works today.
There’s just one little problem: men hate going to church.
How do you turn things around?
In my book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, I offer more than 60 pages of practical, proven suggestions for making your church more man-friendly. Here are just a few:
Stop sending men signals that church is for women. From the moment he walks into the sanctuary, a typical man must sense that this is something for him, not just something for his grandma, his wife, and his kids. Examine everything about your church: the décor, the vocabulary you use, the songs you sing, the behaviors you expect. Men will respond if you meet them halfway.
Become students of men. Please don’t be offended by this, but the truth is many pastors have built their ministries on their ability to interact with women. Because men are so unneeded for church work, ministers have had little incentive to go after them. This must change. I challenge every pastor in America to become a student of men. A good place to start: read John Eldredge’s bestseller, Wild at Heart.
Men need great leadership. Men are drawn by vision and purpose, by achievement and power. Churches that attract enthusiastic men do so by taking risks, dreaming big, and bringing a measure of adventure back to the Christian life. Church leaders, I encourage you to dream big in the coming year. Ask God for a Big Hairy Audacious Goal that can only be accomplished by His power. However, expect resistance in the flock – from the rams as well as the ewes. Courageous leadership always involves change, and one researcher found that 85% of Christians have change-resistant personalities. Great leadership stirs up opposition, but over the long term it stirs hope in the hearts of men.
Help men learn. Men’s brains are less verbal than women’s, so they require a different approach. Men have been trained to focus for 6 to 8 minutes (the length between TV commercials). The lengthy monologue sermon, so effective in the Victorian era, fails to reach today’s men. Rick Warren of The Purpose Driven Church may have an answer: he frequently breaks his sermons into 5- to 7-minute chunks, with a video, drama, or song between each segment. And object lessons are essential: never take the pulpit without an object in hand. Jesus called these parables, and they survive to this day because men remembered them. Effective pastors and teachers draw metaphors and illustrations from the realms of sports, business, battle and survival.
Help men worship. With men, it’s all about quality. Men appreciate good music from talented musicians, played in their vocal range. When possible, choose songs with masculine lyrics. Many of today’s praise songs feature lovey-dovey words set to a romantic tune. Many men feel uncomfortable singing these words to Jesus, a man who lives today. Also, whenever possible, move men outside for worship. There’s nothing like a bonfire and a starry night to connect a man and his Maker.
Help men serve. Roger from Ohio says, “If serving in the church was more about pounding nails and less about wiping runny noses, I’d probably be interested.” Men will gladly serve if we let them do what they’re good at. Why not work on cars? One Illinois church has an on-site auto repair facility, staffed by volunteers, that benefits single mothers and the working poor. Even a small church can offer free oil changes in the church parking lot. Our congregation started doing this twice a year; the event attracts more than 50 guys who give up a Saturday morning to serve God. What’s more remarkable, we almost always get a few nonreligious husbands of churchgoing wives.
Go for the guys…
Church for Men offers a free guide to help your church conduct a man-friendly worship service. The Go for the Guys Sunday Action Plan will help you plan, prepare for and execute a successful worship service that targets men and boys. We recommend that you conduct a Go for the Guys Sunday at least once a quarter, in order to build momentum.
The action plan includes everything you need for the planning process: sample announcements, decorating ideas, music guidelines, fun elements, preaching and teaching ideas, object lesson suggestions, and more.
To get your free copy, visit the Resources page.