Women Leaving the Church

From The Christian Century:

Women, long considered the dominant pew dwellers in the nation’s churches, have shown a dramatic drop in attendance in the last two decades, a new survey shows.

Since 1991, the percentage of women attending church during a typical week has decreased by 11 percentage points to 44 percent, the Barna Group reported Monday (Aug. 1).

“For years, many church leaders have understood that `as go women, so goes the American church,’`’ wrote Barna Group founder George Barna, on his website. “Looking at the trends over the past 20 years, and especially those related to the beliefs and behavior of women, you might conclude that things are not going well for conventional Christian churches.”

From the Barna Group itself:

No population group among the sixty segments examined has gone through more spiritual changes in the past two decades than women. Of the 14 religious factors studied, women have experienced statistically significant changes related to 10 of them. Of those transitions, eight represent negative movement – that is, either less engagement in common religious behaviors or a shift in belief away from biblical teachings.

Five of the six religious behaviors tracked showed significant change.

  • Church attendance among women sank by 11 percentage points since 1991, declining to 44%. A majority of women no longer attend church services during a typical week.
  • Bible reading has plummeted by 10 percentage points, declining from half of all women reading the Bible during a typical week (excluding that done during church events) to just four out of ten doing so today (40%).
  • Sunday school involvement is less common among women these days, down seven points from the 24% mark noted in 1991.
  • Women have traditionally been the backbone of volunteer activity in churches. However, there has been a nine point slide in the percentage of women helping out at a church during any given week. That drop reflects a 31% reduction in the non-paid female work force at churches.
  • The only religious behavior that increased among women in the last 20 years was becoming unchurched. That rose a startling 17 percentage points – among the largest drops in church attachment identified in the research.

Interesting. As Barna points out, conventional wisdom has always said that women were the core constituency of the American Christian church. They filled the pews, ran the day care and volunteered to help around the church.

Has something changed? Why are women leaving the pews now?

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  • mikespeir

    The more secure one feels, the less one seeks out security. Women are increasingly determining their own destinies.

    • Lilith

      Well said.

  • Sam

    Well, hopefully this means as time goes on, there will be less religious people cause I think people are a bit wiser (still ignorant) but you catch my drift. Hopefully it dies out completely one day. What a great world that would be.

  • Sundog

    I think it’s even simpler. Women today expect to be treated as equals – but even the most progressive churches, that allow woman priests and full participation, can’t hide the basically female-hostile and patriarchal core of christianity. Why WOULD a modern woman stay in a religion that specifically and maliciously designates her second-class?

    • Baconsbud

      I was going to say something similar to this. Why would most females want to belong to a group that tends to see them as a second class being?

      • kholdom0790

        Apparently, they wouldn’t. Well, a growing number of them anyway. Is it at all likely that the numbers would start going back up? =\

      • claidheamh mor

        I have wondered this since 1972. Why didn’t I wonder before that? I hadn’t been exposed to the pure twisted awfulness of church, especially the church of christ.

  • Gordon

    It is good news either way. Plenty of people only go to church to keep Mom or Granny happy and if those ladies drift away they’ll take their tribe with them.

  • Lisa

    Could it be because religion no longer meets theself women’s needs in a modern society. Could it be that a patriarchal, bronze age superstition which denigrates women into second class status is becoming more and more repugnant to these women. Could it be that they are now seeking something that allows them greater freedom and happiness. I hope so.

    • FO

      Could it be that there is less people forcing women in churches because women are becoming more and more independent.

      • Lisa

        Yes, and I think that’s a very good thing.

  • Lisa

    Could it be because religion no longer meets these women’s needs in a modern society. Could it be that a patriarchal, bronze age superstition which denigrates women into second class status is becoming more and more repugnant to these women. Could it be that they are seeking something that allows them greater freedom and happiness. I hope so.

  • http://atipplingphilosopher.yolasite.com/ Jonathan M.S. Pearce

    There is one solution for the church that the Dutch are trialling – reinvent Christianity!

    Read this article – it is FASCINATING!!!


    • mikespeir

      I’m astonished that revelation from a timeless, all-knowing god would need reinventing.

      • http://atipplingphilosopher.yolasite.com/ Jonathan M.S. Pearce

        Oh, don’t be so logical, you! Sheesh, how do you expect to hold down a faith with such rationality?!

        • mikespeir

          I’m so ashamed. :-(

          • http://atipplingphilosopher.yolasite.com/ Jonathan M.S. Pearce

            I recognise you from DC where my username is JohnnyP! Hello there, Mike!

            • mikespeir

              Oh, yeah! I don’t comment there a lot, but sometimes.

    • claidheamh mor

      From that article:

      When I asked Rikko whether he believed Jesus was the son of God he looked uncomfortable.
      “That’s a very tough question. I’m not sure what it means,” he says.

      It reminded me of descriptions of interviews with residents of Denmark that formed the basis of the book “Society Without God” by Phil Zuckerman. I discovered this book on this site; Daniel recommended it; I read it, loved it, and highly recommend it.

      When asked “Do you believe in God?”, some people, including the clergy, said things like, “You know, I’ve never thought about it.”

    • http://home.earthlink.net/~jordsvin Patrick B.

      These churches sound like the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington Kentucky http://www.uucl.org to which I have belonged for over 20 years. Good for them!

  • vasaroti

    During the past 2 decades there’s been a huge increase on the number of seniors with Alzheimer’s, and children with asthma and autism. Women are still doing plenty of non-paid work on behalf of family members, and there’s just less time for them to donate to the church. If a woman has “extra” time, she’s most likely pulling a shift at 7-11 and is dead tired on Sunday A.M. Some women would rather not attend church at all than go and not be able to donate every week, as a matter of pride. If the economy came roaring back tomorrow, I’m sure we’d see a substantial number of women returning to the church, trying to reestablish that white-picket-fence idealized life.

    • kholdom0790


    • albert f. maas

      dream on

    • Nelly

      that kind of logic is the reason I drink

  • mornincuppajava

    For me personally, it was the result of reading for too many Biblical inconsistencies that were explained away using faulty logic. It was the perpetual notion that one had no self-worth outside of his or her relationship with God and that we are utterly powerless in ourselves to see right and wrong before us and to choose to behave rightly simply because it is right.

    It was the notion that one could see for a fact that either the Bible is written allegorically and should not be used to ostracize entire members of society, or at the very least written by men who had limited understanding of the universe. To completely ignore these truths would be to remove the part of my brain that uses logic and deductive reasoning and give it to someone else in the name of “faith,” simply because they claim it to be true. The reality is that their arguments come as little more than inflammatory offenses at the notion that everything they’ve believed for their whole life could possibly be wrong. They actually offer no real factual support – just weak repetitions of sermons they’ve heard of erroneous connections between texts used to justify their misconceptions.

    In the end, I’d rather teach my children to choose right because it is right than to choose it in order to escape eternal damnation or to reap eternal reward. The latter mode of thinking engages them in a perpetual state of immature thinking. I certainly don’t mind if they choose to emulate the life of Jesus… We’d all live kinder and gentler lives if we did, but I dare say that the whole of who he was is not genuinely reflected in most modern churches – they’re too busy planning committees, nursing their egos, and devouring the weak. That’s not who I want my children to become, so we’ve stepped off that train.

  • http://lydiafromtexas.wordpress.com/ LRA

    Could it be that women are now educated just as well as (and in some cases better than) men? Women attend college at rates equal to (and in some cases better than) men. Perhaps this is a factor?

    • http://ohmatron.wordpress.com/ Custador

      Nu-UH! Girls are smelly! POO!

      • http://lydiafromtexas.wordpress.com/ LRA

        LOL! Custy has COOTIES!!!!! Blah!!!!

    • mornincuppajava

      I think that education has a lot to do with it. Without education causing me to really think about the complexities of the universe (ie Kepler’s Law, morning evening on days 1-3 when no sun until day 4, how was the earth suspended in space on days 1-3, and why didn’t the author know that the sun HAD to be in place first, along with all of the other planets?) Prior to knowledge of these issues, the mind can kind of skim over these passages and take them at face value and then buy whatever illogical argument someone is selling to explain them. This doesn’t even begin to talk about better knowledge of history…

    • Lisa

      Absolutely. I firmly believe that education plays a key role in liberating women from religious dogma.

    • http://lydiafromtexas.wordpress.com/ LRA

      Yayyyy, education!!!!

      You, go, girls!!!!

      • Noelle

        Yep. Another vote here for education. All that book larnin taught me the mysteries of the universe. All that intensive studying kept me too tired or busy to take time out for church. And going to that academically rigorous Christian college allowed me to exercise my uncanny ability to find hot smart introverted atheist guys to have hopeless crushes on. Eventually married one, and there was no way I’m getting my own butt out of bed to go to church by myself Sunday mornings. Habit broke, old belief systems challenged, and one less female church-goer.

        • mornincuppajava

          Wow, Noelle, stereotype much? Your response sounds like a tongue in cheek slam than an actual experience. As for me, I was a born again, evangelical believer before and during college for more than 20 years and married to the same a believer as well for nearly 16. I’ve been graduated for some time and then finally allowed myself to question things that didn’t make sense. BTW, during the last 10 years, until the last few months, I got out of bed every Sunday morning and took my children to church faithfully without the benefit of my husband who still professes faith, yet refuses to go. I read the Bible extensively and taught it as often as I had the opportunity. My old belief systems weren’t challenged because of laziness, but because of a deep search for reconciliation of inconsistencies.

          • Elemenope

            It’s entirely possible for two different people to arrive at the same destination via different routes. That one route is more scenic doesn’t in any way detract from the sameness of the end location.

            • mornincuppajava

              This is absolutely true. It just sounded like this was someone who was mocking the effect of education on a woman’s decision to leave the church rather than actually recounting an actual experience. It’s amazing how many people that I have contact with (in actual life, not on here) think that anyone who doesn’t have faith, go to church, etc… is under informed, too lazy to get out of bed on Sunday, and certainly hell bound.

              Recently, a friend posted an (un)ambiguous FB posting about how alarmed he was about someone he’d discovered had left the faith. Apparently, my marriage is now going to crumble and my life is going to be in ruins because I will no longer have the capacity to choose right from wrong and my only hope is to “return to grace.” There’s more, but you get the point. Ugh.

              No, tongue in cheek hints that intelligence is actually ignorance aren’t original and aren’t received well.

            • http://lydiafromtexas.wordpress.com/ LRA

              I think you’re misreading Noelle. She has a great sense of humor and her response to me was meant humorously (if I may speak for her).

              She is a doctor and clearly, education has served her well. I know these things about her so her response makes sense to me.

              She’s not mocking anyone!

          • Noelle

            Sorry, this is the first chance I’ve had to check in for awhile. If I stereotype anyone, it is only myself for telling my story. Granted, it is condensed. I left out a few steps. But the basics are there. I am not mocking you by being me. We didn’t start at the same place or take the same road. I didn’t grow up in an evangelical church. I didn’t even know what a fundamentalist was until I started visiting these blogs about a year ago. My childhood church experience was mostly boring. I liked the music and daydreamed through the rest. Even now I still enjoy the music and some of my childhood traditions. My education and training didn’t physically allow for church. I was working most weekends. No laziness required. Pure exhaustion. On the rare Sunday I found I wasn’t working I was too tired to consider anything but sleep. During this entire time I still prayed, even though it usually felt about the same as when I was talking to myself. When the brutal training ended, I was delighted to discover weekends have 2 days. They all have 2 days. Great wondrous joy and blessed rest.

            I could’ve never taken my first child to church alone. He has autism spectrum disorder and ADHD and the few times we did go I ended up in the nursery with him because no one else was equipped to handle him. By this point, the weekly habit of attending church was long gone. The hassle of restarting it seemed futile when all I wanted to do was relax and sing some hymns.

            I never even bothered to examine what was left of my faith until years later. At that point it was an old belief system I didn’t use. I’m no philosopher. Chipping away at inconsistencies isn’t my style. I have a science and logic based brain when it comes to decision making. My previous education experiences honed that. I couldn’t disprove the null hypothesis.

            Habits broke, old beliefs challenged and failed, one less female church-goer

            It is my story only. I don’t expect it to be yours. In my case, higher education was my starting point.

            • mornincuppajava

              Noelle, I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions. I shouldn’t have done that. I was filtering your comments through how I’ve been treated and not what you said and that wasn’t fair. I actually teach high school students with ASD and ADHD and I know that they aren’t wired the same way as everyone else. I dare say that I would probably not venture out into Sunday School with them unless they were having their best of days. This is especially true when there are so many online options that don’t involve getting them out of their comfort zone. My student with the most pronounced ASD is one who doesn’t tolerate any form of change in his schedule. If I’m going to be absent, I’ve got to tell him way ahead of time, explain where I’ll be and when I’ll be back. This usually works. If he’s not feeling cooperative with the sub, we have to let him go to the class he is in for the 2nd half of his day.

              I’m currently amazed by how few people who are supposed to be my friends will actually carry on an intelligent conversation with me about why my beliefs have changed and how logic and reasoning can be directly applied. Their faith is so ingrained that they would rather condemn me and argue me down than just listen and even just agree to disagree. I have sooooo found out who my friends are these past few months.

              I am sorry for assuming that I heard a tone in your writing that you didn’t mean. I guess I’d read a few of these blogs too many and saw how many well meaning people of faith are on here who just want to pick a fight with someone who doesn’t believe the way they do. I was wrong and I apologize.

            • Noelle

              Apology accepted. Thanks for replying. I often write in a grammar-sparse shorthand, because it’s the language of my profession. It’s taken awhile to relearn how other people write and talk. I understand that much can be missed and misunderstood by my doing it. I’ve known LRA and Elomenope for several months from another board, so they must be used to me enough by now to jump to my defense. I do appreciate it. Judging by the number of my comments that were lost to the spam filter without benefit of moderation the first month I wandered over here, I suspect you’re not the only one who’s assumed I’m a snarky religious troll. I do hope I’ve won over the server monkeys by now.

              Thanks for the understanding words about my son. Stick around? Maybe I’ll keep needing advice as more challenges arise. 2nd grade starts in 1 month. New teacher. sigh.

            • mornincuppajava

              I’ll be glad to help you with your son if you have questions. The great thing about students with ASD is just how capable they really are is someone is willing to work with them and get beyond the quirky exterior. Our family friends requested that their son with ASD be placed under my direct supervision upon entering high school. I not only teach him, but I hold his IEP folder and am responsible for making sure that he has everything he needs academically. I am really proud to say that he will be graduating this year with a regular education diploma, having passed all state required tests for graduation and having done so in only four years without repeating anything. He’s an amazing young man and we’ve had an entertaining time since he’s been with me.

              I love my students and I love my job and anytime I can help someone who has kids like the ones I serve everyday, I am always more than willing to do it.

  • Alexis

    Why do they always seem to depict a positive trend as a negative one?

  • L.Long

    Between the internet and better education and being treated as schite all add to a woman braking the mother-daughter chain of brainwashing. And once you do break away and look around you can find any number of ‘groups’ to belong to.

  • Robster

    Could it be, the girls don’t really want to be their husbands chattels, as they are described in the babble. It’s amazing how many godly women don’t know their wholly book has them as little more than a husbands posession and will deny that’s the case…’till you show ‘em. Also, the whole ediface is so anti-woman and they won’t mind their own business. Also, the mums are now scared about dropping their offspring to the church for a bit of child care, because they know there’s always going to be a priest/bishop/imam/rabbi/minister/chalain etc. waiting in the wings with an un-natural interest in her kids. More reasons to stay away than be involved, not to mention the death worship and institutionalised guilt trip.

  • http://www.couponspicker.com Vinati

    Modernization has its hand in Religious duties also.Women are getting modern more concentrating on their careers leaving some rituals they should do.But it will definitely get changed and I hope women again will resort to the route wtaht their elders have shown.

    • Mogg

      Would you like to give some description of these rituals we “should” do? What about my mother, who became a fundamentalist Christian when her entire family were either non-observant Catholics or non-observant Anglicans? If she “should” go back to what her elders taught her, should she choose not caring much about her mother’s Catholic rituals, or not caring much about her father’s Anglican rituals?

  • http://www.thekdiaries.com Kiri

    I think that women are waking up to a shift in global consciousness quicker than men are – one which astrologers and the like have known was coming for many years. There are more and more women realising that the way Christianity works today, and has done throughout the past, is absolutely flawed. It has proven itself to be untrustworthy, an advocate of inequality, and contradictory to itself. How can you believe in and go to church to show your support for religions that are actually holding back development in the human pyche overall?

    For me, I saw through the holes in the story. My trust in the church was completely abliterated after the child abuse scandals. The more research I did into Christianity and its history the more lies I uncovered. How can something that has done so much wrong over 2000+ years possibly be valid in this day and age for much longer? I decided to go down my own path and work for my own spiritual experiences, because I knew that they would be whole and true, instead of somebody elses fabrication, and I intend to teach my children the same thing.

    • nzo


      You’re referencing astrologers, and talking about christianity as being ‘untrustworthy’? Pot…

      I decided to go down my own path and work for my own spiritual experiences, because I knew that they would be whole and true, instead of somebody elses fabrication, and I intend to teach my children the same thing.

      It’s great that you went down your own path, but honestly, indoctrinating your children to be ‘spiritual’ is no worse than indoctrinating them to be christian, or atheist. I feel bad for any children you have, or will have.

      Astrologers are just as bad as christian prophets for predicting the future, and are just as bad as christian priests for helping you decide what to do with your life. Why is this? Because their minds are stuck in metaphysical B.S.

  • Schaden Freud

    And this is why you shouldn’t discriminate against your target demographic. What a hilarious own goal for the god-botherers!

  • http://www.thekdiaries.com Kiri

    Ok, I agree maybe I was a bit how can I put it… a bit strong in what I said? I do find all organised religion ‘untrustworthy’ to a degree because it is based completely on other peoples stories. The reason I follow my own path is because I want to make my own mind up based on my own experiences, and THIS is what I intend to teach my children – make up your own mind based upon your own experiences, so Nzo, I think your comment about feeling bad for my children is a little misplaced… Surely encouraging a child to discover things for themself is better than indoctrining them into any belief system? Also, astrology isn’t just about predictions, it can help us see what sort of general thought processes will affect large numbers at any given time, although I agree, predicting how these will work out exactly IS a load of pot.

    And to Schaden Freud… I am not a god-botherer. I actually believe in God. I just don’t agree with the way that Christianity and other mainstream religions say what that relationship must entail of etc relationship with God is just that – Me and God. I don’t need a priest, a bible, a church or anyone else as part of that relationship, and to bring this back to the post, I think more women (amd indeed men) are waking up to that. Also, my target demographic isn’t those who already believe, so maybe not so much an own goal?

    • Nzo

      So you’re going to teach your children to choose their own path? Good for you! Unless I read that wrong, and you’re going to teach them YOUR path, which I originally thought you meant.

      Also, astrology isn’t just about predictions, it can help us see what sort of general thought processes will affect large numbers at any given time, although I agree, predicting how these will work out exactly IS a load of pot.

      This makes almost no sense. I can’t tell what cherries you’re picking out of the astrology bunk. ‘It can help us see what sort of general thought processes will affect large numbers at any given time’ doesn’t seem to have any actual meaning in this context, either.

  • James

    If you really look at it it is because there are less house wifes The church was the only social outlet for the house wife. Many want to do thing so volunteering for their church was always there for them. No the also volunteer for other activities. It is great. It about a generation behind the actual decline of the housewife because many women were feeling like they had to do such things.
    Yes education, and equal rights have created an equal church participation
    I don’t think it has anything to do with not agreeing with church values, and how they treat women. This is a decline in attendance and volunteering not in affiliation; that is a whole other survey.

  • http://www.thekdiaries.com Kiri

    Nzo – No, you are correct, I am going to teach them to make their own mind up about what they believe, rather than influence them towards one belief system over another, including my own. Astrology wise, you gave the impression that it is nothing more than predictions/horoscopes, which is incorrect. Throughout history we have been able to see the types of things that can happen depending on what is going on re planets etc, and the point I was making (although clearly not very well) was that based upon that history, we can see that right now in astrological terms, the breaking down of systems that no longer serve us well is taking place, which I believe is playing a part (albeit subconsciously and perhaps a small one) on why many people are breaking away from organised religion. I do agree with you that exactly how these things will work out cannot be predicted, however it can give us a broad overview of how things may be affected. I think it is clear you think astrology is a load of rubbish, which you are obviously more than entitled to think, however given it is far older than any mainstream belief system we have in the world today, I feel that there must be at least a degree of truth in it for it to have lasted so long. I have a funny feeling you’re opinion will be different entirely though… :)

    To bring this back to the post, I think that it can be safely said that there are many, many reasons for the drop in numbers of women going to church, and what is crystal clear is that in the large part, the church is not giving these people what they need in order to keep attending. Will it ever recover, especially seeing as there are such varied reasons for people not going? Personally, I would be surprised if it could cater to these variables and recovers from the downward spiral re numbers it is in at the present.

  • brettvk

    This is fascinating. Back in the early 90s I researched the Promise Keepers movement for a college paper, and part of their schtick was whinging about the “feminization” of the church [no, I wasn't friendly to the movement or its goals, such as they were].

    There’s a long tradition of Muscular Christianity in US evangelical Protestantism wherein the evangelist tries to get more men into the church by pointing out that all the wimmens is diluting the true Christian message and making JC a sissyboy (see Billy Sunday et al.). This ungrateful argument is derived from the clear fact that, as Barna notes, women are the labor force that keeps congregations alive by doing almost everything except sermons and board-of-elders. Such an evergreen trope can remain so because movements like PK always seem to peter [ha!] out after a few years, and the prevailing gender ratio reasserts itself.

    If women really are leaving the churches — and I can think of many reasons for this, but I bet economic distress is the leading one — the character of US evangelical Christianity might undergo interesting changes. It might become even more a movement expressed almost exclusively in mass media and politics.

    • Len

      And more repressive towards women.

    • Mogg

      Hi brettvk,

      evangelical Christianity in Australia is already a movement more strongly expressed in media and politics than in general society. The proportion of senior politicians who adhere to some form of Christianity is far higher than the general population, and social issues which are strongly opposed by fundie types are often supported by the majority of Australians. For instance, depending on which poll results you read, somewhere between 62% and 70% of the population support gay marriage.

      Nevertheless, because the tiny evangelical and Catholic minority have very loud voices in politics and the media, issues which are supported by the majority are delayed, refused, or ignored. It’s quite fascinating, and it’s resulted in Australia having some oddly conservative laws. A couple of examples that I know of are Australia not having an R (adults only) rating for computer games, and having possibly the most backward political attitude to gay marriage in the western world (we’re pretty much the only country which refuses to issue a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage to gay citizens wishing to marry overseas, for instance).

      I can definitively say that the expectations of the church to take up my time in ‘service’ activities, extra meetings and events was one reason why I originally left the insular cultish church my family attended, and finally left the church altogether. I just didn’t have the time and energy to work, keep my house, look after myself and do all that extra stuff, particularly when it was mostly stuff with or for people I didn’t consider great friends and who in many cases didn’t give a toss about me.

  • LR

    The problem with Church is that it suppresses women which is why women don’t go to church anymore. There’s more men than women in the church and men have less women to choose from in the church which is a good thing because we still believe that men must always court women and compete with other men over women. This is why church-going men have trouble finding a good woman to marry and often wind up with the bad girls-the female players, or sluts, drug dealers, thieves, husband beaters, etc. which they wind up beating up or even killing in order to straighten up their behavior. But then again, men can take up leadership positions in the church such as being a priest or minister, bishop, cardinal, etc. Men are usually better off when they are single. Religious men are usually picky about women because there are less women in the church.