Should Churches Try To Target Men More?

Should Churches Try To Target Men More? August 30, 2014


The Jesuit Post’s Jeff Sullivan, SJ has written a nice post on the changing cultural understanding of manhood in post-Sexual Revolution America.

In doing so, he connects this with the noted fact of higher attendance of women at church and higher general religiosity, and cites authors as saying that there is a “problem”: “American churches have adopted primarily feminine language and ways of interacting and exploring spirituality.” This is a theme that we sometimes hear from Traditionalists: the pre-Vatican II Church was more masculine (all that lace and brocade, probably) and the post-Vatican II more feminine. That “masculine” is better than “feminine” is so taken for granted that it is never explicitly mentioned. 

But I think there’s a flaw in the reasoning, which is that, as best as we can tell, Christianity has always been more successful among women than men. Although it would be unwarranted to say that Jesus had more women followers than men, I think the Gospels do testify that he had an inordinately high number of women followers. In the Roman era (and under most Paganisms), Christianity was scorned as a religion for women. The conversion of stubborn men through the influence of pious women is a strikingly recurring motif of Christian history, including Augustine, Clovis, St Vladimir, and so on. In 19th century France, the hard-secularist left-wing parties that dominated politics refused to give women the vote on the basis that women were more religious than men and would vote in religious parties. It’s well known that in Soviet Russia the faith was to an enormous extent kept alive, at least at the lay level, by women. There’s a reason why the Church Lady is a stock character of popular imagination, whether in Orthodox Russia, Anglican Britain or Catholic France.

What this tells me isn’t so much that Christianity is bad at appealing to men, but rather that women are better at being human beings. Men are all-too-often more easily distracted from more fundamental concerns by their lusts for power, glory, social recognition and so on.

The prescription, then, isn’t so much for the Church to learn from men, but for men to learn from women.

We are suggested more homilies on work; I say we need more homilies on Christ crucified and risen from the dead.

Noli Me Tangere, by Alexander Ivanov (1806 – 1858), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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  • Leroy Huizenga

    Interesting post, FWIW. One thing I’ve heard Orthodox discuss is that Orthodoxy’s concept of Christus Victor is more appealing to males than the West’s ever more sentimental take on Love as the heart of God and the Gospel…

    • From anecdotal evidence, the gender imbalance is even greater, at least in traditionally Orthodox lands, than in Catholicism.

      • Ben Conroy

        Really? I know Rod is always going on about the greater numbers of men in Orthodoxy…

  • BLM4L

    My advice: if you think “my church is not reaching out to so and so” or “my church could be doing more to make this or that group feel welcome” the answer is – yes, and what are YOU going to do about it?

    If we regular parishioners sit back and wait for our (often aging, overwhelmed) pastors to do everything, it won’t happen.

    If you think there are not enough men, ask men to come to church with you. Ask your dad, brother, son, uncle, cousin, husband. How did I get back to church? My wife said: “we should go to church.” Offer to give people rides. Offer to help with the kids. Be the change.

    • Amen.

    • Episteme

      One easy thing that we did in my parish to get men more involved in coming to mass (and, oddly enough, dressing nicer when they came) was have the men’s organizations — the Knights of Columbus and Society of Saint Vincent dePaul in our Parish — playing a more public role and spoken up more as both men’s groups AND benefits to the church. We’re still working on the issue of young men and single men (as a thirty-something single who’s a KofC officer, this is a major concern of mine both personally and policy-wise), but we did manage to work triage really well over the course of just a few months by putting a proud face on existing ministries and giving men an *active* avenue of worship (both groups are known for volunteer work that often involves actual sweat and service, in addition to old-school devotion — we don’t have a Legion of Mary group, but I know parishes that have used them as a similar outlet).

      Men in church are usually fathers. They don’t want to be seen as sitting there passively. We’re also a parish that’s always had a huge focus on well-trained lectors and ushers, so a lot of men have been active serving in those roles (both being demonstrative — the extraordinary ministers are usually either women or men like myself serving in a second ministry. The special benefit of apostolic fraternal service groups is that they go the extra step of being even more active: the man not only serves as an example of charitable service to his children, but is often recognized for that (directly, or indirectly via the parish’s knowledge of his membership) when he’s at mass — that’s a form of healthy pride, inasmuch as it’s pride in the work that he’s accomplished for a good cause and pride in showing his children how they can remain in the church and do more than passively sit and listen to the liturgy (even we singles have such opportunities — as an usher, I interact with many of the small children who are kept in the back of the church with their parents; when they see me in my KofC regalia, son the young boys who I’d otherwise expect to in a few years choose to leave the church instead tell me how they want to become knights themselves so they can get “Superman capes” like me!)…

      • You’re allowed to usher in full regalia? WOW! I’m not 4th degree yet, but when I was organizing our council, one of the objections I got from the old liberals in the parish was the “military” nature of the Knights and an objection to how they “take over everything”.

        • oregon nurse

          Don’t take offense but I suspect you realize that there are some in the Church that are uncomfortable with the similarity with Freemasonry – the secrecy, the levels, the ‘regalia’, etc. And lot’s of men don’t like clubs so they won’t join just for that reason alone.

        • Episteme

          My bad! A number of knights usher with our KofC pins. However, the kids recognize us from our appearance in regalia at confirmation, award ceremonies for retiring catechumens, and the like.

          • That’s a bit better. My Knights volunteer at mass (ushering and Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister, I keep telling my Canon Lawyer of a pastor that EOEM is not a pronounceable acronym) with their council badges on- largely 3rd degree, the nearest assembly is several parishes over.

          • Episteme

            (The assembly to which our council members (our council covers two neighboring unofficially-sister parishes) of the 4th degree belong meets at the hall of the neighboring council (who handle the other two parishes in “town” — we together handle a large ~75k township and its direct exurbs that’s about 50% Catholic in the Philly suburbs), which we often borrow use of for degree ceremonies, so we’re in luck to be close.)

            Confusingly, many of our knights will wear their 4th degree pin as their usual pin at church (higher number?). I personally always make certain to wear my 3rd, both to represent the Council and as the recognizable symbol of the Knights for potential brothers to see if they want to approach me (since I’m a daily mass lector, I’m visible to a different population of professional & retired men who are more liable to come to church alone than on a Sunday, where they’re outnumbered & outmaneuvered by women & children. I actually get questions, as a younger knight, double-checking if I *am* a 4th degree since so many older knights show up in that other pin on Sundays!

    • YES! And not only this, but in America, let me give a plug to Knights of Columbus. I see my Knights at Mass more than I see any other men, it makes recruiting very hard.

  • oregon nurse

    “The conversion of stubborn men through the influence of pious women is a
    strikingly recurring motif of Christian history, including Augustine,
    Clovis, St Vladimir, and so on.”

    This is culturally true as well, except for a few rare instances. Women have always had a ‘civilizing’ influence on men. What scares me the most about our current culture is how uncivil and coarse women are becoming. They are killing and abusing and drugging and sexing at levels approaching that of men. A society will never be more civilized than it’s women.

    • On women’s civilizing influence on men: amen!

    • JCF

      “What scares me the most about our current culture is how uncivil and
      coarse women are becoming. They are killing and abusing … at levels approaching that of men.”

      The latter is FALSE, and if you’re more “scared” about women, than the “killing and abusing” done TO women, your perspective is seriously OFF.

      • oregon nurse

        I assume you are completely ignoring abortion. When I read the local news, the number of stories of mothers killing and abusing their kids are getting right up there with men. When I ride public transportation or go to a mall and see the number of pierced, tattooed, half nude women and teens .. yeah, using the word coarse is being kind. Maybe your reality is different, mine is not.

        • Or maybe he just lives in a place where civilization, rather than individualism, still exists. Archbishop Sample’s primary complaint about Oregon so far has been how incredibly rooted the pioneer spirit of do it all on your own is rooted here.

  • Joe

    Is it true that in France your cliché church lady is referred to as “a frog in the holy water”?

  • “The prescription, then, isn’t so much for the Church to learn from men, but for men to learn from women.”

    I would say this is incredibly wrong. For one, if you take this point to the logical conclusion, it leads to women’s ordination. But more importantly, I think women are better at being holy because their brains process information differently; so thus what is needed is a robust male theology, not an imitation of a female one.

  • stlhdsal

    Mr. Gobry’s prescription for the lack of men in the Church is facile at best. I speak and lead men’s Catholic men’s retreats. Men in our culture are so out of touch with their feelings that the faith has become intellectualized and one complicated abstraction. It can’t compete with the spectacles of our wired culture. This leads to tremendous loneliness, depression, and isolation for many men. The problem is the split between the head and heart, something that goes back 400 years at least, as described best by Descartes dictum, “I think, therefore I am.” Christ is not found in thinking, he’s found in the heart. The Church needs to attract more men to the faith through the masculine heart, not through the feminine one. It needs to help men reclaim the beauty of their desires for life and all that is good in being a man. My website is