About Men and Church
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There has been a lot of “talk” (much in writing) about why American men are increasingly staying away from church. The purported statistics bear this out. About two-thirds of regular church attenders are female. Of course, that varies by denomination, but overall and in general more women than men attend and participate in church faithfully. More men than women stay away from church or attend without participating.
I can attest to that—from my own experience of attending (on a regular basis) about sixteen churches during my lifetime. (Four of those were during my four college years!) Over the years I have noticed a trend of men (and boys not taken to church by their mothers) quietly staying away from church.
I don’t think this is a totally new phenomenon, of course, as the media have long portrayed family men as staying away from church as their “women folk” (“Walton’s Mountain” is one example) attended and actively participated in church. In fact, it’s difficult to think of any television series where a man or men attended church voluntarily.
People who track church attendance and participation trends, however, do report, and my observation supports this, that increasingly men do stay away from church. I have also observed that many men in church are not worshiping but sitting silently (or conversing) in the foyer or in the sanctuary watching something on their iPads or cell phones or whatever—especially toward the back or in the balcony.
Of course there are always exceptions to any generalization. But one exception kind of proves the “trend theory”—Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle when he pastored there. Mark made a point of drawing men into his church by making the worship and his preaching very “masculine” (some would say “macho”). It worked. Especially young males flocked to his church and it became a mega-church where males actively attended and participated enthusiastically.
Now, let’s set aside an obvious objection. Nobody is denying that women have largely been denied leadership roles in many especially conservative churches. The issue here is that, allegedly, the ethos of church is feminine and men increasingly feel excluded—rightly or wrongly.
Some claim the blame lies partly on the imagery of God and Jesus — as “meek and mild” and “loving and sweet” and “gentle and kind” without any balance of God’s and Jesus’s wild side.
But there’s also the plain fact, hardly deniable, that men by nature tend (I said tend!) to be loners. Not that they want to be, but that their masculine nature (whatever that is, exactly) TENDS to turn them toward aloneness. They can be sociable, of course, but in more limited times and ways than women. But this hardly explains the current (decades-long) TREND of men away from church attendance and participation.
I can’t prove what I am about to say and I admit it is based almost exclusively on a subjective perception and interpretation of what I observe. Our American society is saturated with aggressiveness and violence. While many in the mass media decry those, they also focus on them. Why, for example, did they focus so long and so hard on Will Smith’s slapping of Chris Rock? Was that really worth that much media attention and commentary? And what about the five minute “news story” on national news about Mike Tyson getting into a fight with an airline passenger? Really? Is that worthy of that much attention?
My point is simply that, in my humble opinion, fallible as it is, our society is increasingly glorifying aggressiveness. Call it “machismo” or whatever. Yes, they are also portraying women that way, but who really takes that seriously? It’s cartoonish. We all know it’s not natural to women to go around hitting and kicking and beating up men. It’s fake (on TV and in movies). But is there a hidden joy in “machismo?” If so, what is that doing to boys and men in our contemporary American society? And how is church dealing with that? By trying to make boys and men more like women? By portraying Jesus as gentle, meek, mild, sweet? I don’t know. Maybe there’s something to that.
One Christian author, former Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, wrote a book about Jesus being mean and wild. A few other Christian speakers and authors have tried to describe and portray Jesus as masculine. There have been some feeble attempts to draw boys into church by bringing along roving Christian groups of muscle-bound weight-lifters, etc., etc. I don’t think any of those strategies helped the situation.
What can churches do to draw in more men (and boys) and cause them to want to participate more?
May I tentatively make one humble suggestion?
When I was growing up in church SOME of our music (hymns and choir “numbers”) were marshal, almost military. I especially remember “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand…” with trumpets and trombones bridging between the verses, etc. And that wasn’t the only one like that. Those kinds of songs in worship seem to have faded away almost entirely. What if someone wrote some contemporary hymns and “praise and worship” songs that had more of a masculine “feel” to them? More “marching band” and marshal ethos? And what if more churches recruited men and boys to sing—from the “platform?”
What if churches became more realistic about boys and men without catering to the temptations typical for men and boys? I’m not advocating showing “Fight Club” on a Sunday evening (what churches have Sunday evening or show films anymore, anyway?)! I’m suggesting that maybe we could find ways to firm up church to be less gentle and sweet—without abandoning those virtues—and more wild and aggressive—channeled in good ways?