Trigger Warning: I will always assume your gender.
The American expression of Christianity is predominantly feminine. At least that’s the premise David Murrow bases his argument on in his church growth book Why Men Hate Going to Church. As I type this in the pastor’s study at my church, a study decorated by the ladies of the church, I can see his point. The furniture is decidedly girly with weird window treatments and Thomas Kincaid looking prints on the walls… I’m picking up what he’s putting down. The décor is symptomatic of a larger cultural phenomenon taking place where I minister, the ladies run the show.
This picture used to hang in my office. I replaced it with A New Hope poster Leia got me for Christmas a few years ago. You can see Ms. Anne's reflection in the bottom left corner.
At the risk of being called a He-man-woman-hater yet again by Leia (don’t worry, she’s joking, I think), it’s high time the church exhibit an equivalent amount of masculinity as femininity. Murrow draws attention to the fact that in America, the church has become increasingly influenced by women over the years. In an ever-feminizing environment, men feel increasingly out of place resulting in poor attendance, low interest, and lagging participation on the part of men. His assessment is that the decline in participation by men has inevitably led to a decline in overall attendance at church pointing specifically to mainline denominations to prove his point.
Now, it’s important to point out that correlation is not the same as causation. Yes, the mainline denominations are more feminized than evangelical congregations. Yes, the mainline is losing membership faster than their evangelical counterparts. That does not necessarily mean the one has caused the other. I would argue that theology, particularly whether a group holds to a high view of scripture, is more likely to be the cause of decline, but as neither Murrow nor I have studied that relationship we are left to disagree. Where I do agree with the author is in the need for churches to be more intentional about engaging men with the Gospel.
The heart of the book is pointing out the areas where men are marginalized in America’s churches and suggesting ways to shift toward gender neutral appeal. This is perhaps the most surprising part of the book. Murrow never says to hang up a deer head (although I don’t see the harm in it), but to take down the doilies, cross stitched last suppers (I took one of these down in my church), and images of Jesus depicting him as soft. He recommends removing the things that are overtly feminine and begin to offer ministry opportunities where men can shine.
I took this down from the fellowship hall. I know someone put a ton of time into making it, but come on, people! This thing is just weird.
Men like a challenge, competition, and accomplishment. Too much of church language fails to communicate the challenge inherent in the gospel message. The Great Commission says to make disciples, but there is precious little discipline in today’s church. The standards have been relaxed to make sure people’s feelings aren’t hurt, completely neglecting the fact that some people deserve to have their feelings hurt. The wishy-washy results are congregations with no standards, goals, or momentum. No wonder men have lost interest, too many churches just aren’t trying to do anything. Maybe a swift kick in the pants is in order?
To reference a slightly less practical book (Fight Club), Murrow took what was on the tip of everyone’s tongue and gave it a name. Most of what he writes resonates strongly with me as my church is very much the feminized group he describes. It’s almost as if he was walking through sanctuary here in Glennville. I’ve already begun shifting to a more male friendly approach and have seen the beginning of positive results. My concern is to make this transition without alienating the ladies who have worked very hard in their ministries but have unintentionally made the church less accessible to men.