The men have decided. Church is not for them.
Increasingly, men and boys are abandoning their congregations. As we conducted the research for our recent book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, we noticed men were leading the exodus. Statistics show that America’s pews are disproportionately populated with 61 percent females and 39 percent males.
We wondered why. After digging deeper, we heard several recurring themes:
1. Feminization. Many men say the current church is designed for feminine tastes. Everything from the decor to worship behavior seems just a bit too “girly” for many guys. “It’s intimidating for a man to hold hands in a circle,” says David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church. “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.”
2. One-way communication. Many men no longer desire to sit at the feet of a preacher and passively take in a lecture. This week, popular Christian author Donald Miller admitted in his blog that he rarely attends church anymore. “I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon,” he wrote. He said, like most men, he finds that the typical church service “can be long and difficult to get through.” Other men told us that, rather than sit passively through a church service, they want to offer their thoughts, and join the conversation.
3. Avoidance of tough questions. Many men have serious questions about matters of faith. They feel their questions are unwelcome. David, a college student, told us how his difficult questions about the canonization of the Bible were deflected and dismissed. Frustrated, he left the church. He wasn’t looking for an easy answer from a clerical know-it-all. He simply wanted a degree of honesty, authenticity and humility.
4. Lack of adventure. Church happenings are too programmed and predictable for many men. They’re looking for a little risk and challenge—just as the original disciples encountered while living with Jesus. But, as David Murrow says, “The actual mission of most congregations is making people feel comfortable and safe—especially longtime members.”
Even the concept of discipleship has been stripped of its original meaning. It’s been reduced to a sheltered academic exercise in most churches. Their discipleship programs amount to no more than a Bible study class. Murrow is looking to return to a real biblical process to disciple men. He calls it Men’s League. It engages 12 men at a time in a year-long series of “ordeals”—challenging experiences that build healthy reliance on Christ.
Efforts such as these may help men get to know the real Jesus. Not the fragile-looking Jesus they remember from the faded portraits in the church hall. But the real, gritty carpenter who camped with fishermen, stood up to his threatening critics, withstood harrowing abuse, carried his own cross timbers and conquered death itself. That’s a man—and Lord—men today would find magnetic.