Modern Churches Need to Target Men More

Modern Churches Need To Target Men More
By Terri Jo Ryan

WACO, Texas — Ask David Murrow what’s wrong with modern Christianity in America and he will fire off a litany of laments:

* The typical U.S. congregation draws an adult crowd that is 61 percent female, 39 percent male — a gender gap that shows up in all age categories.

* On any given Sunday, there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches.

* The majority of church employees are women.

* Eighty percent of people who attend midweek activities are women.

* According to a 1999 study by Christianity Today magazine, inner church leadership tends to be mostly female, even in churches that have male ordained leadership.

* Ninety percent of boys raised in church will abandon it before their 18th birthday.

* More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only two out of six attend church on a given Sunday.

Murrow, a 1983 Baylor University graduate and author of “Why Men Hate Going to Church,” contends that the modern church is too chatty, too touchy-feely and full of hokey rituals that don’t affirm a guy’s manhood. In short, the faith founded by one man 2,000 years ago needs a testosterone shot.

Several Waco-area pastors said Murrow is not alone in his assessment that modern churches are the domain of women who are more concerned about not hurting feelings than attracting male churchgoers.

“Tough, earthy working guys rarely come to church,” Murrow said during a telephone interview from his Alaska home. These high achievers, alpha males, risk takers and visionaries are in short supply, and fun-lovers and adventurers are underrepresented in the pews.

These unpolished men don’t fit in with the quiet, introspective gentlemen who populate the church today, he added.

Religion professor Sharon Dowd of Baylor University said the male spirituality movement is far from new.

“Everybody knows that churches have been female heavy at least since the beginning of the 20th century, if not before. Way back to the 1950s there were various attempts at `manly’ Christianity.”

Protestant clergy for decades have known that men considered churches impractical and overemotional, preferring their all male civic enclaves for doing good works, she noted. And a 1910 YMCA survey found that two-thirds of American church members were female.

The movement for Christian men to reclaim 11 a.m. Sunday as “masculine space” has been building for a long time, Murrow said. He contends that church services have become “a time and place for mush, emotion and sentimentality.”

The 1950s and 1960s were the golden era of mainline churches, when the “greatest generation,” who also happened to be a nation of joiners, poured into sanctuaries, Murrow noted. Their energies went into building faith communities.

But in the 1970s, younger men started to withdraw from churches. Women had taken over churches, “leaving undeniable fingerprints of femininity” on their dealings, he charged. “It can’t just be a coincidence.”

A Tougher Image

Murrow said that although many are calling men back to church, “I am calling the church back to men.”

Church is not supposed to be a place of comfort and affirmation but a place of challenge and adventure, he said.

“What the church needs is less wiping noses and more pounding nails,” he said.

So, what do women think of his premise? He asserts that 50 percent of the women who have read his book or heard him speak agree with his notion that American churches have largely neutered men.

“Praise and worship services are 20-30 minutes of love songs to Jesus Christ in words no man would say to another,” he concluded.

Two Waco men have made it their mission to help other men find God in the wilderness, through spiritual retreats they have modeled on the 2001 “Wild at Heart” book by evangelical author John Eldredge.

John Hall and David Brown modeled Warrior Heart Ministries on Eldredge’s premise: that men were created to be wild, to take chances and to act when God calls them to act even as modern society calls them to be tame, predictable and reliable and to reason things out before acting on anything.

Hall, a corporate trainer, and Brown, who runs his own payroll business, take men out to a 240acre ranch about 6 miles southwest of Valley Mills.

Hall said the retreat resembles boot camp more than a romp in the woods. It’s an approach the men said involves “no war paint and no Kumbaya.”

The biggest difference between Warrior Heart and other male spirituality programs is that what happens in the woods doesn’t stay in the woods, they said. The message of men retrieving their Bible-mandated family leadership role is meant to be taken out into the world.

Hall said too many men see heaven as a celestial karaoke, sitting on clouds and singing for 10,000 years. That doesn’t appeal to their manliness, he countered.

“They seek a renewing of the heart and seek adventure,” said Hall, a former Roman Catholic from Great Britain who now attends a Baptist church in Waco. “The Bible at its core is an adventure story, with quests, battles, beauty to rescue and innocence to be protected.”

Gender Bias or Outreach?

But remarks like Murrow’s “(make) me suspicious of gender-based Christianity,” said the Rev. Raymond Bailey, pastor of Waco’s Seventh & James Baptist Church. “The church needs man and woman created equally in the divine image who strive to reflect Christ.

“I certainly favor any movement that will enhance `male spirituality,’ but my Bible does not distinguish spirituality or discipleship in sexist terms. I have not observed in our church any diminishing of male leadership or spirituality.”

Jon Singletary, assistant professor of social work at Baylor, said he’s also cautious of movements that seem to see any gain by women in church-place equality as threats to men.

In his study of Promise Keepers, a conservative Christian men’s movement of the 1990s that combined Super Bowl-style fervor and revival meeting substance in male-only stadium rallies, Singletary observed the national trend of pumping up men by putting down women.

“They saw a need to restore the stereotypical male characteristics while denying the value of traditionally female traits, and while outright condemning men who embodied these so-called soft traits,” he said.

But the Rev. Ronnie Holmes, pastor of Bellmead’s Church of the Open Door, contends that for too long men have abdicated their role of headship in the home and church.

“I do not mean dictatorship,” Holmes said. “I mean the one taking responsibility for the wellbeing of his family and others within his sphere. Men are to be as a military point guard, clearing the path for others to follow. Men, don’t send your wife and kids to church — lead them there.”

By Terri Jo Ryan, writer for Cox News Service

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”