Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live faithfully...in the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

"E" - the estrogen factor of American Christianity

I'm intrigued by a study David Murrow did (found here, archives of the Winter 2008 issue) that examined a possible hypothesis regarding the vast percentage difference between the genders when it comes to church attendance. It's about 60/40 in our church, and this is common. This imbalance is unique to Christianity, as Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus all display a remarkable gender balance in their faith practices.

One could speculate about the 'why' of this, and such speculations abound, including hypotheses that address the patriarchal bent of other religions ("of course men are in... they carry all the power cards!"), or their cultural mandate ("it's just that everyone's in, unlike our secular society"), but Murrow's hypothesis is the one I find most intriguing.

He asked both Christians and Non-Christians to answer the question: "Which set of values better characterizes Jesus Christ and his true followers?" They chose between:

Set #1
Competence
Power
Efficiency
Accomplishment
Achievement
Proving Oneself
Results Objects
Technology
Goal-Oriented
Success
Competition

Set #2
Loving Cooperation
Personal Expression
Communication
Relationship
Beauty
Support
Help
Nurture
Feeling
Sharing
Relating
Harmony
Community

95% of those surveyed said list #2 represents the values of Christ. In reality, the lists aren't the values of Christ and/or someone else, but the lists of masculine and feminine values from John Gray's book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus". You can debate the merits of this book. You can decry the generalizations and stereotypes. What you can't do is ignore the reality that men don't get involved in faith communities as consistently as women.

The thesis of the surveyor is that American Christianity has been feminized. That's one theory. But those who go down that right tend to simply move the ethos of the church from one imbalanced list to the another. This doesn't seem adequate.

Instead, I'd suggest that men are staying away for a few simple reasons:

1. Men are bored by church. It might be because the sermon's boring, or it might be because there's no compelling vision or venue for involvement. When Christ called his disciples he didn't call them to sit in endless meeting, but to go out and change the world. The school of faith that Jesus ran took place in markets, on walking trails, at sea. Yes, there was teaching, but the teaching was only important to the extent that there was a real thing happening. I'm bored by reading books about the technicalities of mountaineering - unless I'm about to go climbing. Our need to provide a balance of teaching and activity is vital, and addressed here.

2. There's no "vision quest" anymore. My 23 year old son just phoned me from Yosemite Valley in California. He got there by riding his bicycle over 1000 miles, from Seattle, down the Oregon Coast, down the California coast, to San Francisco, and then east to the Sierra Nevada mountains, and into Yosemite. I can tell, just by phone, that he's profoundly changed by doing this. In a sanitized world where even play sets are injury proof, we run the risk of boring our sons to death with Bible stories, Bible ethics, Bible characters, and oh so mellow music, when what might be needed is a week at sea, or a 1000 mile bike trip, or a month in Central America or Africa or... ? You tell me.

3. There's just not enough vision. I don't want to overgeneralize, so I'll say it this way: There are millions of men, and many women as well, who need a mountain to climb; who need a vision that will engage their whole selves; who need to shoot for the moon and the stars when they wake up each day. These people (of both gender) are the ones the church runs the risk of losing if we don't help people see that 'church life' isn't about sitting quietly and singing sweet songs - it's about being spun out (see previous post) of comfort zone, and using our gifts to make the invisible God visible in tangible ways. Doing that will require character qualities from BOTH lists, and both genders.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Why is there a shortage of men in church?

27 Comments:

At 2/9/09 09:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe men should ask themselves if they love Christ more than football...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPBCGMBmDHE

 
At 2/9/09 09:03, Anonymous graham said...

I think if all the U.S. pastors got together and got the NFL to move their games to Saturday (which would mean NCAA football would have to move in turn back to Friday night...I'm not sure when high school would play)...anyway if this amazing feat were pulled off, I think male church attendence would go up 35%. Easy, right? I think male involvement across the board is down. There are far and away more women in college(what is SPU now, 4:1?), volunteer positions, even medical school (from what I am told)...
I'm not sure what the answer is, a call to confess of our national apathy and self-focus, a call to adventure as you've said...

 
At 2/9/09 09:26, Blogger NancyinAbq said...

You have posed a very interesting case for mascularizing (more macho-ing)the Church. But then is that what Jesus and the first apostles as recorded in Acts did? I think not. My bias says men are not being taught that it is their responsibility to step up to the plate and take on their Biblical role as husband, provider,helpmate, and Spiritual leader for their beloved wives. Then the worship attendance by men, women, and children would naturally go up.

 
At 2/9/09 10:29, Blogger Becca said...

This is a sticky subject. A post like this can easily lead to claims that women have taken over church and made it boring. First of all women have yet to take over Christianity. Second, church was boring long before women had a more significant role in it.
Some would suggest (such as Seattle's own Mark Driscoll) that the church has emasculated Jesus and the only solution to draw men back to the church is to walk back towards the oppressive misogyny of patriarchal religion.
There must be another way. A way in which both men and women engage together in a life with a God in whose image all were created.
My Christian community is 50/50, but my community developed out of a mountaineering ministry where men and women serve alongside each other in roles befitting the individuals, male or female. I think you're right Richard, action is necessary for engagement and investment.

 
At 2/9/09 10:42, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

I also led a church that grew out of a mountaineering ministry... it too was balanced. I don't think the answer is patriarchy... it's engagement, challenge, and vision.

 
At 2/9/09 11:07, Blogger BenMc said...

I find Rodney Stark's studies of men & women in the church (today and in the past) to be helpful here. There's always been some imbalance and I don't think it's "getting worse." Really, is it more unbalanced than college in general, or grad school? Women earn more graduate degrees than men in most fields. I'm actually kind of proud that Christianity appealed to women more than men in the very early days, just like I'm proud that it appealed to slaves more than Caesar. Speaking as a man :), I find intellectual challenge and meaning here. I think the close to home question to ask is about the differences between men's and women's ministries at Bethany.

 
At 2/9/09 11:26, Anonymous Geoff said...

I have no empirical basis for this, and it may be way off base, but... could it be that men have become less involved with American Christianity because they don't find the "goal" of faith compelling, and don't really have to "fight" for it anymore?

In other words, the ease of being a "Christian" in this country just makes it less compelling as a masculine quest? This ties into your thoughts, Richard, on challenge and vision.

It would also explain why some churches are flourishing who have turned their focus to re-framing Christianity in terms of a cultural or theological "battle," and draw men into that battle. (And why so many others are drawn to a religious-political combo that creates a more distinct goal...)

However, I think such an approach miss the point because it creates an ideological "goal" rather than explaining why the goal of following Christ is compelling. (What's compelling about living in a nation where it's easy to be a Christian? Hence, we create "persecution", etc. to make it seem as though we're striving for a goal.)

Until we recapture the idea that Christianity should NOT be tied to a life of material comfort and political power, I suspect that many men will find it "boring" and pursue other arenas, like politics and business, where they are truly challenged vis-a-vis some goal (even if it's a fleeting goal).

 
At 2/9/09 11:30, Anonymous Geoff said...

Unless, as Ben says, it's a false dilemma. In that case, ignore my previous comment. :-)

 
At 2/9/09 12:53, Blogger BenMc said...

No, I think you're onto something, Geoff, especially when I put your statements alongside Paul's metaphors of running a race, chasing a goal. What's important to Paul is that the goal changed (on the road to Damascus). We've got to form goals.

I just think this goal-changing may be harder for men and that's why we have the historically persistent bias toward men?

Just because it's always been this way (if Stark is right) doesn't mean it's not a problem (or that Geoff's analysis isn't right on)! Good challenging teaching you can chew on and argue about can be part of the solution, after all. And active participation is a choice: No sermon is boring if you're cross-referencing in the Bible on your lap.

 
At 2/9/09 13:42, Blogger JAH said...

I think the church has merely adopted what society forged... a de-masculation of men. And women (I am one) out of our control think its a far better use of time to have meaningful conversation then to let a guy go fishing... Yes, balance, of course needs to be implemented. But the more we push and pull and force men to be like women (the wrong kind of feminism), then we'll get what we asked for: Bored, disinterested, fearful, passive men... there have always been two sides of Christ... we are ALL made in God's image. If we don't embrace both sides what a loss on relationship with God and humanity.

 
At 2/9/09 17:05, Anonymous Steve Lansingh said...

Isn't the point of being reborn in Christ is that we are made a new creation? That we change? The whole adventure of Christianity is that we are being rebuilt from the ground up into the image of Christ. The gospel cannot and should not be an appeal to people right where they are at and embracing everything they already are and then putting a little Christian spin on it.

The life that Jesus called us to lead as Christians is like neither gender; it is like nothing that humans naturally gravitate toward: turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, giving to whoever asks, loving those who oppose you, praying for those who persecute you, and being willing to lay down your life? Maybe self-sacrifice and humility are less of an affront to women's sensibilities, but it is a struggle and challenge for any and all of us to get there.

When the whole truth of the gospel is preached, it's going to offend and turn away some people, people who think it's too hard. (Maybe that's the angle to get men with: that true Christianity challenge that's too hard for most men to take on fully.)

 
At 2/9/09 17:49, Anonymous Ken said...

Men want an adventure to live, a battle to fight and a beauty to rescue. John Eldridge wrote "Wild at Heart" several years ago outlining that theme for men. He and his wife have authored several books since and have raised various reactions for their thoughts. Regardless, his first theme was very well said and gets to the core of the issue in many ways. Men are primarily about action, goals and accomplishments. Women are often more contemplative about everything and more oriented toward caring for the needs of others first and foremost (generally those the men have wounded!). We can all make arguments that these are not 100% rules and I readily acknowledge that. But there is certainly something to the idea.

Consider the sort of movies men and women are drawn to. Generally they are quite different in what their first choice would be. But at the same time each can often appreciate the other at various times depending on their mood or circumstance at any given moment.

To deny the basics characteristics God has instilled in men and women and promote a genderless Christian walk would be a serious slap at such an awesome Creator of diversity. The key is harnessing that diversity for His best work in the Kingdom.

 
At 2/9/09 18:47, Blogger Curt said...

Hey Richard. I'm going to go out on a limb and be brutally honest and vulnerable for a moment.
I haven't attended Church for around 4 months now - it could be even longer. The reason is quite simple - all I see is leaders trying to get the congregation excited. In the Alliance church where I did attend and left, the leaders were all new from when I had been attending over 15 years ago but it was the same thing - get excited about this new evangelism program; win the town for Jesus. The crazy thing about all this is that it seemed to be a class on gaining new techniques and such and then to go out there and save people. There was nothing mentioned whatsoever about reliance in Jesus Christ for any of this. The weight rested on the people. Sunday after Sunday every message preached seemed to somehow be steered towards evangelism and then the promotion of this "new" program, which was a revamped program from before but given a new name.
I don't care about the style of singing, or the order of service or anything like that. Sound doctrine preached and taught is my thing. I can't speak for the other men out there not attending church or their reasons but mine reason is the lack of real teaching. I find myself questioning what the real reason for "attending church" is. Some social thing? Is it a place for up-and-coming singer/songwriters to get their starts? Some kind if show or something? What else is there if sound doctrine is gone?
This church sent an advertisement out the other day and I just about started crying - I almost never cry - when I read it. No mention of Christ. Just come out to the new "Casual" service, but if you don't like that there is still the "Classic" service. "You might find just what you need to turn it around."
I stay at home now and will read the Word and listen to sermons on the web or CD. This is where I'm at right now. I know that no church is perfect and that there will always be some issue or issues that I will disagree with but, again, this is where I'm at right now.
Thanks for bending the ear.

 
At 2/9/09 20:33, Blogger nach said...

Following Christ IS the adventure. In fact, if you don't have scabbed knees, bloodied hands a sore back and grass stains on your elbows, you better make sure it's Jesus you're following and not Mr. Rogers.

 
At 2/9/09 22:51, Blogger jonie broecker said...

maybe something to look at is whether people (men in this case) feel as though they can come as they are and truly be met. maybe it's hard to imagine gearing up for goals and challenges and engagement unless you truly feel seen first.

i guess that's what this blog is about in a way. how do we see men and how do they want to be seen? sounds like a vulnerable image to me.

 
At 2/9/09 23:01, Anonymous Ken said...

Over thirty years ago I found this quote from Teddy Roosevelt while working in a wilderness ministry. I believe certainly men and probably women need this kind of attitude in serving our Lord. DOING SOMETHING is what life is about, not simply learning more, fellowshipping more, singing more... doing something. Go and live eternity now. This is the beginning of our everlasting life. Experience it to the full. Share it with everyone in life now.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory or defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt, April 10, 1899

 
At 2/9/09 23:21, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could it be the same reason there was only one disciple at the cross? Could it be that men, like Adam, do not step up to the plate but rather leave it to the woman. I don't think it has anything to do with women feminizing the church, or it not being exciting enough, or manly enough, but rather that men do not truly love the Lord God with all their heart and soul.

 
At 3/9/09 06:53, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

I have Roosevelt's quote sitting on the wall, right in front of my face, at my desk at work... great words

 
At 3/9/09 08:31, Blogger Kevin said...

Why are we so worried about masculinity? What's at stake?

 
At 3/9/09 09:13, Anonymous Geoff said...

Nach - I appreciate what you're saying, but I am skeptical that the majority of American Christians who say things like that really mean them.

Most of us (men AND women!) don't handle being pushed out of our comfort zones very well, and for Christians - I would wager - that is directly related to the fact that many don't think following Jesus is really worth being that uncomfortable. That's something that can't be taught, except by example.

Let's be honest: we want to follow Jesus, but often only IF Jesus happens to be "directing" us to do something we already enjoy. (Funny how often God "directs" people to exactly what they say makes them happy! And, yes, I'm painting with a broad brush...)

But men and women handle discomfort differently, and that, I suspect, is the reason we are discussing this issue. Because women are generally more relationally-oriented, perhaps they don't check out as quickly due to discomfort with church.

 
At 3/9/09 10:18, Anonymous Ken said...

To anonymous...

Let's remember that men always want to do something, and at the cross Jesus had asked them to let it play out. That's the toughest role for a man to fill, standing by powerless.

 
At 3/9/09 17:06, Blogger nach said...

Funny enough, Pastor Cho over at Quest is having a similiar discussion... http://eugenecho.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/does-the-responsibility-of-gods-glory-fall-upon-men/

 
At 3/9/09 17:31, Blogger Patrick said...

@nach: agreed. you all should check it out, especially the response in the comment section by Julie.

 
At 5/9/09 07:19, Blogger Kaytee said...

I really appreciate your perspective on this subject Richard. I have needed to hear a man try to find a different solution to this problem than making Jesus into a monster truck rally going, steak eating, "I'll kick your ass" kind of man. I've had many conversations with men lately talking about the "feminizing" of the church and Jesus but what is frustrating to me is that their solution is just to go back to over-masculating the church and Jesus which seems to do nothing but alienate another type of person. And it causes me (a woman) to feel A) left out and less important and B) that my feminine characteristics are negative characteristics and something to feel embarrassed of.
If the Church is the body of Christ and we (both men and women) were created in God's image then shouldn't the church be, for lack of better adjectives, both masculine and feminine in order to accurately represent God?
Thank you for sharing fresh thoughts on this topic. I'll be thinking about them for a while.

 
At 6/9/09 00:11, Anonymous Graham said...

I wholeheartedly agree with my good friend Kaytee that the church needs a balance of masculine and feminine traits. But if (paraphrasing) "Nascar Jesus" isn't the answer, perhaps we need to change what it means to be a "masculine christian." Look again at the list of masculine and feminine "values" listed in the study Richard quotes.

"Men"
Competence
Power
Efficiency
Accomplishment
Achievement
Proving Oneself
Results Objects
Technology
Goal-Oriented
Success
Competition

"Women"
Loving Cooperation
Personal Expression
Communication
Relationship
Beauty
Support
Help
Nurture
Feeling
Sharing
Relating
Harmony
Community

What connotation comes up from the masculine list versus the feminine one? For me, I get from the first list the notion of a "competative", "power-hungry", "goal and achievement orientated" person who needs to have the latest "technological" gadgets to "prove themself". While from the feminine list we have a "community-orientated" individual who "lovingly nurtures" "beautiful relationships." No wonder 95% in the study prefer the second/feminine list! At least it's good news that both Christians and non-Christians equate that with "Christ and his true followers."
My point is if to make the invisible God visible "requires character qualities from BOTH lists, and both genders," as Richard says, we are going to need a new list of masculine traits that embody the example of a Godly man that Christ gave us: that of a Servant Leader.

 
At 13/9/09 19:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pstr Richard,

I'm so glad you're confronting this issue! I've been struggling with becoming hard and cynical to the idea of having a family one day because, well... What are the chances? I read a quote on a blog once: "if I have to live my life without love, then I better damn well do something great with it!!"

I'm in my mid-twenties and loving life - my career is a blast, I love the church, my roommates are terrific, and I enjoy the city and finding ways to serve. But nonetheless, I do have a strong desire to find love before I lose my fertility. (I would welcome it anytime now!)

Of course "husband-hunting" is only one of many issues that are a result of the uneven ratio. I guess I just wanted to share how I've been struggling to not become "bitter" toward men or the church over this topic.

(I typed this on my iphone... hopefully it turns out ok!)

 
At 14/9/09 20:38, Blogger Donte said...

If you are interested in reading more about this (in a broader context than just church attendance) I would recommend "Boys Adrift" by Leonard Sax. The book offers intriguing and provocative insights into the ‘unmotivated boys epidemic’. Sax contends that everything from caricatures such as Homer Simpson to environmental estrogens are driving the decline of boys.

 

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