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No men in the pews? Could be church's fault

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Do men hate going to church?

David Murrow says yes. "Christianity's primary delivery system, the local church, is perfectly designed to reach women," says Murrow, author of the book Why Men Hate Going to Church.

Noting that studies in the U.S. show that women make up 60 percent of a typical congregation, he asks: "What is it about modern Christianity that is driving men away?"

For him, the answer is simple: Churches today are designed for women.

"Christianity's primary delivery system, the local church, is perfectly designed to reach women," he says of the warm colours, robes, candles, flowers, sharing, tapestries, long sermons and soft, romantic worship music that are the hallmarks of many churches today.

"This church system offers little to stir the masculine heart, so men find it dull and irrelevant," he states, adding that men who do go to church seem passive and bored.

Why is church not inviting for men? According to Murrow, it's because men are drawn to risk, challenge and adventure. "But these things are discouraged in the local church," he says. "Instead, most congregations offer a safe, nurturing community -- an oasis of stability and predictability."

At the same time, he maintains, the very definition of a good Christian has become feminized. Christians, he says, are supposed to be gentle, sensitive and nurturing, focused on home, family and hospitality. The godly are supposed to be calm, gentle, polite and sociable.

Men who grew up in the church hardly notice this "feminine spirituality," he says. "We hardly notice it; we can't imagine things any other way. But a male visitor detects the feminine spirit the moment he walks in the sanctuary door."

Murrow is particularly critical of the style of music found in many evangelical churches today.

"Here's one of the great, unspoken assumptions of worship today: The more emotional the response, the truer the worship," he says. "Great worship results in sensation, passion and good feelings. The worship leader's job is to help the people generate a warm, gooey feeling in their hearts about Jesus.

"Whether passionate emotion equals true worship is not what I'm here to debate. I'm merely pointing out the fact that if ooey-gooey feelings are what we're shooting for, worship will be much easier for women than men."

All this adds up to making church a place where men don't feel welcome. "It's hard for a man to be real in church because he must squeeze himself into this feminine religious mold," he says.

Murrow is aware that his observations might offend, particularly when you consider that the church is almost entirely led by males -- and entirely by males, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church. All that means, he says, is that "the modern church is an army of women led by a few male generals."

It's not just Americans who are exploring this topic. "How do we communicate life with Jesus to the average Australian bloke?" asks Brian Winslade, National Director of Australian Baptist Ministries. "If they turned up at church next Sunday, would their experience make them want to come back for a second look?"

His answer: No. "The style of our communication, language, décor and cultural climate is much more appealing to women than to men," he says, adding that many of the songs sung in Australian Baptist churches "appeal to a feminine motif of love and intimacy."

Interestingly, a study in England found that there is no gender gap in Islam, Buddhism, Judaism or Hinduism in that country; slightly more men than women attend worship services in those religions.

You may not agree with everything Murrow says; I don't. There are lots of churches with lots of spiritually fulfilled men, and lots of people who defy the stereotypes he promotes in his book.

But his message seems to be resonating with many, and finds support in an unexpected place. A study from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found that the presence of involved men is statistically correlated with church growth, health and harmony, while a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline.

As congregations "become increasingly populated by women," the report says, "those congregations that are able to even out the proportions of males and females are those most likely to grow."

Concludes Murrow: "Men, if you've felt out of place in church, it's not your fault. If you've tried and failed to get a men's ministry going in your church, it's not your fault. If you can't get your buddies interested in church, it's not your fault. The church system is getting the results it's designed to get. Until that system changes -- radically -- men will continue to perish, both inside and outside our congregations."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2010 H13

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