This post – originally a talk at the New Wine National Leader’s event, has recently been published in Sorted magazine.
I stopped going to church as soon as I had a choice. In my early teens my parents decided they’d only ever gone out of occasional religious duty and were going to stop. They said I had a choice as to whether I went. Starsky and Hutch were on, no-brainer.
Years of fun, sin and regret in pretty much equal measure prevailed until at twenty-one I came to know Jesus after an undeniable experience of meeting him; a story for another day.
Even though I now saw myself as a Christian I probably still wouldn’t have bothered with church if not for a couple of clergymen who bust the stereotype for me early on; Neil was the first. He accepted me where I was at- a copper who grew up on a council estate now working a rough Manchester central beat. When I came to the little Bible study group I’d been invited to he laughed at my (colourful to say the least) jokes and inappropriate remarks rather than making me feel terrible or expecting me to feel bad for just being me. I wanted to be like Neil.
Alan was amazing. What I liked about Alan was that he was a man – and a man of God. United fan. Generous, funny, too humble – and you knew he loved you. I wanted to be like Alan. It’s men like that who got me not just to go to church, but to stay there, stick at it, and not just moan or leave but do my best to make it better.
The church has a problem, Houston. Over the last twenty years 38% of believing men left the church. Believing men – deciding they still believe but don’t want to go to church anymore! So we are facing a crisis before we even think about connecting more effectively with men like many who read Sorted but are still not at all sure about this Jesus stuff. It’s like running the taps without the plug in.
The person most likely to regularly go to church in this country according to the Tear Fund research report is a black, professional middle class woman, over 60. We all love Moira Stewart so that’s great. But where are the blokes?
Gender Gap Widening
In the UK the ratio of women to men in church is 65% to 35%, but far too few churches have anything like 35% of men regularly attending. Worse news than the Coalition budget? The gender gap is widening – and the less men you get, especially young men, the less people generally you get. In the last 20 years 49% of men under 30 left the UK church!
Now does that mean British men are not that interested in spiritual things? Maybe we just point to the parable of the sower and decide that men are generally hard soil, while black, middle class, middle aged women are good soil? (It’s their fault, not the church’s fault in other words). We can’t get away with that, because there is no gender gap in Islam, Buddhism, Judaism or Hinduism. In fact in all those other religions there are MORE men than women! Men are interested in spiritual things, and I maintain that there’s no message to compete with gospel truth, so why is it not reaching the average British bloke?
Peter Williamson - Mr Average?
Peter Williamson’s wife put him forward for the title for a Channel 4 Documentary, and I know not all of this will apply to him (or you) as I’ve cobbled it together from various sources the average British man…
Had 8 sexual partners before he got married in his early thirties,
Has two children
Drives a Ford Fiesta
Is 5ft 9in
Owes £9k of unsecured debt
Has size 10 feet, a 40 inch chest and a 35 inch waist
Weighs 13 stone
Owns 16 pairs of underpants – this being the only item of clothing he buys with confidence.
Spends one month of his life looking for lost socks
Says ‘Sorry’ 1.9 million times in his lifetime
Considers himself working class
Reads the Sun
Has sex eight times a month, but thinks about it thirteen times a day…
(which explains a lot)
Can cook at least four meals, including spaghetti Bolognese
Has at least one Harry Potter novel in his house
Watches three hours of TV a day,
Uses the bathroom six times a day,
Is one inch taller than the average Frenchman
Will die of a heart attack at 76
His most popular conversational subject is sport, then work, after that politics and economics, or disputes about abstract ideas such as How The World Began.
He believes in God…
But most men completely by-pass church! Even in a crisis, few of them think Church might be the place to go anymore, they’ll go to the fridge and TV, or feel better at the pub or the match or sitting on their own fishing. They see Church as a place that according to a BBC Radio survey is for wimps, women and irrelevant. Church as we are generally doing it, is generally repulsive which means the opposite of attractive to men.
The Repulsive Church
You might not like the word repulsive? The Dictionary states the word means – “Causing aversion, having the ability to repel.’ I was disturbed but not surprised by the recent survey conducted by Sorted and CVM that found men would feel more at home in a ladies lingerie dept than to go to church.
So how did a faith founded by a Man and His twelve male (mostly working class) disciples, who were told to be ‘Fishers of men’ become fairly popular with older women, but repulsive to the average man? If you go to church, or especially if you lead one – are you part of the problem or part of the solution? Are you a fisher of men or is your church repulsive to men?
Nineteenth century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “There has got abroad a notion, somehow, that if you become a Christian you must sink your manliness and turn milksop.” When I was at theological college I saw a strange thing happen, as those who came to train as church leaders started out fairly normal, but learned how to do the concerned face and by the end of training have a particular voice –you know what that sounds like unless you do it – you learn a particular tonality that nobody else but clergy talk like. The good news? You can UNLEARN that too, if you want to connect to the average man you’d better! While we’re at it, unlearn using words and having arguments about things nobody in the real world gives a toss about.
I’m not going to go into detail about what some writers have listed as being what puts men off church, the feminisation argument – because they are often very sweeping and generalising, and I know there are exceptions. No doubt someone will tell me that your church is led by an all woman team, and that in the pastel coloured room a flower arranging, hymn singing crèche group at your church is packed full of hairy legged blokes in their twenties.
But listen if you will to David Murrow who gives one big reason why men hate going to church – it’s not ‘because of all the women,’ but because the men there aren’t really men. That’s the perception at least.
He says most men have a religion: MASCULINITY – they are serious students of what it is to be a man, disciples of other men on TV or sports or whatever, wanting to work out what it is to be a man, whatever that is, and they don’t see the church has having any answers to that.
“Tough, earthy, working guys rarely come to church. High achievers, alpha males, risk takers, and visionaries are in short supply. Fun-lovers and adventurers are also underrepresented in church. These rough-and-tumble men don’t fit in with the quiet, introspective gentlemen who populate the church today. The truth is, most men in the pews grew up in church. They enjoy participating in comforting rituals that have changed little since their childhood. There are also millions of men who attend services under duress, dragged by a mother, wife, or girlfriend. Today’s churchgoing man is humble, tidy, dutiful, and above all, nice.”
That’s what Murrow says the unconscious message the church is giving to church, come and be nice. Oh and if you really want to be really nice it would be awfully nice if you could help cut the grass in the graveyard. The nice message is repulsive.
Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him take up his cross and die.” That’s not nice. It’s the verse that brought me to faith.