How to get men to love Church (part 1)

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?

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.

11 thoughts on “How to get men to love Church (part 1)

  1. The ‘problem’ you identify might be encapsulated in your approach to comments on your blog – when your target audience tries to converse with you, you just moderate them away and leave all your posts un-commented. You’d rather hear no voices than hear mine. Perhaps you still have some way to go on your journey to become Alan or Neil?

    1. Dear Paul/Bert/Paul Lake/ whoever
      I know I have a long way to go from those guys, painfully aware of that but thanks for pointing it out.
      The other difference was that they knew who I really was because I’d manned up enough to be me and not anonymous, so there could be authentic dialogue.
      I understand that it frustrates you that this would be the only way I’d want to do relationships but you will know that I have offered to meet/ speak with you in the past if you would tell me who you really are but as you refuse to do so I maintain the policy – and this is the last time I will post any of your anonymous comments- that only people whose details I can verify will be allowed to comment. This is not an unusual policy in the blogosphere and it is my blog after all and I ask you to please respect that policy.

  2. So you can verify all the details of everyone else who posts? You can never be sure who anyone is on this here internet, it’s the nature of the beast. You need to accept that, or stop using it.

    Maybe one day I will tell you my real name again, as you seem to have forgotten that I have. Maybe one day you will get through to me – but it’s unlikely if you won’t talk to me. I don’t suppose it happens often that the believer asks the non-believer to stop bothering them, but there is a first time for everything. Have you asked God why I keep posting on your blog? What did he say? Am I an opportunity he has sent you? Or a lost child he wants saving? Or am I possessed of evil and beyond his help?

    Let me know what I can do to satisfy your desire to know who I am, bearing in mind I don’t live in Manchester and don’t have much time for conversation, and I’ll see what I can do. Perhaps in answering that question you will realise the futility of insisting an identity online. Personally I’ve never come across a blog where one need identify oneself in any way other than providing a name and a valid email address, which I have done. I’m also not entirely clear why the identity of the questioner is more important than the question. You never have told me.

    Post my comments or delete them – I’ll just keep on making them regardless.

    1. Okay, a phone call? You can get my number off the church website. Or I will ring you if you give me the number. As I have said repeatedly, I don’t want to engage in anonymous correspondence. Re your questions here, yes I am willing to concede that God even loves City fans, but if there is no telephone conversation possibility then I will feel able to maintain the policy as I’ve outlined it in various ways and times previously.

  3. Thanks for the offer; as I said earlier though, I don’t have much time for conversation, and what time I do have comes in unpredictable bits: I am self-employed and on-call 7 days a week, and live in a small flat with a baby who sleeps very lightly. In light of this, your chosen medium of reaching out to the wider world in which I exist – the internet – suits me perfectly. I can write posts between customers and calls, and if I get interrupted I can break off for an hour or so and come back. Tell me of another medium in which I could do that.

    You don’t need to create justifications for not talking to me – you know I don’t want to talk on the telephone, and I know you don’t want to talk to me at all – but I suspect you feel that God probably wouldn’t want you to just say that, so you’ve had to try and make my reluctance to talk to you on the phone a justification to not talk to me at all. I’ll leave it to your conscience to decide what God is telling you to do. Perhaps he’s activating the ‘stony ground’ get out clause – the one that says it’s ok not to bother with people God made if he’s made them in such a way as converting them is a bit too much like hard work?

    If I tell you again that my name is Mike, how is that any more or less proof than me ringing you up and telling you my name is Mike?

    If you have so little confidence in the faith of your flock that you wish to censor me – and you think that God needs that sort of help and wants you to censor me, then have the confidence to do say so. I’ll keep posting though. Your blog is fascinating.

    1. No, I’m afraid I don’t believe any of that and it makes no sense. I have prayed & thought about it and I don’t think you’re called Mike and live down South. I think you’re someone who does know me, who hasn’t the guts to face me in open dialogue so prefers sniping. if I spoke to you on the phone I’d know your voice and you can’t have that. So bye, and welcome to auto-trash on the comments.

  4. Hi,

    Why Christians are called People of the Book? You know John, the Baptist baptised sensible Jewish men of age in water and he said after me will come who will baptise you in Holy Spirit. So, in whose name then John baptised Jewish men in water? Why he did not baptise a woman or a Gentile? One Fold; One Shepherd, then why so many Church denominations? Blind guides in Mammon lead the blind into the Pits of sectarian riots.

  5. Hi Anthony!

    Great post! Surprised at the negative comments, but I’m sure you can ride them! I’m fortunate in the sense that though I never went to church until I was 19, I’ve never been to any particularly feminized churches either.

    Sometimes though it’s simple things, like, lots of dads play footie with their kids on Sunday morning. So, exporting the church’s dads’ there and running church in the evening would give more opportunities to make decent links… gosh, evening services with a 65%/ 35% male female ratio would be a shock eh 😉 ?

    Keep up the good work!

    -cheers from julz @P

  6. Thanks for the post Anthony.

    I have to admit when I started coming to church at 19 I noticed that men were a different type in church than outside church, and not just the colourful language!

    I’m not sure the reasons for this, but it seems to be the case. I agree that good Godly male role models are important to changing the trend and saying men to be real men means being Christlike, being courageous, taking responsibility and being sacrificial.

  7. Church – should be about relationships – I cannot relate with the back of someone’s head.

    Church is terrific – its how the manifold wisdom of God is expressed when it is about relating together e.g. men’s breakfasts, some housegroups etc.- but sunday services seriously suck….

  8. This is a great post. I’m so happy I saw this article in Sorted magazine.

    You mentioned ‘black professional ladies’, well I go to a church that is full of them! And the ratio of men to women is probably worst that the 35%-65% figure you suggested 🙁
    It’s an issue that is increasingly bugging me and I don’t feel there are enough people who are as bothered about it as I am.

    I gave my life to Christ at 21. I was able to get some of my mates to come along to Church on occasion, but most would not stick it out even though they do all believe in God. I work full time, but my ministry work allows me to visit many Churches (mostly black majority in London) and here this problem is clear for all to see.

    I think that the problem is in the femininity, venerability and general softness in the Church. I grew up in some of the less desirable parts of inner London. And language like ‘surrender it all to Jesus’ or ‘let Him fill that hole in your heart’ just doesn’t work with a gang member. Also most male church leaders are so ‘churchy’ that they don’t even notice that they don’t seem all that masculine to ‘Mr Average’ man on the street.

    We need to sort it out quick because in London Islam is doing a much better job of recruiting young males that Christianity.

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