The Challenge: Why Men Hate Going to Church

I have a confession to make about Friday’s post.

I had just finished reading Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. In his recent second edition, he postulates that the reason the gender gap is increasing in many Christian denominations is that many churches are overly feminized. Yes, the vast majority of pastors in Christian churches (and all ordained ministers in Catholic churches) are men, but the participants and those involved in lay leadership are majority women across the American Christian fold. Further, the lack of male participants will result in the death of a church, citing statistics that the higher the gender gap, the quicker a church’s attendance declines.

I found his book extremely interesting. Murrow connects today’s praise and worship music and the phrasing of having a “relationship” with Jesus Christ as one “male repellant”. His reasoning: What man wants to have a “relationship” with another man? Do men talk like that to each other? Did Jesus talk like that to his own Apostles? While we are called to an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, can’t we find a different way to phrase it, at least some of the time? The book has many examples and his reasoning for how they came about.

He cites that, while we shouldn’t go fire and brimstone exclusively, much of our discussion of Christ is based on Jesus the Lamb while viewing Jesus the Lion (e.g. throwing out moneychangers in the temple) as the anomaly of Christ. Murrow’s claim is that Jesus was “a lion” as much, if not more, than he acted as a “lamb” and that the overall Christian church has decreased that message to, for some, a footnote.

Murrow’s solution isn’t to make churches a den of masculinity, but to reduce the “repellent” aspects some and increase opportunities for men to feel useful. Men like to work with their hands and do stuff. For many churches, the only ministry some men feel useful is the usher or parking lot attendant. (I’m not saying women don’t like to work with their hands. I’m not trying to make any inference about how women feel included in the church community; just my thoughts on getting men more active.)

This book was written for the broader Christian church, so many aspects of it aren’t applicable across the board. From the Catholic position, many of his points about worship services simply don’t apply to Mass or, if they do, aren’t things we’ll change as they’ve been like that for hundreds of years if not thousands. Nevertheless, many of his points do make sense to me and could be applied to the Catholic practice in some way.

As I mentioned in the comments of Friday’s post about chicken broth, sometimes being Catholic is a bit too easy. When looking at the guidelines of excluding meat on Fridays (and Ash Wednesday), if the sacrifice is easy, what’s the point? Yes, there is something to be said to be reminded of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, but as a penance, is it effective?

My thought, regarding meatless Fridays and chicken broth, is especially in today’s world where we have a world’s worth of culinary styles at our fingertips, it isn’t that hard to find recipes that completely exclude meat and meat-based products. This is ignoring that for a long time in our history, the Lenten fast was for all of Lent and excluded all dairy, eggs, etc. In the Eastern rites and Orthodox Christianity, this is still practiced (to some degree at least, not researched). They have specific time periods labeled “Meatfare” and “Cheesefare” as the farewell to meat and cheeses for all of the Great Lent.

One reason the Knights of Columbus do so well generally speaking is it pushes men to do more. It gives them a structure that lets them do good work doing work they feel they can do as men. Not saying women can’t do any of it, but something that feels natural for a guy. While men can sit in a room and make rosaries just as well as women, in our society, it doesn’t feel as natural for a guy.

Likewise, I think one reason, at the University Catholic Center, why the men’s Catholic fraternity (Lambda Omega Alpha) has done a better job of recruiting than the Knights is the pledge process. The fraternity’s pledge process gives young men a challenge (to make it through) and a stronger sense of exclusivity. Truthfully, I don’t know if they have ever rejected a candidate for membership who participated fully, but the standard is set that you are expected to rise to this challenge.

The Knights process is easier. Frankly, if you want to join, you talk to someone, we vouch that you’re Catholic (typically by you saying so) and you can attend a ceremony to join. The Knights, even college Knights, shouldn’t adopt the fraternity’s approach; however, there are aspects of the “challenge” that could be adopted.

There’s more to the recruitment issue than the process of joining alone, but we’ll exclude that for now.

My point is that all people need to feel at home in the church and a diversity of opportunities and language need to be used to create that atmosphere.

With “challenges”, there are issues. Friday’s chicken post was examining a point of canon law. There needs to be a fair balance between requirements and expectations.

My mom called me last night to ask me a question. She had gone to confession a couple of weekends before Ash Wednesday. Does that count for Lent? She understood the expectation to be that she had to go to confession during Lent and that, now, some folks are saying that we need to go twice a year, at least, during Lent and Advent.

Truthfully, there is little required in this category. We are required to take communion annually, during the season of Easter unless fulfilled another time of the year for a just cause (Canon 920). You can’t go to communion if you are conscience of your own grave sin (Canon 916). You are required to confess your grave sins once a year (Canon 989). Thus, the “Easter Duty”, as it has been called, is strictly to receive communion during Easter, in the state of grace, which infers that you should confess your grave sins just prior to communion, which Lent is the time of penance and preparation for Easter. Therefore, going to confession during Lent is assumed to be required. (Other legal documents and extremely laudable practices notwithstanding.)

So for my mom, frankly, yes. Her pre-Ash Wednesday confession “counts” and, save any grave sinfulness, she’s fine to receive communion, as required, during Easter.

But note, that the expectation is to go to confession during Lent, if not twice a year, if not more.

Should we expect more of our faithful? Yes.

Should we require more of our faithful? I don’t know and I’m not in any position to change any of this, so it doesn’t matter.

With Friday’s post, I truly think accepting chicken broth is an invalid reading of canon law, but in either case, we should expect folks to exclude it. We shouldn’t require Liturgy of the Hours for everyone, but we can expect families to adopt some part of it, perhaps Night Prayer.

Why Men Hate Going to Church is a good read for those engaged in ministry. The book shouldn’t be taken as Gospel, but as a reminder to reexamine our churches to ensure that we are reaching all of our members and capturing their hearts and minds. For many men, the challenge will bring them.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of the book in exchange for a review. I was not required to give a positive review.






4 responses to “The Challenge: Why Men Hate Going to Church

  1. Laura Avatar

    Have you heard of Stephen Sawyer? He paints Jesus as this bad-ass, Chuck Norris-looking dude. Your post made me think of him. 

  2. Lindsay Avatar

    Men do dislike church, and it’s sad because, honestly, that’s where so many great women are. I sometimes have to be blunt with the male students at work who are struggling over whether to join a group or go on Awakening. If they want to meet nice Catholic girls, those are great places to start. I’d prefer that they get involved in order to meet Christ, but everyone has to start somewhere.

  3. Pjs Avatar

    You mentioned an intimate relationship with Jesus, that’s not true. Christ told us to take up our cross and follow him, he never mentioned having an intimate relationship with him

Leave a Reply