Designing Church to Appeal to Men
About the Guest
Many men today don't like going to church. Could our modern-day format be the reason why? On today's broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with David Murrow, director of Church for Men, an organization dedicated to restoring a healthy masculine spirit in Christian congregations. Today, David will share some of the reasons men give for not attending church and offers suggestions for making church more appealing to a male audience.
David Murrow shares some of the reasons men give for not attending church.
Designing Church to Appeal to Men
David: When we look for volunteers, we're looking for people to work with children; planning ceremonial gatherings at weddings, funerals; sitting in committee meetings – really, there's nothing in most churches' ministry opportunities that would get a man out of bed on Sunday morning. We need opportunities for men to win – pounding nails or doing projects, hanging out with guys, going on adventurous mission trips. The churches that are doing those things with men are experiencing a lot of success in getting them integrated.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 22nd. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today we've got some strategies for stirring the spiritual passions of men.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. Can I tell you a church story? This is kind of a fun church story. When Mary Ann and I first started dating, we were in college, and I had grown up in a particular denomination that – well, it's not known for being really Gospel-centered. And so I said to Mary Ann, "Let's go to church on Sunday, and she said, "Okay, where do you want to go?" And I said, "We'll go to the little church that's right off the campus," that was a part of the denomination I'd grown up in.
And we wound up at this church, and afterwards I said to her, "What did you think?" And she said, "Well, they didn't talk much about the Bible." And I thought, "Well, no, you don't do that at church, do you?" I mean, I really did, because I'd grown up in this church, they didn't talk much about the Bible at church. I thought you did that at Young Life or a Campus Crusade meeting. You know, I thought that's where they cracked out the Bible, but at church you were supposed to talk about other things.
And she said, "Well, let's go to this other church," the next Sunday, and it was funny, because they talked about the Bible at that church, and I found I liked that better than the church where they didn't talk about the Bible.
Dennis: And was that church, by any possibility, University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas?
Bob: Well, we did eventually wind up visiting there. We were in Tulsa at the time, and so we didn't travel all the way over to University Baptist, but I remember when Mary Ann and I went up to a U of A football game, and we went the next morning to University Baptist, and I thought, "This is a pretty good church. If there were more like this, you could have a whole movement going here, you know?"
Dennis: That church was led by a man who was used mightily in my life – H.D. McCarty.
Bob: And everybody called him "H" right?
Dennis: Everybody called him "H" or H.D." – Harvey Dwight was his name, and H.D. was one of the three most influential men outside of my father who was used by God spiritually in my life, and the reason I mention him is because he led a church in being relevant and biblical. And as a result, attracted a ton of men from Northwest Arkansas not only from the business community but from the campus there, the University of Arkansas.
Bob: His background had a little to do with that. He was a pilot of some kind, wasn't he?
Dennis: That's right. He flew in the Air Force, but his father deserted him when he was a boy.
Bob: Oh, really?
Dennis: And so he learned the hard way that men need men. And, you know, when it comes to the Christian community today, I think the church and all of us as followers of Christ need to be acutely aware of what men are looking for as we point them to God, and we have a guest here on FamilyLife Today, David Murrow, who is going to help us know better how to connect with men and not merely get them to church but connect them to God. David, I want to welcome you to the broadcast, glad you're here.
David: Good to be here.
Dennis: David is the director of Church for Men. It's an organization dedicated to restoring healthy, masculine spirits in men and pointing them in the right direction as they address their spiritual needs. He is married to his wife Gina, and they have a son and two daughters and live in Anchorage, Alaska. Now, I happen to know this because I have some very good friends who also give leadership to a great church – Change Point Church in Anchorage, Alaska. The sun doesn't shine much in the winter. What are winters like there in your home?
David: Well, in Anchorage it's not so bad. On the worst day of the year, we're getting maybe five hours, and every point on the globe gets the same amount of light. We have front-loaded in the summer – we get 19 hours on the longest day.
Dennis: And the flowers go crazy.
David: They go nuts, because they don't take a night off. They just grow all night.
Dennis: And it's the people who go crazy.
David: We're the ones who go, yeah, because we're all down to like five hours, but as you go further north up toward the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks is, like, two-and-a-half hours, and then Barrow, the sun is down for, like, two-and-a-half months.
Bob: So on the shortest day of the year, the sun comes up at 11 and goes down at 4, something like that?
David: About 2:30 in Fairbanks. I used to live in Fairbanks, and that's very close to the Arctic Circle.
Dennis: Well, Alaska is also known for a lot of men who love the outdoors, and it's also known as a state that is – well, has the most number of unchurched men.
David: Yes, the entire Pacific Northwest region has a lot of men who don't go to church.
Dennis: Was that a part of why you wrote your book, "Why Men Hate Going to Church?"
David: Well, I just have a burden for guys. I want to see guys connected with their Savior, I want to see them in church. And I've been a follower of Jesus for 28 years, and I've always wondered why there were more women than men in the congregation. One day I was just sitting there looking around, and I counted noses and saw that about 60 percent of the people there were women, the average age of those women was about 50 to 55 years old. I looked around at how the church was decorated, and I saw quilted banners and fresh flowers and boxes of Kleenex, and a lace doily on the communion table, and it just came to me that the whole atmosphere that we were creating in the church was a very feminine one. It was very comfortable for these middle-aged older women, but your average 20-year-old construction worker walking in there, there's nothing for him to relate to. He wouldn't be as comfortable walking into a church. And that's what kind of got me thinking about what is it about what we're doing on Sunday morning that's putting the big stop sign up for men?
Bob: You studied anthropology at Baylor, so you were doing a little anthropological work as you sat in your church that morning.
David: Yeah, they teach us to do what are called "ethnographic studies," and I was actually sitting there, a little bit bored during a sermon one time, and decided to do an ethnographic study, and I realized that the target audience of the church I was attending was a 55-year-old woman.
Dennis: And it's not just in America. I have spoken at churches in the former Soviet Union and, they're, for the most part, 70 percent women – matriarchal.
David: The gender gap is worldwide, but what's so troubling to me is that the gender gap is only in Christianity. If you go to the Middle East, and you go to a mosque, you find robust male participation – 50 percent, 55 percent of the worshipers are men – same with Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, especially Orthodox Judaism. But when you come to Christianity, the church right next door to the mosque has got 70 percent women in it.
Bob: And you would say that's not because Christianity is an intrinsically feminine religion, right?
David: Well, I mean, look at the Bible. Was there any shortage of enthusiastic men in those days? It's the story of bold, courageous men. Our faith was founded by a man and His 12 male disciples. So something has happened in the last 2,000 years to give us a reputation as a place for little old ladies of both sexes.
Bob: And has this been a cultural phenomenon that you can trace back 100 years or 500 years or 1,000 years? When did the church become feminized?
David: Well, there's a gentleman by the name of Leon Podles who wrote a book called "The Feminization of Christianity." He traces it back to medieval times. There was a heavy emphasis on Mary in the Catholic Church. Instead of venerating a male deity now, all of a sudden, we had a female deity. We had bridal mysticism coming in. But I think it really got rolling in the Victorian Era when we saw men leaving home to seek work in mines, mills, and factories. Pastors looked out at their congregations, and they saw women, children, and aged men, and so they began to subtly tailor their methods, their messages.
You know, we used to have in the 1700s is was sinners in the hands of an angry God and repent and more masculine type messages, but in the 1800s it became more a personal walk with Jesus and Jesus loving you, and, you know, you need a balance between the two but, definitely, one is more motivating to a man; one is more motivating to a woman.
Dennis: When I was a boy, and I was on my own spiritual journey, it's interesting what you're talking about, because you're bringing back some emotions and memories I had of feeling like church was not for real men. And so even as a boy, I remember kind of keeping it at a distance, not wanting to be like "that." Do you find that's the case even among men, as they move into their 20s, 30s, and 40s today – that same type of description?
David: Oh, you've hit it right on the head. I mean, there is just a widespread perception the church is something for women, weirdos, and wimps. I mean, no real guy would get involved in church.
Dennis: Now, when we say women, weirdos, and wimps, we're not lumping women in with …
Bob: … weirdos and wimps.
Bob: We're not saying they're defective in some way.
David: No, I'm just talking about that's sort of – I got that quote from – actually, a Catholic priest. I was talking about the shortage of men in the Catholic church, and he said he has heard that from many men that don't want to come to mass; that they're going to have to hang out with a collection of women, weirdos, kind of strange guys, and wimpy guys.
Bob: Well, and I'm thinking back to my own presupposition of what piety and holiness looks like, and thinking to myself, "I don't know that that's me. I don't know that I can be that." Now, again, I'm not talking about genuine holiness or genuine piety. It's the caricature of somebody where meekness is weakness; where you're quiet, you don't laugh, you never …
Dennis: Well, we've heard our Savior referred to at times as even being soft, you know, He was one who said …
Bob: … "gentle Jesus, meek and mild."
Dennis: There we go, and that doesn't somehow translate into real masculinity, at least in some people's minds.
David: Well, let's talk about where it starts. It starts in our Sunday school program. Now, let's picture a little boy, let's call him Tom. Tom comes into Sunday school and what do we ask of him – sit still, be gentle, be relational, read, speak verbally. Well, you know what? Girls are better at all those things than boys are. So after five or six years of Tom being beaten every week by the girl sitting next to him who can read better, who can emote better, who can express herself better, by the time he's gotten through the sixth grade, he's convinced, "I can't win at church. I lose every Sunday at church."
It's very important for boys to be competent, it's important for boys to win. So then it continues into the church service. He grows up, he marries Tina, Tom and Tina go to church, they both know Jesus, they both love the Lord but, again, the same judgments are in place – how verbal are you, how sensitive are you, how relational are you, how good are you at reading and speaking in Sunday school classses? Tina outshines Tom every week. So it's very hard. Eventually, Tom gets discouraged and drops out of church. Not because he's not interested in the Gospel, not because he's not interested in Jesus Christ, but we've created a standard that is very hard for Tom to win at.
Bob: So you're not saying we need to add foosball and air hockey back into the worship service so that guys can win at some things, are you?
David: We need some things that men can win at. I mean, Dennis, you were talking a little bit about Sunday school and some of the volunteer opportunities. When we look for volunteers, we're looking for people to work with children; child care; teaching; planning ceremonial gatherings at weddings, funerals; sitting in committee meetings – really, there's nothing in most churches' ministry opportunities that would get a man out of bed on Sunday morning. We need opportunities for men to win – pounding nails or doing projects, hanging out with guys, going on adventurous mission trips. The churches that are doing those things with men are experiencing a lot of success in getting them integrated.
Dennis: You know, I was in a church not long after Hurricane Katrina hit, and it was fascinating to watch an announcement go up at this church where there were a lot of great men that after the service, a number of men were getting tools, they were getting equipment, and they were going to get in a bunch of vans, a bunch of trucks, and they were heading down to New Orleans. And you know what? The front of that church was absolutely packed. There were men who stepped forward into that gap, and you have to wonder, at that point – and there wasn't a lot on the evening news about how the church stepped in quietly, individual churches from all over the nation brought men with hammers and nails and air guns and power saws and tools and chainsaws and did the man's work.
David: Yeah, and for a lot of these guys it was probably the first time in years they've had a win at church. Here is something I'm really good at, and here is my chance to serve God doing something I'm good at, rather than squeezing them into a mold like, "Well, here, change this diaper." Maybe guys – that's not going to thrill his imagination as much as slicing a two-by-four.
Dennis: I want to take you back to my sixth grade Sunday school class, because you just raised a question, and I'm not sure how I would answer it for myself. You said it's the girls who are good at relating and sitting still and doing a better job in terms of sitting in Sunday school. And, boy, that was true of my sixth grade Sunday school class.
Bob: You're talking about the one that you led.
Dennis: I led –
Bob: Not the one you were in. No – well, yeah, it could have been true of the one I was in, although back when I was in it, the boys and the girls were separated, and I was in a sixth grade Sunday school class with my dad, and I just remember it was hard to sit still, and I was firing spitwad bullets and flying airplanes and getting in trouble, even with my dad there, but my dad had a way of ground all the airplanes that were taking off in the class.
But I'm reflecting back, and I'm thinking, "What should I have done as a teacher with those young men in terms of allowing them to express their masculinity?"
David: Well, there are solutions out there. The church that I attend – you mentioned Change Point in Anchorage. We've done away with the Sunday school. We have something called "Summit Kids," where we take the kids; we put them in a gym environment; we let them run around. We have competitions not only for memorizing Bible verses but also for physical contests – see who can jump the highest. So the boys get a chance to win every week. It's much more interactive and hands-on type learning. They sing silly songs. So the purpose of it is not necessarily to cram their heads with Bible knowledge, but to let them know God loves them, God's on their side, and then when the boys come out in the sixth grade, they know they can win, they have a chance to do well in church.
The whole problem with the Sunday school system is after a six-year losing streak, boys get into junior high, and they don't want to have anything more to do with church. They're tired of losing.
Dennis: Mm-hm, and, you know, I'm thinking of how my church here in Little Rock, Fellowship Bible Church is really touching the nation through it's ministry to men called Men's Fraternity. Robert Lewis, who is a very good friend of mine, started meeting with a number of men back, I think, about 1990, and I think maybe there were 40 or 50 men who would get up at 6 a.m. in the morning and meet with him and start hammering out some biblical principles of manhood and how men could relate to each other and tell their story to one another. Is this the kind of thing we need to provide more of, David, so that men can gather together, they can rub shoulders and not be ashamed of their masculinity?
David: Well, that's exactly right. I mean, men are interested in God. Every poll says that 90 percent of American men believe in God, five out of six claim to be Christians, but only two out of six are in church on a given Sunday. And I think it's because of the way we worship God, the sentiments we express or the passivity and the receptivity and the gentleness that we accept. It just doesn't resonate with the masculine heart. But if you get him into a situation like Men's Fraternity, you see the hunger they have to follow God. But the format of the Sunday service just doesn't do it for them.
Bob: I'm curious about that, because I'm thinking about the traditional Sunday worship service and, certainly, the elements that are there – the preaching of the Word, you'd say that's biblical; the public reciting of Scripture – these are all good things. What makes it feminine and unappealing to guys?
David: Well, I think it starts with the décor. Men are very symbolic, and when they walk in, the symbols they see are usually feminine. They might see quilted banners on the walls, fresh flowers on the altar, a lace doily on the communion table, boxes of Kleenex, soft, cushiony pews.
Dennis: You keep mentioning this lace doily. Does that bother you a little bit, the lace doily?
David: Well, I'm just trying to put myself into the shoes of a 22-year-old construction worker, sports fan type guy.
Dennis: He doesn't know what to do with it, does he?
David: It just doesn't compute. It says "Grandma" to him. That's the only place he's ever seen that symbol. The symbols that resonate with him are sports teams, the military, challenge, adventure. Just look at the films these men watch – it's all about a band of brothers that goes out to change the world.
Dennis: So what kind of décor should they have?
David: I was speaking to John Eldridge who tells of a church that had a prayer room, and none of the men would ever go in there to pray, because it was decorated exactly as I described. Well, he challenged the men to redecorate. And they stripped the place and put up Celtic shields and swords and banners and candles – you know, like, big, thick candles, and all these sort of masculine images. Here is what they found – not only did the men go in to pray, you couldn't get the women out with a crowbar. They loved that masculine imagery, and that's the thing that I'm saying with my book, "Why Men Hate Going to Church." Not only do we have to turn the thermostat more toward men's comfort for the men, this upcoming generation of women, these masculine images really resonate. They find God in them.
Dennis: And what we want to make sure women are hearing us say, we're not talking about ignoring the needs of a woman or maximizing the worship experience for a woman. What we're talking about is, as you said, turning up the thermostat to a temperature that's appealing to a man.
David: Yeah, let me build on that – in the last 30 years we've had a big movement toward praise and worship in the church, and that's been a healthy thing on a lot of levels, but in moving toward more of an experiential, "I love you, Jesus," personal relationship with God, we've lost the mission.
And a lot of guys come in, they come in on Sunday morning, they don't sense a sense of purpose or mission or challenge there, it's just all about me and God. Well, men won't give up their weekends for a relationship, even one with God.
Bob: I was visiting a church in another community recently on a weekend where I was away from home, and the church had its mission statement. I don't remember exactly what it was, but it was something about advancing the work of the Kingdom and allegiance to the King, and, you know, I thought to myself, that's a pretty good mission, isn't it? The Kingdom and the King – I mean, it kind of called out that knight in us to want to saddle up and armor up and get ready for the battle. I think that's a little bit of what we've been talking about here today.
Dennis: God has made men with a great need to know Jesus Christ. What we need to be doing today is everything we can do humanly possible to make the Christian message, the message of God's love and forgiveness and His mission clear and appealing to men so that they can embrace it. And, Bob, I think what men are wanting today is they are wanting a way to express their courage and to allow their chests to, shall I say, kind of push out and bow up. God made men to conquer. You know what? That is a God-given male – not just a responsibility, but I think it's part of our fiber. And if we ignore that, we're going to be walking by 50 percent of the population and how God made them. He made men and women differently.
Bob: Well, and I think David has asked a very provocative question, just in the title of the book he has written – "Why Do Men Hate Going to Church?" Why are there more women in church than men? And whatever conclusions you come to in terms of why that is and how to remedy it, we'll leave those conclusions to churches to grapple with on their own, but don't ignore the issue, that's the point. Let's figure out what we can do to present authentic biblical Christianity in a way that will resonate with men, because we believe that the faith does, in fact, resonate with men. We've just got to make sure that we are authentically presenting it. And I think it would do pastors and church leaders, elders, anybody who cares about the church, it would do them some good to wrestle with this question – "Why Men Hate Going to Church." Read David's book and ask what can we do to encourage husbands and other men in our community to be more involved in church.
We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can contact us online at FamilyLife.com to have a copy sent to you. Again, the website is FamilyLife.com. Click where it says "Today's Broadcast," there in the center of the page, and that will take you right to the area where you can get more information about today's program, about the resources that are available, about David's book, "Why Men Hate Going to Church," and there is an additional resource there that we want to suggest you consider.
A few years ago, Stu Weber, who is a pastor and a former Green Beret and who understands something about men – he wrote a book called "All the King's Men," talking about how men need other men in relationship and how that can be cultivated in the context of the church. Again, there is more information about all of these resources on our website at FamilyLife.com. If you do order both David Murrow's book and Stu Weber's book, we'll send you at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation with David this week. Get all the details on the Web at FamilyLife.com or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll let you know how you can get these resources sent to you.
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Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to examine some of the reasons why men stay away from church and some of the things we can consider doing about that. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. See you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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