Research quotes by Christian Vision for Men suggests that there are two women for every one man in our churches. Whilst I don’t have access to this research my own experience is that this is the situation in many churches although there are some churches which achieve almost equal numbers. I don’t think I have every experienced a church where men predominate women in terms of numbers.
Christian Vision for men also suggests that the most likely person to be attending church is a middle class women and the least likely is a working class man.
The research they quote also suggest that if a dad finds Christ then in 93% of cases their family will follow yet if a mum finds Christ then only in 17% of cases their family will follow and if a child finds Christ only 3.5% of their families follow.
As Bill Hybel said:
The key to reaching unchurched families was to reach husbands.
The key to reaching husbands was to create church where men weren’t embarrassed to worship.
Once Dad was in the door, the family would happily follow.
While Richard Rohr points out:
We are not a healthy culture for boys or men. Not the only, but one reason is that we are no longer a culture of elders who know how to pass on wisdom, identify and set boundaries to the next generation. Most men are over-mothered and under fathered.
So it’s worth asking the question why in our mission activities isn’t a greater priority given to working with men alongside initiatives aimed at children, young people and women?
Issues for Men
At the same time there are some serious issues that affect men, for example, the most likely cause of death for men under fifty is suicide.
Obesity is also higher for men and data for 2014 showing that 61.7% of adults were overweight or obese (65.3% of men and 58.1% of women). (England, 2016)
There are other issues of isolation, loneliness and depression particularly for older men who are no longer working, their former working environment having provided a group of daily companions and a sense of value through their work. The danger on their retirement is that a man’s daily activity can drift in to passivity watching day time television or sitting in a pub or working men’s club bar, making a drink last all afternoon. For some men there can be a drift in to alcohol abuse, obesity and the use of pornography, which sadly is high in towns such as Harrogate.
This drift from being active, physically engaged and in control of one’s life in to one of being passive and being done for, with limited control is dis-empowering, demotivating and can lead to a lack of self-worth and respect and in my view may lead to the alcohol and other abuse noted above and even suicide. Which sadly is the main cause of death for men under 50 and in areas such as Kirklees is a great deal higher for men than it is for women.
In addressing this there is a danger that well-meaning caring professionals and in particular women, may in fact further dis-empower men as they take control and organise or do things for men whilst trying to be helpful. The result can be a further erosion of men’s confidence and self-worth resulting in a loss of joy and fun and potentially leading to depression.
As Carl Beech the president of Christian Vision for Men puts it “There is an epidemic of loneliness among men and real lack of joy”
As was reported in a recent article the New York Times research in to longevity has also shown that having good friends is one of the most important contributory factors in increasing life expectancy by as much as 22%. So isolation and loneliness will have a major detrimental effect on the life of men in our communities.
If we look at places when men socialise these are often associated with engaging in some form of activity such as participation in sport or practical task group such as railway modelling, helping at a heritage railway or being involved in a men’s shed. Often the conversations are one to one or in a small group of perhaps just two or three people will talk as they work together on a project.
The general pattern is of engaging in activity together rather than being passive recipients even attending to watch a football match can hardly be described as a passive activity.
These interests are reflected in the titles and content of men’s magazines with cars, fitness and sport being titles being featured on newsagent’s shelves.
The Australian Men’s shed’s movement has identified this pattern and describe this way of communication as talking shoulder to shoulder. At the same time socialising may take place after an activity for example in a sports club, bar or village pub after game of rugby or cricket. However even here the layout of the bar will encourages men to talk shoulder to shoulder as they stand at the bar or sit on a stool at the bar.
Richard Rohr in his book Adam’s Return says.
“Men crave male attention at all ages but cannot openly ask for it. So they hang around other men at sports events, in bars, in Lions Clubs, at military academies, in wars and at work sites and hope that it will rub off somehow. It looks too much like weakness and neediness to name it consciously, so we garner male attention in all kinds of macho ways. As strong as the sexual drive is, and as beautiful as the company of women is, men all over the world create venues and situations where the can be together.”
Why is Church failing to deliver for men?
One of the reasons why the church may be off putting is that it can seem very feminine for many men. To those of us familiar and brought up with a tradition of attending church we are used to our patterns of worship and other gatherings but to a man unfamiliar then church can be a very alien and off putting environment and especially if numerically dominated by women and women’s culture.
Richard Rohr puts it like this: “I would assert that Jesus was being very much a man and very much a layman in the way that he practiced religion. Today’s religious male has been told that to be religious he should be feminine, sensitive, churchy, and what some call SNAGs (Soft New Age Guys) and it is not working or even appealing to most men of the world”.
An example is the pitching of songs in keys which are in appropriate for deeper mail voices and as Dr James Melton, Chair of the Department of Music at Vanguard University puts it in Designing Worship for Men that:
“Often our songs are pitched too high for the men (and often the average women) to sing comfortably. Many songs are taken straight from the latest worship CD or studio to the worship service, and often don’t work practically. The melody is often in the upper registers, even for tenors, so men that are baritones or basses just “drop out.” Often, the rhythms may be too difficult for the average guy to pick up as well.”
With David Murrow pointing on the Church for Men’s website pointing out that the lyrics may also be inappropriate for a guy and uses the example of the words of a worship song:
“Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel I’m moving to the rhythm of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
Why do worship leaders choose such girly songs, filled with romantic imagery, even when they perform at men’s events?”
Compare this to hymns and songs such as Rise up O Men of God.
Rise up, O Church of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.
How great is our God
How great is our God
Sing with me
How great is our God
And all will see
How great, how great is our God
This may seem funny if it wasn’t true but the surplice warn in many Anglican churches for those unfamiliar with church traditions and history may appear to men visiting, that the male leaders are dressing in a feminine style by wearing a surplice are in fact wearing a women’s dress or even night attire.
Not only this but churches with pretty lace alter cloths and linens, which would appear more at home in a tea room than a place of a working man’s world, give the impression that a church is no place for a hard working bloke.
For men, who as boys found academic subjects at school a struggle and who chose a career perhaps in construction or a practical subject, listening to a sermon and worshipping in a word ordinated world is going to be the last thing that appeals and perhaps reminds them of how at school the girls dominated academic achievement, which caused them to follow other paths.
From what we have seen above about the way men socialise the idea of a bible study or fellowship where members are sit in a circle and talk about beliefs in a group will be not only be unfamiliar but its structure and style may make it inherently difficult for many men to participate.
As David Murrow points out in Why Men Hate Going to Church: “Women and elderly are more security orientated than men and young people. This is why we see so many women and old folks in church. They’re in the market for security. But the missing men are looking for adventure, risk, independence, and reward. If they can’t find these things in church they’ll look elsewhere”.
It is therefore perhaps not surprising that that there are few working class men and their families in our churches.
Jesus in his ministry seemed to have the knack of connecting well with the working men of the fishing villages and perhaps there is something we can learn from his approach.
Often when people talk about Jesus’s method of discipleship they refer to the twelve disciples; however I believe when we read the New Testament we find that Jesus was in fact working with a core group or team of 3 or 4 guys.
First of all we see him down on the shore of Lake Galilee where he called Peter, James, John and Andrew, Matthew 4:18-22. We she him showing them what he did, one example is the healing of Jairus’s daughter, Luke 8:40-56. Jesus tells everyone else to leave and takes with him the parents and Peter, James and John. The same three were with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Much of his discipling also took place in the outdoors around boats including some adventurous night and rough weather sailing. We also often find him teaching in small groups over meals ether in people’s homes or fish cooked on open fires on a beach.
Developing Discipleship Programs for Men
Jesus commands us in Mathew 28v16 to go and make disciples and I very much believe he is ahead of us in this mission. Therefore we can assume he is ahead of us drawing men to himself so we can adopt a discipling relationship with all that we meet.
As the Christian Vision for Men’s (CVM) evangelism strategy points out, the first stage must be to develop friendships through engaging in activities with men. It’s not about inviting them to church or a gospel message but about building good solid friendships. As we have already noted men socialise through doing activities together and therefore CVM suggest that we should engage and invite men to be involved in activities such as cycling, canoeing, paintballing, bowling, walking, i.e. activities that emphasise having a bit of fun together and also the opportunity for the challenge of a project or an adventure together.
Following this CVM suggest that men are invited to share a meal together perhaps a curry and a decent spread, during which time perhaps a guest will tell something of their story.
Over a period of time through regular activities together and occasional meals together friendships and trust are built.
It’s interesting to see that one of the Methodist churches city centre outreach projects in Liverpool “Somewhere Else “developed by Barbra Glasson combined both the activity of making bread and eating together. This connected with a significant number of men. This seems to be a strategy which can be replicated in engaging in an activity where men talk whist working, sharing food together with the development of a worshipping community. See https://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/resources/dvd1/08
The conclusion for me is that discipleship is developed by inviting men in to doing things together; in serving the community together rather than teaching and head knowledge discipleship and is transferred through following the example of other men in the doing of the Kingdom and in following the call of Christ in a particular context.
In terms of developing deeper and longer term friendships particularly with retired men a Men’s Shed could be a good way to do this. Men’s sheds were initially developed in Australia with some being run by Churches a few years later. There are over 900 and they have also taken off in the UK with the UK Men’s Sheds Association reporting over 300 and some 84 in development.
A Men's Shed is a larger version of the typical man’s shed in the garden – a place where he feels at home and pursues practical interests with a high degree of autonomy. A Men's Shed offers this to a group of such men where members share the tools and resources they need to work on projects of their own choosing at their own pace and in a safe, friendly and inclusive venue. They are places of skill-sharing and informal learning, of individual pursuits and community projects, of purpose, achievement and social interaction, a place of leisure where men come together to work.
A few churches have developed including Kiaros Network Church in Harrogate where a group of men gathers in a church basement under a group name Resurrection Bikes to repair donated bikes to support mission charities as a group project. The group has already drawn in a number of men on the fringes of the church and men unconnected and have occasional gatherings to share meals and hear speakers from the Christian charities they support.
Also in Harrogate a group of men as part of the Joshua Project works to support people on low incomes by helping renovate their properties so they can have a pleasant and attractive place to live.
In a way this is like in the early church, where Christian engaged in social justice issues caring for widows, visiting prisoners and it was through these actions that people were attracted to the Christian community and joined it. However it wasn’t until after a long period of involvement and teaching by a catechist and the demonstration of a changed lifestyle that induction through Baptism in to the church took place.
Perhaps men could be attracted to the church community through being invited to take part in activities which make a difference in their local communities.
Through volunteering in this way, they will not only make friends and but can potentially address issues which bring men down such as passivity and lack of self -value and thereby address negative habits and self-harm as noted above and be brought in to the community of the church and become disciples of Christ
- What are the needs and issues of men in our community? Do men suffer from isolation and a lack of joy and depression amongst the men we know and if so what are the reasons for this?
- What is the gender split in our churches and what might be the reason for this? Could for example our pattern and style of worship be off putting for men and in particular working class men?
- How might we best connect with men in our community? Are there projects or activities that men could gather round?
- As relationship form and the opportunity arises to invite men to be part of our Christian community is inviting them in to the existing pattern of worship the way forward or should we look to other structures cantered around activities and active participation and sharing food together?
Books and Resources
Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly Link:www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0712610707 (This is an amazing book and a core reader about men)
Christian Vision for Men www.cvm.org.uk http://cvm.org.uk/thecode ( A rule of life for men)
CVM have a number of resources and the DVD called Men is quite interesting see http://cvm.org.uk/men
From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality Richard Rohr Link: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0867167408
Adam's Return - Five Promises of Male Initiation: Richard Rohr www.amazon.co.uk/dp/082452280X
Why men hate going to church revised by David Murrow Link: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/078523215X See accompanying web site http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/why-do-men-hate-going-to-church/
The Map by David Murrow Link: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0785227628
UK Men’s Sheds Association http://menssheds.org.uk/
Designing Worship for Men: http://www.vanguard.edu/churchrelations/designing-worship-for-men/
Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul by John Eldredge www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0785268839
The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom by Alan Kreider Link: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1556353936