BOOK REVIEW: Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow
This book addresses a very timely and needful subject. Why is there a gender gap in the church? Why is it that women tend to outnumber men? Why do men hate going to church? In one survey, the attendance in US churches was 43% male and 57% female.
Murrow has done his homework and offers some plausible explanations for the problem. It basically involves the feminisation of the Church. Churches today are female-friendly and male-resistant. He bravely points out that other religions don’t have such a problem, especially Islam, which is both growing in numbers and wildly popular with men.
He cites an interesting statistic: that 17% of women are able to bring their families to church once they come to Christ; but a whopping 93% of men are able to do so (page 47). Men bring their families -- most importantly -- and they also bring money and strength.
The author bluntly states that modern churches are developing a culture that is driving men away (page 7).
Some aspects to consider are:
1. Inclusive language: ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’ have worked hard to use ‘inclusive language’ that makes women feel right at home. Male allusions and pronouns have been taken from liturgies, hymns, and modern translations of the Bible. No longer are we baptised in the ‘Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ Now it is ‘Creater, Redeemer, Sanctifier’ (page 135). But is it necessary to de-emphasize the masculine side of God? Is it Biblical? What will it do for men in the midst?
2. Portrait of Christ: our renaissance image is of a gentle, meek, mild man in a white gown, tender looking eyes, cradling a little lamb in his arms. His courage, fortitude, confrontational, challenging side is altogether missing. Murrow says these portraits resemble a woman’s face with a beard.
3. Music: men apparently don’t like to sing, especially for long periods of time. And they definitely don’t like singing to Jesus like a Romeo would sing to a Juliet: you are lovely, you are beautiful, bring me closer to your side, never let me go, I’m so in love with you. Subjective, emotive, and highly personalised rather than God-centered lyrics may be driving men away, too.
4. Decore and Atmosphere: soft and neutral colours, akin to a nursery or girl’s bedroom, don’t help. And a language and culture of ‘sharing,’ ‘caring,’ ‘relationship,’ ‘playing it safe,’ appeals to women but not to men.
5. Lack of Absolutes: As western churches fall into lock-step with postmodernism, traditional absolutes are being challenged or ignored, like moral vs. immoral, heaven vs. hell, Christ the only way vs. Christ the best way. Murrow includes a quote that says this is a definite turn towards ‘female religion,’ finding God in the immanent, incarnations, small and mundane things (Page 131).
Men need a challenge, purpose, and power. They don’t want to be pampered with ‘feel-good/therapeudic message,’ but are ready for the tough assignments (which, by the way, is the cost of Biblical discipleship).
Murrow is no male chauvinist. He does not in any way attack or demean women. He acknowledges their crucial role in the church and even in leadership. Male-dominated churches is what he does not want. What he does is appeals to all clergy ... male and female ... to recognise the need to attract men back to church, just like in the first century, and to bring in more of the masculine side to help balance the strong feminine flavour in today’s churches.
Some areas of question include:
• MALE MINISTERS: Murrow says that ministers/pastors, while not necessarily effeminate, tend to have more ‘feminine personality traits:’ verbal, expressive, sensitive (page 170). This is an inaccurate and grossly unfair stereotype. To be a minister today requires courage, strength, and tons of patience and perseverance. It is not for the faint-hearted. Think of ministry in today’s minefield as akin to playing rugby: it is a tough, brutal, unpredictable contact sport. We in ministry are not merely having cups of tea with Aunt Mabel and walking ‘softly, softly’ through life. While it is possible that ministry may need a light masculine ‘make-over,’ no one who has been in it in the long term can be accused of cowardice.
• LEADERSHIP: Morrow, like many, believes leadership is the answer for just about everything. He even advocates what is becoming more common: borrowing leaders from the corporate world and making them pastors. This is not a novel suggestion and the leadership emphasis has been around for decades in many denominations. Yes, there are benefits but we do fall into danger of becoming Church Inc., where a brutal corporate spirit treats the congregation not lambs to be named and nurtured but sheep to be fleeced, utilised as free labour, and then tossed aside when no longer useful (Glenn Wagner’s book by this title is very helpful). Such a self-serving opportunistic attitude may appeal to the macho side temporarily but does nothing to help today’s male become a man of God.
• CHARACTER: strength and courage, two adjectives that should apply to every man, are mentioned by Murrow but are covered much less than I would expect in a book about men.
• MARRIAGE & FAMILY: Murrow speaks of ‘masculinity’ in terms of a soldier who is trained to be brave in battle in defense of the tribe. But not all men are soldiers and with volunteer armies abounding in western countries, less and less are going this pathway. While there are ways to tap into the ‘warrior spirit’ in men without shedding blood, what I find amazing is Murrow’s omission about marriage and family. If men need to realise and celebrate their masculinity in church in order to attract other men, what could be more along this line than finding a good woman, marrying her, and having children by her? Isn’t marriage and family one of the most masculine things a man can do? I think so. So why is this not even mentioned? Sure, there are single, divorced and widowed men ... and their marital status does not negate their manhood -- but if we are going to teach ‘men to be real men ... men of God’ ... then highlighting this crucial, God-given, Biblically endorsed pathway, should be uppermost in our teaching and discipling.
All in all, I believe David MURROW has done us a great service. I would recommend Why Men Hate Going to Church for anyone who is serious about ministry to men and building up the Church. 8/10.
Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.