On any given Sunday, all across the world, churches are likely to have more women in the pews than men. Some estimates place the so-called “gender gap” in America at 61 percent women versus 39 percent men (www.uscongregations.org). That means that every Sunday there are millions more women attending church than men.
There are several theories put forward for why, comparatively, there are so few men attending church. One theory is that the church’s teachings, emphasizing humility, holiness, and introspection, are seen by some men as “weak” or somehow less than masculine. Men are looking to be challenged with a “bold” message of adventure, danger, and aggressiveness.
Finding the right activities to attract men is also a challenge for many churches. Some congregations make an extra effort to provide times of fellowship and bonding for men by adding hunting expeditions, fishing trips, sports, etc., to their schedules.
Another theory is that many churches, knowingly or unknowingly, create a feminine atmosphere with their décor. Floral arrangements, pastel colors, frilly curtains, and pictures of passive, pastoral scenes make for a peaceful ambiance, but they tend to make men feel a disconnect. Some churches attempt to appeal to masculine sensibilities by changing their décor to something edgier, darker, more robust, and less nurturing.
Another explanation for why there are so few men in church has to do with the stereotypical masculine ego. Men are naturally self-reliant, headstrong, and proud, the theory goes, and are therefore naturally more resistant to the divine call to humility and submission. The gospel confronts our need, and men are often averse to admitting neediness.
There are other hypotheses, such as upbringing. Most men were reared by fathers who did not attend church services and so have no role model for masculine involvement in a church. There is the suggestion that men, the traditional breadwinners, are too busy working—or enjoying their day off work—to commit to a church. And overly sentimental church music is sometimes mentioned as something that keeps men away, too.
There might be a grain of truth in each of these theories, but none of them fully explain the gender gap in modern churches. No one rejects church simply because of frilly curtains or a sappy song; there is most likely a deeper problem.
Truth be told, followers of Christ have always included a large percentage of women. Luke 8:3 says there were “many” women who supported Jesus and His disciples during their ministry. At Jesus’ crucifixion, “many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs” (Matthew 27:55). And, of course, it was a group of women who first found the empty tomb (Luke 24:22).
The message of Christ is universal. Following Christ includes adventure, risk, and purpose. Churches should preach the Word and challenge, nurture, and encourage all their members, male and female. Any church that turns the gospel into a soft, congenial message; minimizes the cost of discipleship; or imputes weakness to Christ does its people a disservice. Charles Spurgeon decried such a watered-down message in his day: “There has got abroad a notion, somehow, that if you become a Christian you must sink your manliness and turn milksop.”
Men avoid church for a variety of reasons, and church leaders should be aware of those possible reasons as they reach out to young men, husbands, and fathers. Men should be challenged to emulate the heroes of the faith—robust men such as Moses, Elijah, and Peter. The Christian life should be presented as the adventure it truly is. And we should pray that God would increase the number of men who recognize their God-given responsibilities and who are unafraid to commit their talents and service to a local church.