Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
What are the signs of a healthy church?
One of the big advantages that I experienced growing up in the church arose as I got older. In college when life was forever confusing, I had a rough idea of what it meant to be a faithful and successful 21 year old, a faithful and successful 25 year old, a faithful and successful 30 year old and so on. I also learned what it means to be a godly man.
How did I know? I knew because I had seen others in those age groups and I watched who succeeded and who did not. I knew this first hand—my parents did not need to tell me. My story about the 3 kinds of people—those that never learn, those that learn from their own mistakes, and those that learn from other people’s mistakes—came from observing people in church. Healthy churches are churches where everyone—all age groups, men and women, and races/ethnicities—worships together. Unfortunately, such churches are not the norm.
In his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow writes:
“New research reveals the importance of men to congregational vitality and growth. Almost without exception, growing church draw healthy numbers of men, while declining congregations lack male presence and participation…Men are the world’s largest unreached people group” (xii-xiii).
Why do we care? Murrow writes: “It’s no coincidence that the nations in which Christianity was the freely chosen religion of men are also bastions of tolerance, charity, and political stability.” (xii)
A lot is at stack in raising the issue of men’s participation in the church, but there is also a lot of resistance to talking about it. Murrow writes an entire page listing things that the book is NOT about—at the top of the list is blame. He refuses to spend any time blaming anyone (not men, not women, not pastors) for the gender gap—his purpose is: “to illuminate the problem and seek solutions” (xiv).
What is the problem? Murrow writes:
“According to polls, 90 percent of American men claim belief in God. Five of six call themselves Christians. But just two out of six U.S. men claim to have attended church in the previous week. Some experts believe the true number is fewer than one in six.” (13).
While men and women are roughly split evenly in the population, 61 percent of those in the pews are women and only 39 percent are men (14). For African American congregations, the numbers are even more skewed with 75 to 90 percent of those attending church being women (16). If saving men’s souls does not inspire sufficient concern, then think about money—the absence of men hurts church giving .
The gender gap is not a new problem. Recent changes in gender politics in the church are accordingly not the primary reason for the problem. Citing Leon Podles, the gap has been growing since the thirteenth century, but widened dramatically in the nineteenth century when male intellectuals began: “…publically rejecting religion as superstition or myth.” Meanwhile, working class men had to leave their homes to work in industry (55-56) . What remained in the church were women, children, and elderly men (57). Pastors confronted with a female audience increasingly softened the preaching, music, and theology to suit their audience. And, of course, less manly men found their way into the pastorate. Each of these proclivities alienated men who did come to church.
Again, why do we care? Murrow writes:
“So men avoid church [like they avoid a prostate exam]—and suffer for it. Men are more likely than women to be arrested, die violently, commit and be victims of crimes, go to jail, and be addicted. They also die more often on the job, have more heart attacks, commit suicide in greater numbers and live shorter lives than women…If men want to avoid these pathologies, they should go to church. Studies indicated that churchgoers are more likely to be married and express a higher level of satisfaction with life. Church involvement is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness. It raises most people out of poverty. It’s also correlated with less depression, more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness.” (23)
It is interesting that my wife, who is Muslim, pushes our daughter harder than I do to attend church—hoping that she will meet “someone nice”—something never said about attending a local mosque even though either option is equally convenient. What happens if my daughter goes to church and does not meet any “nice, eligible men”? Obviously, both the church and the family are hurt when this happens…as a father, I really do feel that pain .
What can be done about it? Murrow focuses on giving “men opportunities to use their skills and gifts” (202). The typical church, in his opinion, focuses on offering men opportunities to join in activities that women are more comfortable with (201). He makes his point by offering the following hypothetic church announcement:
“As of next month…we are canceling the nursery and Sunday school. We will no longer offer weddings, baptisms, baby showers, or funerals [feeling not doing events]. We will be dropping our choir and pulling out of our partnership with the soup kitchen. Instead, we’re going to minister in a new way. Our children’s ministry will be based on sports leagues. We will offer free automotive repairs to the working poor. We will provide carpentry, plumbing, and electrical upgrades to senior’s homes. We will deploy our member as security ambassadors, walking the streets of high crime neighborhoods. And our mission team will dig wells in Honduras.” (201).
He then asks how women might feel about such changes.
Murrow offers a boat load of suggestions on how to refocus to make men feel more like part of the church team. Interestingly, nowhere does he say that the pastor has to be a man. Instead, he suggests a boy band up front in worship, male parking attendants, male ushers, wide-screen television, prayer huddles [not circles], signs [men hate asking direction], and get rid of the banners [they bring a nursery setting to mind] and robes—real men don’t cross-dress or want to. Some of these suggestions lean into working-class, male stereotypes a bit but the point is valid—the church should not alienate men unnecessarily.
Author David Murrow is a marketing professional and has studied anthropology. He has worked in as a television producer, writer, speaker and government spokesperson. He is not a pastor. At the time of writing, he was from Alaska (where else?) His book is divided into 25 chapters and 3 parts:
- Where are the men? (1-45),
- Church Culture versus man culture (53-115), and
- Calling the church back to men (125-219).
These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by notes.
This book was recommended to me by my homiletics professor  who was at one point active in Promise Keepers (a recent group attempting to fire up men for the Gospel) . The homiletics connection is that pastors cannot preach a generic sermon to generic churchgoers—we all come to the Gospel with a different identity, which includes gender.
For me, this book was a wake-up call—churches that do not strive to maintain a balanced demographic may not be around in the future. For Murrow, balance means taking men’s sensitives and talents into account. In his final chapter—a church for everyone—he talks about a female pastor in Illinois who actually had a church with more men than women. In talking about how she managed to cultivate this outcome, she said:
“Other than the Bible, your book has shifted the way I do ministry more than any other book…As I write liturgy and prayers and sermons, I’m thinking, How would a guy like a bricklayer, a farmer, a mechanic, or a line work hear this?” (220-221)
I am not sure that her church is a church that I would choose to attend, but it is interesting that Murrow’s work has born such obvious fruit. This book is a great read and may expand your understanding of how your church can reach more people—even men.
 Murrow quotes an honest pastor: “When Sally comes to church and Sam doesn’t, you get the tithe off the grocery money. When they come together, you get the tithe off the paycheck.” (26). While the analogy is a bit dated, the underlying concept remains valid.
 Leon Podles. 1999. The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. Dallas: Spence Publishing.
 By 1830, Charles Finney noted that the majority of church members were women. (56)
 Murrow candidly remarks that young men today are especially challenged attending church today because in our highly sexualized culture, attending church is a defacto admission that you are “not getting any”.
 Dr. Rodney Cooper. From 1995-1997, Dr. Cooper served as the National Director of Promise Keepers. (http://bit.ly/1P3fqdE)