churches over the years, and discovered that “no matter the name on the
outside, there are always more women on the inside.” That prompted him
to launch a study which resulted in his book Why Men Hate Going to Church
(Thomas Nelson). Preaching editor Michael Duduit recently visited with
Murrow by phone from his home in Alaska.
What sparked your interest in men and their connection – or lack of connection
– to the church?
About five years ago I just came to a real crisis point in my faith. I realized
that the church structures were keeping me from having the adventure that Christ
intended for me. I became a church elder thinking that I could change things,
then I realized that being a leader in the church was actually changing me.
The very things that I had to do in the church were keeping me from doing the
things – the wild – from being wild at heart. So that’s what
kind of launched me on this journey of exploration.
began to wonder what is a man and I began to notice how feminized everything
in our churches had become – how women were into it and men weren’t.
Any first-year marketing student can walk into a local church and in ten minutes
tell you who the target audience is – and it ain’t men.
That leads to the obvious question: why do men hate going to church?
The church has a reputation as a place for women, weirdoes and wimps. No real
man would be caught dead in the church. I think churches work very hard to create
an environment where women and sensitive men feel comfortable meeting Jesus,
and I think that is because over the years many of our ministries have become
women-oriented. We need women to work in the nursery, to staff the Sunday School,
to prepare meals for potluck dinners, to prepare for ceremonial gatherings such
as weddings, funerals, baby showers, etc. So because women are so desperately
needed for the ministry machine we subtly tailor our messages, our ceremonies.
subtly tailor the very spirit of the church to the needs of a middle-aged women.
And that’s also our largest demographic. The median churchgoer in America
is a 52-year-old woman who is married with an empty nest. She’s got time
on her hands and money to give. And because she is so valuable – we don’t
even realize it but we have created the perfect environment for her to feel
comforted. And as a result – though we were not intending to exclude men
– we’ve created an environment where masculine men and young men are
lacking the adventure they need in Christ, because we are so intent on making
that middle-aged woman comfortable, because we need her so much. Do you see
the vicious circle? It’s nothing intentional we’re doing. We’re
not intending to bar men from the riches in Christ but we don’t need those
men so we don’t cater to them. We tend to cater to her instead.
What are some of the things the church does that connect us with women but in
turn disconnect us from men?
I think it starts with the way we portray Jesus. Two or three hundred years
ago He was – you know Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the hands
of an angry God” – He was an almost scary character.
He’s a much more soft, caring, comforting fellow who is focused more on
helping you in your personal life than on establishing some great kingdom of
God here on earth. The emphasis is much more on therapeutic personal relationship
with Jesus rather that a great, transcendent cause, which is what would interest
you ask Christians what the ideal values of a follower of Jesus are you get
words like tenderness, nurturing, relationships, family. You don’t tend
to hear words like challenge, adventure, and risk. Yet if you examine the Scripture
that’s what Jesus is all about. He was about both those things. Not only
those feminine characteristics but also the masculine ones – but we tend
to lop off the masculine ones because they create discomfort in the church.
are lots of practical things we do on Sunday morning that tell men they are
unwanted or that make them uncomfortable. For example, holding hands with your
neighbor. Some churches are hug-rich environments – men don’t like
to hug strangers but in some churches you’re encouraged to do that.
way we speak of the gospel, the personal relationship with Jesus. Men don’t
think relationally. They tend to think in terms of achievement or doing things.
Like if two men want to have a relationship – if a guy wants to have a
relationship with another guy – he doesn’t walk up and say “Roger,
can I have a passionate, intimate relationship with you?” It just doesn’t
happen. Instead men speak in terms of activity. “Hey Roger, you want to
go fishing?” Then Roger will understand. Men don’t think relationally
but because we express the Gospel in terms of a personal relationship with Jesus
we leave men at a crossroads. They don’t know what we’re asking of
them because they don’t think relationally. But women will instinctively
understand what a relationship is and that’s their foremost concern. Men’s
foremost concern is achievement, challenge and those are the things we are not
providing on Sunday morning. Those are the things we are deemphasizing on Sunday
morning and it’s to men’s peril.
One of the things you talk about in the book is the increasing feminization
of the church culture. What has contributed to that?
I think the “why” behind it is what I was talking about earlier. Women
are so needed in our churches that we have to cater to their needs – because
if we don’t we don’t have people to work the nursery on Sunday Morning.
If we make the Sunday school superintendent unhappy we don’t have teachers
on Sunday morning, if we make the church secretary unhappy – God help us.
I hear that chuckle.
Although there is some evidence that feminization goes back hundreds of years,
my study revealed a real acceleration of this during the Victorian Era. And
it was not due to some spiritual crisis – it was due to the practical effects
of the Industrial Revolution. We had, for the first time in human history, large
numbers of men leaving home to find work in mills, mines, and factories. So
with them away for large periods of time at work camps and these places, pastors
looked out at their congregations and saw rows full of women, children and aged
men. So finding these women with their husbands gone, they began to subtly tailor
their messages to comfort those lonely women, and the ministries began to evolve
to give them something to do.
the 1800’s you see an explosion of women-oriented ministries in the church.
During the 1850’s the Sunday School was invented for the first time. Church
nurseries took off in large numbers. Women’s circles began to multiply.
Ladies teas, ceremonial gatherings became rooted in the church. We saw the rise
of youth societies toward the end of the Victorian Era.
was this huge mushrooming of ministries that took advantage of women’s
skills and interests because men weren’t there and these women needed to
stay busy. And that’s still sort of the ministry pattern that we have today
in our church. Most ministries are oriented toward women’s gifts and interests.
There is very little for a man to do unless he wants to squeeze himself into
a role which he probably regards as feminine – a role that life has not
prepared him for. And so we still have these same ministry patterns and we still
have the same attendance patterns. Our churches still attract large numbers
of women, children and aged men but men and young adults are largely absent.
Some might ask: what’s wrong with that? Why does the church need men?
I think the church needs men for a couple of reasons. First, if you look at
the example of Jesus, He was a magnet to men. He focused His ministry on twelve
men. His example makes it clear that men are an essential part of the body of
second reason we need men is a practical one. Men bring certain gifts to the
church. They tend to be externally focused, where most churches tend to turn
inward after a time. Men focus on achievement, on challenging each other. Men
bring wealth to a church. They tend to earn more than women and when a man is
involved he brings money to the collection plate.
provide an example to the boys. Right now in our churches up to 90% of the boys
who are currently raised in Christian churches abandon the faith by the time
they are 20-years-old. Now some of them do return when the kids come or when
they get married but a lot of them don’t return. And I think the main reason
we have such apostasy among young men is the fact that they have never seen
a man follow Jesus Christ other than a pastor, who is paid to follow Jesus Christ.
That’s why we need men.
the other reason, of course, is competing religions and philosophies. Islam
is the world’s fastest growing religion and it’s very popular with
men. Among pseudo-Christian religions, Mormonism is the fastest growing faith
and what do you know – very attractive to a large number of men. Secularism
is growing in our society and what do you know – it’s dominated by
men. So if we want to continue to grow the church we have to reengage men. Women
alone cannot comprise the body of Christ.
As we look at these alternative movements – for example Islam or Mormonism
– what are the characteristics that appeal to men?
In some of the more extreme elements of Islam every Muslim man understands that
he is locked in a great battle between good and evil and that he has a vital
role to play in that battle. When you step into a mosque that’s the type
of rhetoric you hear. Every Muslim and Mormon man is expected to go on a pilgrimage.
The Mormons call it a mission. The Muslims call it a hajj. If you look at the
Bible you’ll see also there were these pilgrimages. When God spoke to Abraham
he said, “Go and leave your people and go to the land I have called you
to.” David went on an exile when Saul threw him out of the court. Jesus
went on a 40-day fast in the wilderness. The apostle Paul spent three years
in Arabia after his conversion. Almost every great patriarch of the Bible went
on an epic journey, and we no longer require that of men.
are starting to recover that with these short term mission trips – and
I think that’s a very positive thing – but I think one of the things
we are going to need to do is reinstall the expectation that when a man comes
to Christ that an epic journey needs to follow.
are other elements. Islam has five pillars and every man is expected to uphold
those pillars. They are demands placed on people. I know that in Christianity
we’re under grace and I would not want our faith to resort to legalism
but there has to be a way that we can create a more demanding environment, especially
for young men. Maybe sort of a boot camp environment – put men through
some sort of ordeal and cement their faith that way – the way the Mormons
do with their two-year mission trips for young men.
I noticed even as you talked that the language is masculine – pillars,
epic journey, battle. Is language part of the problem?
Language is very much a part of the problem. All Christians – and Christian
men in particular – use words that no normal guy would say. When you hear
a bunch of gang members talking about their exploits they wouldn’t say,
“Hello, Brother Theo. Would you share with us how you jacked that Mercedes?”
Instead in the church we’re always saying: would you please share what
the Lord has placed on your heart? Guys don’t talk that way. Men have their
own language, they have their own culture. Although it’s not as pronounced
as a foreign culture or something, we can do a lot just with the terms we use.
is Preaching magazine, so let me say it this way. The terminology we use in
the pulpit will determine whether or not men understand our intent. Words are
powerful and we need to be choosing our words carefully. If we’re using
the language of romance to describe the Christian walk, we are going to attract
more women than we do men. But if we use the language of conflict, of achievement,
of victory, men will instinctively understand us because that language is written
onto a man’s soul.
In preaching and worship, what are things that churches can do to draw or connect
Let me just go through a few of the things that are creating a feminized worship
climate and then I can talk about how to address them. The first one is corny
sentimental elements. A lot of the things we do – especially in smaller
churches – have sort of a heartfelt and homespun feel to them but men often
see these as hokey. Like prayer and share times or tear-jerking sentimental
stories or the seven-year-old who’s playing the offertory on the violin.
Those types of things warm the hearts of women but really kind of leave men
churches often encourage men to lose control emotionally in the worship service.
Our society looks down on men who lose control but women face no similar censure.
I agree that a man needs a good cry now and then but if we judge a man’s
faith by how many tears he sheds I think we’ve set him up for failure.
way a church is decorated makes a difference. A lot of sanctuaries are painted
a soft pink or eggshell white or lavender with cushiony pews and neutral carpet.
There are fresh flowers on the altar and the walls have quilted banners or felted
banners. So that sends a strong message to men. Or Kleenex under every pew.
Those things send a strong message to men that this is a feminine environment.
music certainly fits women’s tastes today. We’re moving towards more
contemporary praise songs and away from hymns. Reformation hymns used to speak
of battle, blood and victory but most of today’s praise songs are tender
love songs to Jesus. It’s tough on a man to express his love to Jesus.
A man who sings these is using words no man would dare say to another. Now that’s
think the solution for worship leaders and pastors is to understand that you
are leading men into battle and not into the bedroom. You have to ask yourself: is
the goal to have a warm, gooey feeling in their hearts about Jesus, or am I
out there preparing them for battle? And the way that you answer that question
will determine in large measure the spirit you project in your worship service.
I think a lot of contemporary churches today are focused on getting people to
a place of having an intense emotional experience with Jesus. I think that some
people need that experience but a lot of men recoil from it.
thing that we can do is emphasize the challenge and risk of following Jesus.
There’s this “I’m-in-therapy-forever” feeling in the church.
It’s true that we need to comfort the hurting but at some point we’ve
got to issue a stern challenge. If you look at Christ, He promised the disciples
arrest, flogging, betrayal, persecution, and death. Men have to sense that they
are in a huge battle rather than a huge support group.
John Eldridge has a very simple suggestion: take men outside for worship. Have
you noticed how many times in the Bible the great conversion stories and adventures
took place outside? Men tend to find God – you’ve heard this dodge
for years, “Well, I feel closer to God when I’m out in the woods than
when I’m sitting in church.” This isn’t an excuse; it’s
99% of our Christian worship takes place indoors and it’s hard for men
to connect with the God of the sky, the God of the burning bush, the God of
the pillar of fire when they are sitting in a pew or sitting on hard metal chairs
under florescent lights. So that’s some of the things that we can do as
externals that will get more men into the church.
one is huge for pastors and I would really put a star by this one. Today’s
church is built on a classroom paradigm. We offer classes. We offer studies.
Our sermons are 30-minute lectures. There is so much emphasis on learning about
God rather than having adventures with God, and if we’re going to get more
men in the church that’s got to change. We have to go back to the discipleship
model of Jesus – instead of getting a large number of people together and
then imparting truth through verbal means, we have to get people in small groups
around the leadership of a man they know and trust.
a part of a group like that and it’s revolutionizing my faith because now
I have personal accountability, personal trust of other men in my life. That
model is actually revolutionizing churches around the country because men are
never going to come to maturity in Christ in a class-room. It takes intentional
need to see themselves less as teachers and more as leaders of men. Leading
them to lead other men into maturity in Christ. We visited a church that’s
based on this model. [Powerhouse Christian Center in Katy, Texas] This pastor,
G.F. Watkins, about 10 years ago heard a call from God to start a church specifically
of starting a church in the usual way – which is to meet in a big building
with a large number of strangers – for a year he did nothing but disciple
12 men intently, involved intimately in their lives every day. After a year
he sent those men out to find 12 more, and he has built a very large, very successful
church based on that model. Every man who wants personal discipleship gets it.
visited the church about a year-and-a-half ago and was amazed at the enthusiasm
of the men in that church during the meet and greet time; I was practically
knocked over by enthusiastic men who wanted to meet me. Now I learned later
that they were just looking for more men for their discipleship groups but I
don’t care; it played as friendliness to me.
In that kind of environment, do women feel excluded?
Absolutely not, because women will gather instinctively but men need a formal
structure and a hierarchy to gather. Do you see what I’m saying? What is
happening is that while the men are gathering, the women are gathering naturally.
You don’t need anything formal but you do need a formal hierarchy; you
need clear lines of authority.
the church today we tend to think that egalitarian is better. Flat is better.
But men need hierarchy. Jesus established hierarchy, didn’t He? He had
Peter, then he had the three, then he had the 12, then he had the 72. We’re
afraid of hierarchy because we think it means abuse but with men it’s an
One of the things you mentioned in the book – you were talking about small groups
– is that to really connect with men, these small groups need to be male
only as opposed to co-ed groups.
When men are around women – the problem is the way we have defined Christian
piety, women are usually better at it than men. If Christian piety means being
able to share verbally, to be emotional, to find passages in the Bible, to read
and to read aloud, studies have shown that woman are better at all of those
things than the average man. So if you put men and women together in a situation
like that, the women are always going to outshine the men.
starts in Sunday School, so by the time a guy is 18 he realizes that he can’t
cut it in church anymore because he can’t compete on a verbal level with
the women. So because men are competitive and insecure in those areas, if we
put them just with other men now they are on equal footing. They don’t
feel like they have to impress women. They don’t feel like they have to
compete with the women. They don’t feel out shown by the women. Instead
they can just be free to be who they are and not have to do any of the things
At what age does that kick in? For example, when I was growing up, the Sunday
School classes I was in tended to be boys only. There would be a boy’s
class and a girl’s class. Now I’ve noticed that the classes in many
churches tend to be mixed. As the father of 5 and 9-year-old boys, I wonder
at what age is that an issue for children?
Probably not at 5 but probably at 9. You’re probably seeing the awakening
of masculinity in his life. He has probably seen pornography by now, may have
taken an interest in the girls in his class – he’s probably too young
to feel uncomfortable in Sunday School but he may think that certain things
are dumb or lame. I remember when my son was about nine we were talking about
getting him into the Boy Scouts and he thought: Oh, no. They’re kind of
lame. He didn’t think they were masculine enough. He started playing video
games where people shoot each other. He started wanting to be manly and do the
things that society regards as manly at that point.
I was king of church, you know what I’d do? About sixth grade I would take
all the boys and have a special thing just for them that year. I’m even
thinking about writing a book that takes care of this. I think we have a crucial
need to redefine Jesus at the age of 12 for boys. We need to take the boys out
and tell them really honestly, “Look, everything you’ve learned about
Jesus in Sunday School is a lie. This gentle Jesus, meek and mild, with the
sheep in his arms and all the blessing the children – you need to forget
about that because here’s the real Jesus.” And you need to introduce
them to Jesus clearing the temple, Jesus calming the wind and waves with His
hand, Jesus knocking over the detachment of Roman soldiers with a single word.
We need to introduce them to the heroism and the strength and courage of other
made Jesus this “Mr. Rogers with a beard” and then we wonder why boys
get to their teenage years and don’t want to follow Him. Well, it’s
obvious. He’s a wimp and boys don’t follow wimps. That’s one
of the things that is really heavy on my heart. We have to give the boys the
real Jesus at age 12.
wonder why they’re off reading Harry Potter? Well, Harry Potter is a man
of action. He’s a man of strength and resolve and he goes out there and
he kicks the bad guy’s butt. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He’s
this soft, tender character who hangs out with sheep and children. Our Sunday
school system is guaranteeing that we are going to create more backsliders than
life-long followers of Christ, at least among boys.