Why Men Dislike Going to Church: A Discussion

The author of this article, Charles Horejsi, retired from a long career teaching social work at a western university.  He and his wife, Gloria, moderate a weekly discussion group of fellow retirees at their local parish.  The group, Faith & Practice, doesn’t hesitate to tackle some very interesting issues!  They have a certain notoriety in their parish!  Any member can sign up to lead a discussion each week.  Outside resources are sometimes asked to present as well. When they meet, they will have 15 to 20 folks engaging in discussion. Bear in mind this paper was written to generate discussion.  I am sure that the paper, which Charles recently presented to the group, will spur some conversation here!!   There are even discussion questions posted at the end of the paper for your use.  Charles granted me permission to publish this paper in its entirety……Reyanna

By Charles Horejsi              January 28, 2016                       Faith & Practice Discussion Group

This handout presents generalizations about how men tend to view and respond to church and religious activity. Please note that a generalization is a statement that describes many — but not all — of the individuals in a particular category (e.g. males). There are exceptions to every generalization. Also, this handout describes how most men think, feel, and behave; not the way we might want them to think, feel and behave. It describes the way man are, not the way they should be. Many of these generalizations are drawn the book, Why Men Hate to Go to Church (2005) by David Murrow.

                        Suggestion: Review the numbered paragraphs / statements presented below and tag those you would like to have discussed in the CTK Thursday group, either because you agree with the statement, disagree, or find the it offensive and sexist.

  1. Where are all the men? Within Catholicism and other Christian traditions, males occupy the top leadership positions (priests, ministers, bishops, elders) but females are a dominant presence in nearly all other church ministries (e.g., education of the young, visiting the sick and elderly, preparing church meals, helping in soup kitchens, coordinating funeral dinners, the nursery, decorating the sacred space, etc.,). Men, if they are involved, are most likely participating in the finance and building committees.

The congregation / membership of a typical Catholic parish and mainline protestant church is about two thirds women. About 20 percent of married women attend church without their husbands. Many of the men that do attend are there because of pressure from their wives or girlfriends. Some single women will attend but hardly any single men. In European churches one rarely sees a male or a young adult of either sex. The church is a rather peculiar organization. It is led by males, but dominated by women. The modern church has been described as a women’s club with a few male officers.

Although males have not completely abandoned the church, the “manly men” (the stereotypic “real” male) have all but disappeared. Tough and earthly working class guys, alpha males, the adventurist, and risk-taker types rarely come to church. Such men feel they do not fit in with the quiet, introspective, and older gentlemen who now populate the church.

Men’s loss of interest in Christianity is so consistent around the world that it cannot be explained by allusion to men’s pride, sinfulness, father issues, or career distractions. Neither can it be explained by saying that men are by nature less religious than women. Male and female participation is about equal in Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Within Islam, men are publically and unashamedly religious, often more so than women. Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion and it is enormously popular with men. No Christian denomination attracts more men than women. Of the world religions, only Christianity has a consistent shortage of male practitioners.

What is it about modern Christianity that is driving men away? How did a faith founded on a man and his male disciples become unattractive to men? The church of the first century was a magnet to males. Jesus’ strong leadership, blunt honesty, courage, risk-taking and heroic sacrifice mesmerized men. Today’s church does not mesmerize men; it seems to repel them. The military, dangerous occupations, sports teams, cutthroat businesses, and even street gangs can attract men. But for men, the church does not feel like a good fit. Why is that?

  1. Here are two quick answers to the question of why the church is less attractive to males:

— Since about the 13th century, Christianity has become more and more feminine (and less and less masculine) in its behavior, values, appearance, and thinking. Consequently, growing numbers of men have come to view church as mostly a “woman’s thing” and not as something that could be of interest or of any use to men.

— Men already have a “religion.” Their religion is masculinity. It’s like a religion in that it consists of a set of beliefs, values, rituals, and a code of conduct. If they must choose between Christianity and masculinity, most men will hold tight to his masculinity.

  1. Sex and Gender. The terms sex and gender are often used interchangeably but they have somewhat different meanings. The concept of sex refers to the classification of people as ­either male or female, based on anatomy and a particular assemblage of the X and Y-chromosomes. By contrast, the idea of gender has to do with the social meanings or connotations that people assign to these biological differences and to what we term femininity and masculinity. In many societies femininity (being a female) is associated with qualities such as of compassion, nurturing, sensitivity, cooperation, intuition, sharing, and paying attention to relationships. Masculinity (being a man) is often associated with qualities of rationality, courage, risk-taking, honor, competition, conflict, aggression, decisiveness, fortitude, and paying attention to things and objects. Needless to say, many of these assumed differences are rooted in historical, cultural, and societal dynamics, rather than in biological differences.

From the perspective of anthropology, masculinity can be thought of as an “informal code” imposed on all men of their community or society. In order to be accepted as a man, he must stand up to danger, bear up under suffering, and be willing to sacrifice himself for the good of others. The code helps a man overcome his natural instincts (fear, hunger, loneliness, etc.) so he will do what is best for his tribe, not for himself. Masculine traits such as bravery, stoicism, and self-sacrifice do not come naturally to a man. Rather they are learned through repetition and practice. Men know that they must be a man or be rejected.

The masculine role is alive and well and cultivated in the military. Solders in battle are frightened but relatively few desert. They stay and fight, not because they fear a court-martial, but out of the fear of the shame that would follow them for the rest of their life if they would desert their male companions.

Is there a positive side to all this manhood proving? Yes. It produces self-sacrifice, generosity and innovation. Everyday men try to prove their manhood by working hard, sacrificing for their families, and serving their communities.

  1. Many women do not understand a man’s need to prove his masculinity because they have no similar need to prove their femininity. In fact, if a woman does something that society considers unwomanly she does not experience shame but rather a delicious sense of rebellion. Women who take on traditional male roles are now held up as models. But men are fearful of ever crossing over into women’s roles. A young girl who copies the boys in her mannerisms, interests, and dress is lovingly referred to as a tomboy. There is no equivalent “Janegirl” stage for boys. Any trace of femininity in a young man is cause for worry, suspicion, or scorn. An effeminate boy is called a sissy, bullied or beaten.

Men, Spirituality, and Religion.

  1. Fr. Patrick Arnold, a Jesuit priest, writes that spiritual men (such as a priest) must abandon most of the values and enterprises nearest to men’s hearts — competition, fighting, sexual expressiveness, … [having children], economic productivity, and independence — in favor of a eunuch’s existence. He says that the eunuch motif is even present in the premier model of Mary and Joseph that is held up to married Christian men. Joseph is usually presented as old man and sexless. Fr. Arnold says that it is little wonder that so many men get the strong message that Christian spirituality requires a kind of emasculation. To men it appears that the men best suited for Christian life are odd and asexual, nerds, or very old, and out of gas. (see: Patrick Arnold. Wild Men, Warriors, and Kings, Masculine Spirituality and the Bible. 1991).
  1. The church often describes the ideal Christian as humble, quiet, obedient, and sensitive. The Virgin Mary is held up as a model for all — both men and women — to imitate. We are told that the church (the people) is the “the bride of Christ.” Celibacy is presented as an ideal of self-sacrifice and is mandated for Catholic priests. Men, especially “real men,” are not attracted to celibacy, do not want to imitate a woman, and do not want to be seen themselves as a brides.
  2. Franciscan priest, Fr. Richard Rohr makes the case that many of the problems experienced by and caused by men have to do with the fact that modern cultures have lost or abandoned rituals of male initiation. In the past — and still in many primitive tribes and cultures — there exists a ceremony or ritual that provides a challenging test of a male’s manhood (masculinity) and clearly marks the transition of a boy into an adult male. A semblance of that ritual exists in graduation from a military boot camp and from other courses of specialized military training (e.g., Ranger and SEAL training.) Street gangs test and initiate their new members in a violent ritual. With these few exceptions, many boys and young men struggle with an uncertainty about whether they are really masculine and acceptable to other males. (Richard Rohr. From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality, 2005)
  1. Think of the art that shaped you images of Jesus. Did, perhaps, those paintings and statues suggest a gentle and meek Savior, a well-groomed and tidy man wearing a shining white dress? Did the pictures found in books used in religious education show Jesus tapping very gently on the door, playing with children, or staring lovingly into the eyes of a lamb nestled in his arm? Those images may be comforting to some but they do little to suggest the masculine strength, resolve, and courage of the real Jesus, as he is presented in scripture.

In most western religious art, Jesus is a frail man, under-muscled, and having a soft and feminine face. Fr. Patrick Arnold laments Christ’s frequent portrayal in art as a “bearded lady.” To ask a man to follow and imitate this weak and fragile Jesus is to ask the man to go limp, be passive, and be nice. Christians have so accepted the non-masculine image of Jesus that the very idea that Jesus could be sexually temped touched off a firestorm with the showing of the film The Last Temptation of Christ. (Note: the Icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church typically depict a rather masculine Jesus)

  1. Men who say, “I feel closer to God out in the woods or when fishing” are not lying or making excuses for not going to church. Many men feel more spiritually alive and connected when out of doors, when walking in the mountains, when hunting, fishing or skiing, or when watching a football or baseball game in an outdoor stadium. This attraction to the outdoors may echo the days long ago when men were the hunters (and women were the gatherers). Men do not expect to meet God at church because church is an indoor activity.
  1. Throughout history men have been the warriors, the protectors of their tribe, village or country. Warfare seems to be imprinted on the male psyche. For example, boys like to play war and adult men like to watch war movies, Surveys show that men always support military action more than women do. Many men are attracted to the idea of being in combat (until they actually get into combat at which time they are terrified and want to go home). Deep in his heart, every man has a desire to expend himself for a great cause. St. Paul said, “I want to suffer and die as he did, so that somehow I also may be raised to life” (Phil. 3:10-11). When Jesus predicted his own death, Thomas and Peter immediately offered their lives as well (John 11:16; 13:37). Men are drawn to religions where heroic self-sacrifice is a real possibility. (If you doubt this, look at what is happening within the radical fringes of Islam, such as in ISIS).
  1. The feeling of competence is very important to men. Christians are taught that they are sinful, broken, lost and in need of being saved and rescued. Men do not want to be reminded of how their risk-taking and aggression causes them to do dumb and irresponsible things. A man does not want to be seen as “lost” and in need of help (men never stop to ask for directions). And because men want to see themselves as competent and independent, they do not want to be told that they need to be saved or rescued.

Men and the Church Organization. 

  1. A man’s body contains much more testosterone than does a women’s. Testosterone is the hormone that — more than any other —makes a man “masculine.” It is the hormone that makes men aggressive and a risk-taker and is the biological source of a man’s vigorous pursuit of sex. Women, on the other hand, have much more serotonin, a hormone that has a calming effect and makes women less impulsive, less aggressive, and less prone to violence than men. Testosterone makes it hard for a man to sit still. Men need physical movement. Unfortunately for men, worship services and church activities are almost always of a sedentary nature. Programs of religions education, bible study, etc. typically use a classroom and sedentary format.
  1. Up until about his teen years, a boy lives in a mostly feminine world. He has spent most of this time with his mother, with female babysitters, with female day care and preschool staff, and with female grade school teachers. Most men are introduced to Christianity by women: nuns, Sunday school and catechism teachers and of course by moms. So, very early a boy associates church with the feminine. As he enters adolescence he must start to define himself as different from the females in his life. A common term for this separation is: “cutting the apron strings.” As he looks for strings to cut, the church connection is an obvious one. This may explain why so many young males abandon church. 
  1. Most women have better language skills than most men. Most women are better readers and have a larger vocabulary than most men. Women are more adept at listening to others. Churches rely heavily on a verbal teaching and listening model (e.g., homilies sermons, programs of religious education). The Catholic worship service is mostly a verbal / reading / listening activity. This puts men in a difficult situation where they must remain alert to a flood of words. Men may find a homily boring and unhelpful not because of its content or message but because the homily is delivered verbally.

One of the reasons why men are drawn to action and war movies is that they can easily understand the dialogue and the plot. By contrast, many men cannot grasp or follow the subtlety of the verbal give and take and the many emotional displays found in a “chick flick” or a love story type movie.

  1. Men want to succeed at whatever they do. Men fear failure. They would rather be passive and do nothing and than to fail. At church a man knows that he cannot compete with the women. He knows that women are much better then men at “doing church.”  A woman’s caring heart, verbal ability, relational skills, and emotional sensitivity make her an ideal churchgoer. Most men do not possess those gifts. He is not very expressive or sensitive. Most men do not like to sing and many are uncomfortable praying aloud or holding hands with a stranger.
  1. Men are not usually influenced by what they hear and are told verbally. Rather, they are influenced and changed by experience and by the example and behavior they see being modeled or demonstrated by others, especially by the men they respect.
  1. Men are more inclined than most women to be confrontational, challenging, and even combative in their relationships and their conversations with friends and with colleagues at work. That type of blunt and direct interaction does not fit well with the spiritual ideals of being nice, respectful, kind, and gentle. That is one more reason why men sense that they do not fit or belong in a church environment.
  1. Men are attracted to change, innovations, experimentation, and “new stuff.” Men are rather quickly bored with church rituals, traditions, and ceremonies that are the same, Sunday after Sunday, year after year.

19.Men seem hard-wired for risk taking and changing things. Men like to tinker and experiment and “try something new just to see if it might work.” Men are always “looking under the hood” for something that might be modified and improved. That inclination to tinker and modify is seldom welcome in a church that values tradition, rules, a chain of command, and will only consider small incremental changes. By contrast women are a better fit for such a church because of their inclination to “play it safe,” to not rock the boat, and avoid offending the male leader (the pastor).

  1. Men’s passivity in church springs not so much from laziness as from their uneasiness with what they encounter at church, or more accurately what seems to be missing in church. They find little that could be called “men’s stuff.” In a typical parish there are few, if any, groups or activities designed exclusively for men and directed by men. Parish resources (money, time, and staff) are invested mostly in programs for the children and youth.
  1. Men are competitive. They want to win in every situation. Men need to be needed. Unfortunately, the qualities that men would bring are not needed in today’s church. Their aggression, risk-taking, bluntness, competiveness, etc. tends to gum up the works of the church ministry machine.
  1. The masculine spirit is naturally directed outward to new things and new people. Men want to build, create things, and change things. A man may not feel complete or competent until he has left his mark on the world by creating or building something new. The dark side of this tendency is that men easily get wrapped up in their careers and neglect their families. But without that masculine spirit the church turns inward and focuses only on the “church family” instead of on the “outsiders” and the world.
  1. As compared to men, women find it somewhat easier to share their feelings and voice their troubles with others. Men, in general, want to hide their feelings, keep conversations on a superficial level, and give the appearance that they are strong and in control. When stressed-out or troubled, women tend to reach out to others. By contrast, males tend to withdraw. The man wants to be alone and handle his problems by himself. He will often retreat to his “cave” (or a bar) or immerse himself in work. Thus, for a female, a deeper church involvement is a way to cope. But for males, church involvement would become an added source of stress and shame.
  1. Men are project oriented. Women are program oriented. A project is an activity with a clearly defined objective and a predictable course of action. A project can usually be completed in a matter or weeks. By contrast, a program has only a general or vague goal and is expected to continue for many months or even years. Men will avoid involvement in a program but will enthusiastically volunteer to work on a project, knowing that it is something they can finish and remove themselves with a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of personal competence.
  1. Active and busy men expect short, focused, and action-oriented meetings. When serving on a church committee or planning group, men want decisions, a clear plan, and effective action. Men go a little crazy if they must sit through long meetings that cover the same ground over and over, never make a decision, and never take action. In a meeting men will push for a decision and action even if their rather aggressive and combative style offends other group members. By contrast, the women members will strive to be polite, respectful, and cooperative and to make sure that everyone in the group has expressed their feelings.

Sadly, a great many church-related meetings lack a clear purpose, are poorly planned, and do not have the authority they need to make decisions or take action. That situation keeps many men from volunteering to be on a church committee. Many laymen refuse leadership positions in their church because so many church committees and small group meetings are for them pointless, frustrating, and painfully slow.

  1. A great many men have had a conflicted relationship with their fathers. Or perhaps, there was no father-son relationship at all. For them any talk about fathers elicits feelings of fear, anger, quilt, shame, or confusion. When they hear God described as a father these men do not feel consoled or reassured.
  1. No man wants to follow a man that they view as weak and feminized. Men are looking to follow for a “real man”: dynamic, purposeful, and bold. They want a leader who is decisive, tough, and fair. They respect a man who tells it like it is and does not mince words, even when that approach makes other uncomfortable or angry. Men most respect a leader who does not care what others think of him. Such a Jesus exists in reality (in scripture) but, sadly, the Church has tamed and feminized that Jesus.
  1. Within Christian circles men are encouraged to develop a loving relationship with Jesus and even an intimate and passionate relationship with Jesus. Does that work? First of all, men are often frightened and confused by any talk of relationships. They are never sure what people mean by the word love. And finally, when they hear words like relationship, intimacy, and passion they think of sex.
  1. Many men perceive a preference for the feminine in the medieval clothing chosen and retained by the church’s top leadership (e.g. Bishops and Cardinals). To the typical man, the official “uniform” of a bishop and cardinal — a long “dress” made of silk, satin, and lace — looks like feminine clothing.

Discussion Questions:  1. Given your experience and observations, explain why more women than men are attracted to and active in the church? 2. How might the Catholic Church and its parish activity change in order to attract and engage men, and especially younger men? 3. Of all the Christian churches in the US, the ones most successful in engaging men are the very large, non-denominational “mega churches” that are evangelical and fundamentalist in orientation. Why do you think they are successful?  4. For some reasons, the younger generations, whether male or female, seem uninterested in the church. Why is that? 5. What qualities or characteristics do you associated with the idea of masculinity? With femininity?










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