The Church’s Male Exodus

The men have decided. Church is not for them.

Increasingly, men and boys are abandoning their congregations. As we conducted the research for our recent book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore we noticed men were leading the exodus. Statistics show that America’s pews are disproportionately populated with 61 percent females and 39 percent males.

We wondered why. After digging deeper, we heard several recurring themes:

Feminization. Many men say the current church is designed for feminine tastes. Everything from the decor to worship behavior seems just a bit too “girly” for many guys. “It’s intimidating for a man to hold hands in a circle,” says David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church. “A male visitor detects the feminine spirit the moment he walks in the sanctuary door. He may feel like Tom Sawyer in Aunt Polly’s parlor.”

One-way communication. Many men no longer desire to sit at the feet of a preacher and passively take in a lecture. This week popular Christian author Donald Miller admitted in his blog that he rarely attends church anymore. “I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon,” he wrote. He said, like most men, he finds that the typical church service “can be long and difficult to get through.” Other men told us that, rather than sit passively through a church service, they want to offer their thoughts, and join the conversation.

Avoidance of tough questions. Many men have serious questions about matters of faith. They feel their questions are unwelcome. David, a college student, told us how his difficult questions about the canonization of the Bible were deflected and dismissed. Frustrated, he left the church. He wasn’t looking for an easy answer from a clerical know-it-all. He simply wanted a degree of honesty, authenticity, and humility.

Lack of adventure. Church happenings are too programmed and predictable for many men. They’re looking for a little risk and challenge–just as the original disciples encountered while living with Jesus. But, as David Murrow says, “the actual mission of most congregations is making people feel comfortable and safe–especially longtime members.”

Even the concept of discipleship has been stripped of its original meaning. It’s been reduced to a sheltered academic exercise in most churches. Their discipleship programs amount to no more than a Bible study class. Murrow is looking to return to a real biblical process to disciple men. He calls it Men’s League. It engages 12 men at a time in a year-long series of “ordeals”–challenging experiences that build healthy reliance on Christ.

Efforts such as these may help men get to know the real Jesus. Not the fragile-looking Jesus they remember from the faded portraits in the church hall. But the real, gritty carpenter who camped with fishermen, stood up to his threatening critics, withstood harrowing abuse, carried his own cross timbers, and conquered death itself. That’s a man–and Lord–men today would find magnetic.

50 Responses to “The Church’s Male Exodus”

  1. As one who has “left the building,” I would tend to agree with these reasons, on the surface. However, I really think the issue goes much deeper, to a place that most people have a hard time articulating. All of these reasons speak to a consumer mindset that the American “church” is often criticized for. Not that they’re all bad, but they float to the surface, as a result of not understanding what our hearts truly desire. What I think is really at the heart of it is a lack of experiencing a true relationship with Christ, which is at the center of every man, woman, and child’s heart. This is the great failure of the “church;” a failure that even the apostle Paul spoke about, often. It naturally results in people relying on teachers, systems, rules, formulas, programs, & curriculums for guidance, rather than Christ, Himself. The corporate church is dying, not because we don’t have enough deer antlers hanging on the walls, but because the heart is seeking what it was made for; a relationship with its creator. We can create the seemingly perfect environment, based on what we think we are lacking, but, in the end, we will still be dissatisfied, because we want more than just a social club for men.

    • Any time there is a reference to the fragile looking Jesus in the portraits I think of the middle eastern carpenter who considered long hair on men to be a “disgrace”. The incessant pale skinned delicate Jesus portraits with long hippy hair are hard to relate to as Jesus.

  2. On Facebook, Doc wrote: “Yes. Murrow’s book caused me to seriously examine the way I speak and lead at church. It should be taken seriously.”

  3. One of the interesting and recurring problems I have noticed with “men & church” (and some women & church) is the tendency of church leaders to want members to participate in certain activities – or risk alienation. Do you have a gift for maintaining things, supporting outreach efforts, cooking, cleaning, or camping? That’s fine – but ONLY if you go to worship services, and IDEALLY if you are willing to share your deepest, darkest vulnerabilities in a small group.

  4. I love your voice and leadership in this, Thom. Thanks for being so bold for such an important thing. (We both know it’s easier to not speak up.)

  5. Great article Thom. I resonate with many of your points. The western church in many ways has lost the adventure and meaning of a viable relationship with the wild and passionate Almighty God.

  6. Thom, your reasons are good ones, but there’s an elephant still in the room. Christian men want to experience God and grow in Christ but most churches and men’s ministries resort to “rah rah” programming that comes off as cliche, even cute. Men do more than barbecue, watch football and shoot stuff.

    I won’t name names but I went to a men’s group a few years back, after staying away from such gatherings for years, because of the hype and personal invitation. I gave it three weeks and then dropped out. All we did was watch a some guy on a video give a (yawn) boring lecture to his men. We wanted to talk about our stuff but due to time running out, barely had time for a prayer. Most of the men were over 55 anyway. I couldn’t relate.

    Men have junk in their lives that the church avoids. Addictions. Abuse. Abandonment. Alienation. You want to really see what men want at church? Go to a Celebrate Recovery program and witness men pouring their souls and sin out. I experience God far more at CR on Friday night than church service on Sunday morning. When was the last time a church got real about the porn addictions? Men don’t want a book to read, a video to watch, or a nice speech. They want to overcome their habit and beat their addictions. That’s how they know Jesus is real and relevant. Men are fixers.

    Basically, for me and a lot of men, the church offers very little than a spiritual jolt of Jesus java and a chance to connect with whatever friends still go. The problem is I can get that feeling and experience on the back of my Harley with my biker buddies. So who needs church?

    Nevertheless, I still go to church. It’s also a habit from my youth. But I also understand why my manly neighbor doesn’t.

    • By the same token, women do more than scrapbook and quilt. Often the church events I’ve been more interested in have been “men’s” outings, not things I could partake in. I think for both genders we do a disservice by boxing people into stereotypes like “all men like fishing” and “all women like to knit.” It’s too bad because I do enjoy single-gender events on occasion, where I feel like I can be more open than in a mixed-gender setting, but all the women’s things are too pink and glittery for my tastes.

      • That’s a GREAT point Ali. I suspect there’s many men who’d rather do a craft (woodworking) than hunt (work the woods) just like there’s women who’d rather fish than knit.

        Perhaps in our attempts to segregate the sexes in order to be more attractive, we’ve over-reached to become programmatically-sexist. In the end, we alienate more (of both sexes) that we could attract (of one sex).

        Still, in deeper discipleship conversations, single-sex is preferred. Men need a safe place to talk shop about their stuff. And woman do too.

  7. My recolections of church through the years is that there were always more women than men in church. I am curious to what the ratio of women vs. men around 1960 or whenever the last survey was made on this subject. Does anyone know?

  8. On Facebook, David wrote: “Just one of many reasons I love Flatirons in Boulder – they’re doing it right!”

  9. On Facebook, Rick wrote: “I spent lots of years in youth ministry and loaded the church with alpha males. It created lots of trouble for me. We couldn’t really bring our kids to events with other groups…it was like inviting Atila and the huns to the church picnic. 20+ years ago I ended up at the helm of a new church start. We used the same YM principles to attract and keep alpha males and it’s worked. So I beg to differ with Dave Murrow as my experience over the last couple decades has been the opposite. And it still causes me a bunch of trouble.”

  10. I have been very fortunate that over the years (60) I have been involved in churches where do is much preferred to sit. If you showed any enthusiasm for anything, you were roped in and what you lacked in experience, you were coached.

    One church had meetings that last for up to six hours and if you didn’t get there early you might not get a seat. The church had no podium, no pulpit, no programme, no preacher, and no appointed pastor (7 Elders). From start to finish you never knew what was going to happen. From start to finish, the Holy Spirit led the charge and he decided who did what and when and how.

    I can’t remember any wife attending without her husband. The church did not have Sunday school as the children were part of the meeting and they were often used by the Holy Spirit to pray or give prophecy.

    For me, that absence of the Holy Spirit in most meetings is the key. With Him in charge you never know what will happen. When man is in charge it is the same old. When the Holy Spirit is in charge, you grow because your faith is being exercised all the time and that is the exercise we all need.

    Until we hand back the control of the church to the Holy Spirit we will die the death of a thousand cuts all inflicted by ourselves on ourselves.

  11. You lost me completely with your first point: feminization. First off, I have seen no evidence of that. Second, don’t blame women for men’s discomfort with church, which is essentially what you are saying.

    Let’s say your point is actually true. Then for church to have been feminized, it must have been more masculine at some point. Where are the women who were not attending church because it was too masculine for their tastes?

    • No evidence? 69% women, 31% men. Female ministers telling men what to do. A ministry for woman in nearly every church. A ministry for men in maybe one in 100. Do we need more?

    • In the church I referred to it was 50/50 because husbands and wives both attended. The ratio of single men and women was about 50/50. The women only attendees were usually widows.

  12. I’ll agree that church isn’t for all personality types. Some of the contemporary love songs to God are more fit to be sung to God by Lady Gaga than a man. But honestly, if church had value, more people would go. For most, having their hair nicely cut and styled has value enough to go to a barber or hair stylist and pay what ever the price. But there are those like me who are able to cut their own hair or are fine with a beard trimmer and don’t find the cost of a barber and perfect hair to be value added. Some would find it hard to keep their enthusiasm for God apart from church and find value in going and giving their time or a percentage of their money. Then there are those like me who, though the help of the Holy Spirit and promise of God to never leave nor forsake, can live without the weekly dose of church and keep the faith and relationship with God at home. Of course there are those who just never knew God and just leave because there is no point in Christianity at all to them. They have not heart for God in or out of church.

    • Church is more than just about you. Perhaps the Holy Spirit gave you certain gifts that you are meant to share with others. (Which is obvious). You cannot be a blessing to other sitting at home on the couch. We value our God and the gifts he has given us too little.

      • And most people cannot be a blessing sitting in church most of the time unless you are a professional who is paid to perform. I know this is anecdotal but I know of one man who had been attending church for 20 years and during that time he had not been asked to do one single thing to “bless” others. He was a shy person so he never pushed himself forward.

        I had a conversation with another woman in another church which she claimed had 22,000 members and I asked if the church believed in the priesthood of ALL believers and she said “Oh yes, we have 2,200 full time staff.”

        Nuf zed.

  13. …or it’s perhaps they’re starting to wake up from the fantasy of religion?'t_like_it.

  14. The apostle Paul preached sermons – one dude even fell asleep, fell out of a window, and pretty much died as I remember the story – falling asleep during a sermon is kind of a guy thing to do! I think our worship experiences are sanitized and further removed from reality than those of the early church… but of course I’m a worship pastor and very comfortable with the status quo, too… what to do? I feel that David is a great example of a man… warrior, musician, tough, tender, sold out to God, struggled with lust, schemer, worshiper… pretty crazy. The sad thing to me is that “men” – according to most “let’s get men back in the church” practitioners – are all macho, and all alpha – or maybe there’s something wrong with them… they’ve been feminized, or maybe they are effeminate??? This is troubling, too.

    We all have different learning styles, and churches do well to offer many different experiences, but at the same time, dudes shouldn’t get a pass from doing the WORK of worship… leading, setting examples, and even setting the pace of worship.

  15. I agree with many…but I think reality check on here is getting to something. I have been uncomfortable with attending the building each week for years. no matter how masculine or feminine the building and service presents itself. Few are preparing and disciple people. The passive pew time is almost like a habit. I hate going to a service where a few entertain the many. I would love to hear what others think. HOw can the Holy Spirit truly be operational within the body if only a few are allowed to speak? I’m not talking about hanging from the chandler type antics…or other such weirdness. I talking about 2 or at most 3 prophets weigh carefully what the prophets are speaking or how about words of knowledge….certainly that is rarely being done. Healings,etc. The right way. With maturity and wisdom. Why is it that the church is not seeing these gifts being used….not just Sunday mornings? if i was sick and needed pray, why can’t i go to the elders of the area and get them to pray for me? Who are they? Certaionly we have enough empty buildings each week to handle that and we certainly have enough sick people. If Jesus himself showed up and wanted to speak in one of the Sunday meetings…he would likely get ushered out. Not enough time..not on the schedule. I think the building occupants have thrown the baby out with the bathwater all in the name of charismatic chaos issues. Not all Holy Spirit gifts are weird or out of balance. We the bride, have not been prepared to use our gifts to disciple, heal, bring others to Jesus, etc. How can one do this one hour a week at a building?

  16. I’ve always noticed an incongruity: Many people accurately write about how church life seems constructed from a feminine perspective, and yet often, in these same churches, all of the elders or board members are men.

  17. I noticed one comment pointing to us as men blaming women. I don’t see this in this article. This article is just pointing out what is happening. No, women are not to blame. Men have feminized church. Murrow has some good stuff. And truly, what women need is a masculine, spiritual leader. Not a patriarchal, power-playing man, but a truly Godly man. This allows her to be who she is.
    Thank you Thom for this article and creating awareness in your corner of the world.
    One place to consider a step toward this manly spirituality is through The Crucible Project This ministry gave me back life in Jesus.

  18. I hear a lot of what is wrong…but can someone offer solutions? And I’m not trying to be facetious, because I am truly seeking answers, as I see that the church overall (not gender specific) is loosing the battle.

    • One of the simplest answers is to let Jesus build HIS church as he said he would and for that you need big doses of the Holy Spirit because he is God’s General.

      • While I understand your answer, I believe that even Jesus would want us to have practical instructions/strategy. I don’t believe in cookie cutter, one size fit all solutions, I do believe that there has to be an answer that uses our gifts/talents along with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    • I actually sat and wracked my brain with just the question, “What could a church do just to get me to go back?” with the idea that this would be one solution. I just could not come up with an answer. You couldn’t get me to go to a bar either. I just don’t like that kind of social atmosphere. If there is one place I really feel alone, its in a crowded bar. The last time I was in a bar was three years ago for a work Christmas party. I don’t and didn’t drink. Me and my wife sat alone. We just don’t fit with that kind of loosened up people. I hate those places and I haven’t gone to a work party since.

    • When the Holy Spirit is in charge he does use all out gifts and talents because he believes in the priesthood of all believers, not a select few so that means plenty of guidance/instructions and strategy.

      I have found that the problem is that we don’t trust the Holy Spirit to do things the right way. We think that he needs our help so we start helping him and before long he is written out of the picture and we end up doing things decently and in order which transcribes into deadly and boring.

  19. It is actually the current popular culture that is increasingly feminized, more so than Jesus’ church (in my observation). Also, one-way communication has never been more popular and powerful than today. Consider how politicians are elected and re-elected and how fans passively faint when they do their magnificent monologues. The most powerful politicians today also avoid tough questions for years on end. And it works! Instead of seeking authentic adventure, too many people today are spending multiple hours a day watching screens and pursuing pretense. Actually, it is the real Jesus that non-churched males run from, in my observation, as well as his demand to humbly repent and learn to love and embrace the body of Christ.
    Healthy theology = Understanding that going to church is not what saves us.
    Healthy spirituality = Going to church anyway.

    • @Joel Solliday….Hmm I have question with your last statement, Healthy spirituality = going to church anyway. I’ve been away from church “membership” for going on 4 years now and I’m not in any rush to return. I have wonderful fellowship with other believers, and host a home bible study in my house. I would say that my spirituality has improved. I have no problem fellow-shipping with Baptist, Methodist, or Pentecostals…I just don’t join their establishments. I can look at what God has done through each of them and recognize what God has done in each of them without having to become a side choosing member.

      I’m a man – still in the faith, but I’ve exited the building quite a while ago .

      • I think that in too many churches, the Holy Spirit has exited the building as well Prerich45

    • How can you go to the church Joe if you are the church? Can’t go to yourself.

  20. P.S. I can’t remember when I “went to church” on a Sunday – When I do asemble – it will generally be for a bible study.

  21. I think it’s easy for men to leave the church and blame something other than themselves. A real man stands, stays, and presses in. Thom – I believe the church is as alive as ever, and you may want to consider refocusing your sights on the real target.

    • Brett, even if you’re right in how a “real man” should behave, what good will come from blaming the lost sheep? I think we’ll accomplish more if we look for ways to help make our ministries and methods more accessible to men–and everyone. And, I’m not sure what you mean by the “real target.” For me, our goal in the church is to help people come to know, love and follow Jesus Christ. And I’m always looking for ways we can be more effective at hitting that real target.

    • A bit of a laugh Brett. My modus operandi is to press in as you call it but it was the wrong thing to do because people who were there to be entertained didn’t like someone who “presses in” being around because it showed them up for the cultural christians that they were.

    • Brett, if the church is as alive as ever, why is it that only 1% of the churches in America are growing? The NT church grew EVERY DAY.

  22. Very interesting article pastor

  23. I think the more fundamental issue here is that church is boring. The worship is often used to generate “an atmosphere” and can be little more than crowd manipulation, Often, the sermons are dull, overly-long and pertain little to the life we live on a day to day. The thing I can’t stand is the “spirit of being a Christian” you encounter at Church, where people turn up for two hours on a Sunday and act for all the world as thought they are these perfect Christians when half the time their life is stacking it big time on the quiet.

    Oh and finally. The judging. Give a Christian the opportunity to judge someone else and they will leap in with both feet. Everyone’s walk with God is different. We are not clones. Church is often a great opportunity for those who love to judge to give voice to their lofty opinions.

    A little more loving and a little less judging would be welcome.

  24. Searching for truth Reply August 30, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Just this morning I walked out of a church. I haven’t been to one in two years, I so much want fellowship with other christians that I went to visit one this morning. I sat there feeling like a hypocrite because I can no longer play the game and still remain true to myself. Its like watching a play where everyone knows their parts and words because its been well rehearsed, a play I used to wholeheartedly take part in every sunday. I can’t do it any more. I left heartbroken because I no longer fit in, and I no longer want to make myself fit in. I realised that it has more to do with me than with the people or the setting, it is something that has changed in me. The people are sincere, they preach they pray they sing, but I can no longer participate with them. I have visited many churches and cannot find one I want to be in. I do not want to listen to a sermon every sunday. I do not want to watch a worship band. I do not want to pray the sinners prayer out loud so someone won’t feel embarrassed about becoming a christian. I do not want to awkwardly greet the stranger sitting next to me. I want to hear what God has done in the lives of the people around me, what they have learnt, what they have experienced in the past week, what encouragements and hope they have to share. I want church to be people meeting with people, not people meeting in a building to participate in a production. I keep being told I need to be in fellowship and I need to go to church, as if I am some wayward lost sheep. This isn’t about rebellion, for me its about being authentic to where I now find myself spiritually at this moment in my life. It hurts. Its lonely and difficult. I am a woman, its not just men leaving.

    • Ditto! I couldn’t have explained it better.

    • The very sad thing is that so many churches believe that by putting on the Sunday morning show they are doing what God wants them to do and they are meeting the needs of everyone who attends and doesn’t attend.

      Their favorite saying is “I did it my way” courtesy to Frank Sinatra.

    • Men might just be the canary in the coal mine…. because you are right, us women are starting to leave too. I think women have been faithful to showing up on Sunday, and just sit in the pews being good little girls. From girlhood, we are taught to follow direction, just sit there quietly, and not ask for what we really want. Some of us are starting to wake up though. We will be following the boys out the door soon. A few examples from the blog we can relate to in our own way:

      “Everything from the decor to worship behavior seems just a bit too “girly” for many guys” This is because there are no real leadership opportunities for women to serve in so we are relegated to the kitchen and decorating if we want to serve. We aren’t allowed to use real sprititual gifts. Being 61% of the congregation and having been patient and supportive while men are turning their backs on the church, we aren’t asked to teach even once.

      “men told us that, rather than sit passively through a church service, they want to offer their thoughts, and join the conversation.” Women would rather discuss together and come to consensus. Instead, we are told to keep silent. Only the men get to do the talking.

      “They feel their questions are unwelcome” Try being told you have to wait to get home and then you can ask your husband.


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