Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Church for Manly Men?

I picked up a copy of Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. Like many others in the church, I have noticed the growing absence of men in the church as a whole. Women are taking the majority of leadership positions, leading mission outreach activities, and showing up without their husbands. Murrow began to study the statistics and talk to men and women about this phenomenon. His answer can be summed up as: the church as it is in today's culture is a feminine haven where masculinity is shunned, retrained, or demonized.

As I have been reading, I can see places where Murrow's argument is sound. He makes some very good points. And there are some times when I just cringe at what he says. One thing that really almost set me off of the entire book was in saying the men who are active in church are more feminine in characteristics than masculine. Basically he was saying that men who enjoy being in church fit a more feminine stereotype than masculine. And while that may strike the wrong chord with most guys, there is a bit of harmony to what he is saying.

I can't speak for all men, but as I look at the church I don't see the classic image of manly men. I see men who are not aggressive risk takers. I see men who don't have a problem talking in relational terms. I see guys who sing heartily and aren't embarrassed to hug or hold hands. These are not images that immediately pop into our minds when we think about "manly men".

Let's use a comedic prop to make this point. Imagine this scene: a biker in leathers and full Hell's Angel's appearance. He's climbing off of his obviously road worn Harley. No helmet, no goggles. He walks up to the bar and orders a cold beer. He props up against the bar and turns to his riding buddy and says, "So, did you get that tea cozy I crocheted for you?"

The point I want to make is that our image of masculinity is firmly set. But when we overlay the image of masculinity with the church the pictures do not line up.

What are we to do?

Murrow offers hints to what churches can do with this situation. Churches can maintain the status quo. Don't do anything. Leave things as they are. And you know what will happen? We will continue on the pattern we are on now.

His second hint is to change a little bit. Make a few minor adjustments to make church more welcoming to the men who aren't coming now.

But this is to be partnered with systemic change to sustain their willingness to belong to the church.

I think Murrow has a point. We do need to change how we do church. We have designed churches by looking at who we have. Our programs, design, and services are oriented to the people who are already in church. And those who are outside of the influence of the church only feel alienated or unwanted when they visit. Whether these people be "manly men" or postmoderns, churches need to take a long hard look at themselves. If churches want to grow then they are going to have to change how they do things in order to reach new people.

Now, I have to go buy a pistol fro the United Methodist Men's shoot off.