Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 15, 2008

2008.06.15 “Why Men Hate Church” Father’s Day

Central United Methodist Church

“Why Men Hate Church”

Rev. David L. Haley

June 15th, 2008 – Father’s Day


This sermon is based upon the book by David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005).  Murrow also has a website,    If you are intrigued by this topic, I highly recommend you check out the book and the website.



For a long time, I’ve had this suspicion that there is something wrong with the way we do church.

        So I was curious, when, about two years ago, a new book appeared, entitled, Why Men Hate Going to Church, by David Murrow.  I bought it, and what I read there put words not only to what I’ve felt, but confirmed with most men I know, especially those who “hate church.”

One Sunday, Murrow, an elder in a Presbyterian Church, was sitting in church, half listening to the sermon, when he recalled a quote from business guru W. Edwards Deming:  “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.”

So what was this system called church producing? He looked around the sanctuary and counted noses.  Just one-third of the adults were men – most over 50.  There were at least a dozen married women whose husbands were absent. There were a handful of teenage boys, but almost no men between the ages of 19 and 35.  There were no single men.

He began to wonder if the church is perfectly designed to get the results it’s getting:  women, children, the elderly.

Somebody needs to write a book about this, he thought.  But when he found there wasn’t one, Murrow wrote it.

Let me say that I don’t agree with everything in it.  And let me also say that Murrow is speaking about men in general.  But I think he’s on to something important about church.

Let’s look at the statistics:

      • The average US worship service draws an adult crowd that’s 61

     percent female and 39 percent male.

      • About 90 percent of the boys who are raised in church abandon it

             during their teens and twenties. Most never return.

      • On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than

             men in America’s churches.

      • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will

             worship without their husbands.

      • Most churchgoing guys are “lifers” who grew up in church. Men are

             the hardest group to reach.

      • The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained

             clergy, who are overwhelmingly male).

      • As many as 90 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will

             abandon it by their 20th birthday. Many never return.

      • More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of

             six call themselves Christians. But only two out of six attend church

             on a given Sunday.

      • Less than 10 percent of churches can maintain a thriving men’s


We’ve got a problem!

But wait – isn’t church a man’s thing?  After all, a man and his male disciples founded Christianity, most of its major saints and heroes were men, men penned all the New Testament books, all of the popes were men, all Catholic priests are men, 95% of the senior pastors in America are men. Isn’t the church male-dominated and patriarchal? Yes and no. The pastorate is predominantly a men’s club, but almost every other area of church life is dominated by women.  Why is that? 

Are men are less religious? There’s plenty of men in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism; only Christianity has a consistent, nagging shortage of male practitioners.  Why?

        The reason, says Murrow, lies in the “feminization of the church.”

While there is a pattern of feminization in Christianity going back at least 700 years, the ball really got rolling in the 1800’s. With the dawning of the industrial revolution, large numbers of men sought work in mines, mills and factories, far from home. Women stayed behind, and began remaking the church in their image. The Victorian era saw the rise of church nurseries, Sunday schools, lay choirs, quilting circles, ladies’ teas, soup kitchens, girls’ societies, potluck dinners, etc. 

Soon, the very definition of a good Christian began to change: boldness and aggression were out; passivity and receptivity were in. Christians were to be gentle, sensitive and nurturing, focused on home and family rather than accomplishment and career. Believers were not supposed to like sex, tobacco, dancing or other worldly pleasures. The godly were always calm, polite and sociable. This feminine spirituality still dominates our churches.

Those of us who grew up in church hardly notice it; we can’t imagine things any other way. But a male visitor detects the feminine spirit the moment he walks in the sanctuary door.

It’s kind of kind like when a man has to go forced shopping with his wife, and sit on some miserable little stool in the underwear section while she tries on clothes.  As a wise old Texan once said, “Men don’t go to church ‘cuz they been.”

Murrow compares it to the setting of a thermostat. He says on a typical summer evening in Houston, Texas, his father would come home from work, put down his briefcase, and bellow, “It’s hotter than hell in here!”  Then his Dad would walk over to the thermostat and crank it down to about 68.  His Mother would go to the hall closet, where she kept a wool jacket. She was comfortable only when the temperature was at 77.  “My mother is the only woman in Texas history to spend most of the month of August is a wool jacket.” When Dad wasn’t around, Mom free to set the thermostat where she liked it.  So it is in most churches.  Men have been absent for so long that the spiritual thermostat is almost every church is set to accommodate the people who show up: women, children, and older folks.  But men suffocate, so they leave.

Let me illustrate what I mean:

Of these two sets of values, which set would we most identify as “Christian values?”  These two sets of values are taken from Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus;  the left set represents masculine values, the right feminine values.


                  Left Set                                         Right Set

                  Competence                                    Love

                  Power                                            Communication

                  Efficiency                                        Beauty

                  Achievement                                            Relationships

                  Skills                                              Support

                  Proving oneself                                Help

                  Results                                            Nurturing

                  Accomplishment                               Feelings

                  Objects                                           Sharing

                  Technology                                      Relating

                  Goal oriented                                   Harmony

                  Self sufficiency                                 Community

                  Success                                         Loving cooperation

  Competition                                      Personal Expression

Next, what are the values various age and gender groups are more drawn to?

Security Oriented                                             Challenge Oriented

                  Safety                                                              Risk

                  Stability          Women             Young         Change

                  Harmony                                Adults         Conflict

                  Predictability                                                     Variety

                  Protection                                                Adventure

                  Comfort                                 Men           Competition

                  Nurture           Older                                 Daring

                  Duty               Adults                                 Pleasure

           Support                                                   Independence

  Preservation                                             Expansion

So, when we then look at who is in church, should we be surprised? 

Who’s Most Likely to Be in Church       Who’s Least Likely to Be in Church

                   Women                                               Men

                  Older adults                                             Young adults,

                   50 and up                                         18 to 29                     

         Increasingly, even women who work in the more competitive world outside the home — especially those 18 to 34 — feel less comfortable with the values environment of the church.

But there’s another reason most guys feel church is a “women’s thing.” Most men are introduced to Christianity by women – nuns, nursery workers, Sunday school teachers, and mom.  Boys meet a feminized Jesus – a tender, sweet man in a dress.

Most volunteer opportunities in church involve traditionally female roles: singing, sewing, cooking, caring for children, teaching, planning social gatherings, etc.

There’s not much for a guy to do – unless he has a passion for attending meetings or passing out bulletins.

Hard wired by testosterone, shaped by the legacy of several hundred thousand years of being a hunter/gatherer, men are drawn to risk, challenge, adventure and daring, yes, even when it gets us in trouble. Dreams of greatness, adventure, band of brothers, sacrifice.  What does the church offer: meetings and handing out bulletins?   Why is the idea of Harleys and camo jackets in church unthinkable?

        If you want to know what men are like, consider this: In 1913, Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton posted this advertisement:

Men wanted for hazardous journey.  Small wages.  Bitter cold.  Long months of complete darkness.  Constant danger.  Safe return doubtful.  Honor and recognition in case of success.

More than 5,000 men applied for 26 slots.  Precisely the kind of men missing in today’s church.

Women, if you feel guilty because men in your lives won’t go to church, it’s not your fault.  Men, if church bores you to tears, it’s not your fault.

What’s the solution?

The solution is not a return to a male-dominated, patriarchal church. I’m not advocating the “submit to me, woman” brand of Christianity. Not only is it unjust, it doesn’t create spiritually mature men or women. 

The answer is a balanced approach:  teaching, practices, and opportunities that allow for both masculine and feminine expression in the church.

Because of the more feminine environment in the church, the typical church wind up with something like this (with a separate “Men’s Group” alongside):

Ideally, in a church balanced between masculine and feminine values, it would be more like this:

In Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow offers more than 60 pages of principles for creating a man-friendly church. You can also visit the website,

Here are seven:

Principle one: Cultivate a healthy masculine spirit in your church. A man must sense, from the moment he walks in, that church is not just for Grandma, it’s for him. It can’t feel like a ladies’ club. The quilted banners, fresh flowers, and boxes of Kleenex in our sanctuaries make a statement. So do practices such as holding hands with your neighbor, “prayer and share” times, or highly emotional displays. Our goal is not to get men to cry; it’s to get them walking with God, however that may look.

Principle two: Make men feel needed and wanted. Encourage men to use their gifts, even if they don’t fit traditional models of Christian service. Encourage them to serve the poor by working on cars or fixing up houses. Let men plan adventures and do “guy things” together.

Principle three: Present Christ’s masculine side. Pastors often focus on Jesus’ tenderness and empathy. This is a good thing, but “gentle Jesus meek and mild” week after week runs the risk of turning men off. Even more bewildering are today’s praise songs – many of which feature lovey-dovey lyrics set to a romantic tune.  Guys may feel unnatural singing romantic words to another man. Men want a leader, not a love object.

Principle four: Avoid feminine terminology. Avoid terms like “precious,” “share,” and “relationship” — words you’d never hear on the lips of most men. And here’s a term that puzzles a lot of guys: a personal relationship with Jesus, a term that’s never even found in the Bible.  Guys may have lovers, family, and friends, but when we hear the word relationship we look for the door.  How did Christ’s bold, masculine command — “Follow Me!” — become “Have a relationship with Me?” Because we’ve recast Jesus’ offer in feminine terms.

Principle five: Preach shorter sermons. I know pastors will hate this principle, but men say that “long, boring sermons” are the #1 reason they avoid church. Thanks to TV, today’s men have an attention span of six to eight minutes (the length between commercials). Shorten the sermon, use song, drama, a video clip, or an object lesson in between. Remember, Jesus’ most beloved lessons were his parables, none of which takes more than two minutes. Maybe they survive to today because men were able to remember them.

Principle six: Become students of men. Although most pastors are male, few truly understand men. Women keep the ministry machine going, so pastors focus on keeping females happy and volunteering. This must change.

Principle seven: Create a culture of person-to-person challenge. In many a church, the pastor challenges from the pulpit, but the people don’t challenge each other. Person-to-person discipleship, in small teams, is the only way to bring men to maturity in Christ. Where do you start? Choose a handful of men and personally disciple them, with the understanding that each man will recruit his own small group after one year. Continue to disciple these men as they disciple others. This is the model Jesus left us, and it is awakening men in churches across the nation.

      How about a Go for the Guys Sunday at church? 

             • Great Outdoors Sunday

             • Sports Sunday

             • Tool Time Sunday

             • Big Iron Sunday (classic cars, motorcycles, etc.)

             • Aviators’ Sunday (airplanes)

             • Barbecue Sunday (host a barbecue after church?)

Last year, when I preached this sermon, a local deli in town also had a special for Father’s Day: “Muscle Cars, Motor Oil, and Mounds of Meat on the Grill.”  Who do you think drew more men that day:  church or them?

In conclusion:

Seven exhausted men clung to the sides of a crude boat as it bobbed on the Sea of Galilee.  They had spent the night letting out their net and drawing it back in, with nothing to show for it. Even the sun seemed fatigued as it struggled above the horizon. Peter’s bloodshot eyes wandered down the beach, coming to rest on a stranger.  “Throw your net on the right side,” the stranger shouted. “You’ll find fish there.”  The disciples looked up; then at one another.

Who is this guy?

Is he crazy?  Isn’t it the same sea on either side?

Could it really be as simple as fishing off the other side of the boat?

“I’ve been a fisherman for 20 years, and I’ve never heard such nonsense!”

“Well, we’re fished all night and haven’t caught a thing.  What have we got to lose?

You may have similar questions about what I’ve said here today.  Is he crazy? I’ve been a Christian 50 years, and I’ve never heard such nonsense?  Could it really be as simple as fishing off the “masculine” side of the boat?

Maybe it is.  Jesus promised to make us fishers of men, but today we catch relatively few. Perhaps it’s time to drop our nets on the other side of the boat.  I believe men are ready to follow Christ if only we’ll welcome the masculine back to our churches, and make church a place men not only tolerate, but want to be.  After all, what HAVE we got to lose?


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