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April 30, 2003

The Testosteroneless Church

Last night at Living Room our normal wonderful crew were all in attendance. I'm really enjoying getting to know each other more. I revealed an embarrassing secret or two, we tackled the topic of 'community' (more on that later) and we prayed for Rob who is embarking on a 4 week trip for his work.

Rob's departure leaves me as the sole male in our little church!

Whilst many 'one liners' come to mind... and it will be a fun month... its a strangely familiar feeling.

For the past three years I've become more and more aware that the male representation in churches in Australia seems to be on the decline. The stats seem to back it up with only 39% of church attendees being male in 2001. Is this just an Aussie thing???

This can partly be explained by women living longer than men, but the stats show that there are more females than males in every age group. I don't have the statistics at hand, but I've heard that the gap between male and female church attendees is growing and that within the next couple of decades some experts are predicting women will outnumber men 90% to 10%!

This article suggests some theories on why there is such a difference. They suggest:

- Differences in the ways boys and girls are socialised affect their church involvement.

- Australian men are more likely to reject authority structures such as the church.

- Men are more emotionally inhibited than women. Consequently, this theory would suggest that men are daunted by structures in church life which promote intimacy (eg small groups).

- Women are more likely to seek to instil moral values in their children as part of their role as child-rearers. Women not only look to the church to provide religious education for their children but also attend church in order to be good role models.

- Women get social status in church that is denied elsewhere.

- Men are more likely to be in full-time work and to get their self-esteem from work. Work provides an alternative sense of purpose, community, identity and interests. It has been shown that in Australia women engaged in full-time work have the same low church attendance levels as men in full-time work.

Personally I think its a pretty important question to be getting to the bottom of as it has some substantial consequences for both Christian men and women in the future. It will impact church leadership, mission, worship, sexuality and marriage choices just to name a few things.

I�ve got my own theories�.but before sharing them am wondering what others think???

Posted by Darren at April 30, 2003 12:11 PM

The attendance of males at church simply reflects a more general crisis that is developing in the wellbeing of males in the Australian community.

I am a great advocate for Australia but our major social failure is in the socialisation of males in our community. More precisely the failure to adequately socialise males. We live in a community where males are forbidden to:
- show emotion (it's sissy afterall)
- talk to one another about anything other than the trivial
- touch one another except for handshake
- show any form of weakness

I met a man yesterday whose father died 15 years ago. He has just commenced the grieving process. He never thought that, as a man, he was allowed to grieve. It is mixed with guilt that he was brash at the funeral service but he had no other way of handling the turmoil of emotions he felt at the time.

The church bears part of the guilt, along with other organs of our society, for the way we deprive men of the ability to live full enriched lives.

Sadly, this will not be fixed, initially, in a mixed gender environment. Women are just too competent and men just too hopeless at moving in this territory. My feeling is that the church needs to establish a men's group specifically to provide a safe haven where men who have been deprived of spiritual and emotional richness for their entire adult life can be supported in their first tentative steps to growing into a complete men.

Posted by: chris at April 30, 2003 01:56 PM

An interesting comment, Chris. Our reality in Canada is not very different. I want to just comment on Chris's suggestion that the answer my be in men's groups.
That may be true partially. There is a safety in opening up, initially, with other men who are willing to do the same. I think, though, that women need to be involved in the process. It is the other gender that helps to call out the authentic "maleness" or "femaleness" within us. When I am with other men, my maleness is in the background but when I am with women, my maleness, my difference, my gender uniqueness is in the fore front, desiring to be alive, called out, lived in the world.
The all-male solution has not worked so far. I believe a significant part of the picture is for men and women to be restored to one another, to work with God's intention for "male AND female" to image God in the world. This means revealing weakness, forgiving and asking forgiveness in male and female environments.

Posted by: Dan Heavenor at May 1, 2003 03:19 AM

Yeah i think the problem is a wider one than just the church. It seems that men are struggling to find their identity after having so much of it deconstructed. There seems to be only two extremes in western culture for men at the moment; the lad/jackass/beer guzzling womanizer or the new agey/snag. Society as a whole is afriad of male expressions of masculinity. A very telling point is that the film Fight Club touched such a nerve with so many guys. Self destruction has become the new religon for guys, why are so many young men killing themselves with guns, drugs and cars?

Posted by: mark at May 1, 2003 02:52 PM

Indeed the problem is much wider than the church. It is a cultural problem. There is an opportunity for the church to be evangalical in a meaningful way through driving the reengagement of men.

Many men in their middle age secretly fear life may be passing them by (and they are probably right it is) They are not living they are existing. There is a monumental opportunity for the church here. The $64,000 question is how to go about it.

These men are frail and vunerable and the option that many take is to protect themselves with violence.

I hold by my belief that making the transition from frightened vulnerable boy in a mans body to a complex confident man who embraces and revels in his maleness can only be done in a male only environment. Older cultures understood that boys needed to be taken away from the nuturing of female mother figures and, through, trials and shared experiences be accepted into the male fellowship of their community.

Whilst I am conscious of the risk of drifting into the myth of the "noble savage", I still believe that there was considerable merit in this process.

The church has a vested interest in participating in this process. A carefully crafted "baptism" into the adult male community of the church will not only benefit the church in binding the male to the community of the church, but also establish life long masculine support for the fortunate recipient. You can do this with some success with adult males but the great beneficiaries will be adolecent males who are currently navigating the difficult tranistion to manhood.

sorry about the length of the post but I am passionate about this issue. The transition to manhood is more complex now than it ever was and we are doing less than ever to support young men through the process.

Posted by: chris at May 2, 2003 12:44 PM
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