02 May 2011
Men at church
The reality is stark. There aren't many men in church. Rebecca Taylor looks at why, despite a number of famous figures being candid about their faith and a strong male leadership and heritage, church just isn't cutting it in the real world of the modern man.
Statistics show the numbers of men in church is waning. According to Carl Beech, leader of Christian Vision for Men (CVM), the Church is not providing what men want. Carl, also a Baptist minister, wants to create a church for the ordinary man. "We want to create a great church for blokes and reach men who are way off the radar of most churches," he says.
Statistics from UK Christian Research based on data taken in 2005 show that 60 per cent of congregations are made up of women. Tearfund research in 2007 also showed a decline with men less interested in Christianity than women, and women more likely to be regular churchgoers than men.
Numbers of younger men are also falling. CVM's research with Sorted, a Christian men's magazine, in 2010 found 18 to 24-year-olds twice as likely to feel uncomfortable in church than other men.
But with the majority of churches led and directed by men - figures show there are more than 7,500 male leaders compared to just over 1,000 female - why are men staying away?
Increased use of emotive styles of worship is something many point to being a factor.
"The rise of the intimacy movement has alienated men and often the type of songs we are singing are not suitable for men," says Carl. Tony Aylward from the Baptist Men's Movement agrees: "If an Alpha male turns up he finds that he is encouraged to get in touch with his feminine side... This image of what a Christian man is like is not appealing to men."
Having a more balanced style of worship and church services for both men and women would re-dress the balance, according to CVM. And with the popularity of the worship movement with many younger men this would seem to be sensible so that all ages are also catered for.
"Language needs to be re-cast and there needs to be a healthy balance of all styles, stuff for the lads as well as the whole church community," continues Carl.
Sorted magazine research in 2009 showed 60 per cent of men enjoyed singing but were more motivated by 'gutsy' and proclamational classics like Onward Christian Soldiers and How Great Thou Art.
Featured in new book Life Change, which tells the stories of 15 Christian men, Billy Gilvear, who became a Christian after years of alcohol and drug abuse and is now a church leader and prison pastor, agrees. "Holy Trinity Brompton church ran a Hymns and Beer initiative during the Six Nations Rugby. That is what men do at places like Cardiff Park - they sing hymns in the stadiums - it's an environment that suits them."
But it's not just song style. Gaining understanding and trust is key before men are anywhere near talking freely, let alone about spirituality.
Says Billy: "It is very important for men to understand one another. Unless they know the person at the front, men don't like to show emotions."
Their comments ring true. Many men who do go to church are often more likely to be back if they have a mate to talk to. Camaraderie and shared vision means a lot.
According to both Carl and Billy, space to talk about what is going on outside church is also vitally important. "Men need to have space to reflect on the week that was," says Billy. Men think. Women talk. The best way to reach men is often not through ecclesiastical Sunday events but by working in a relational way. With men you need to work a little harder and take them out of the church context sometimes."
Sorted's 2009 research illustrates the point. Men prefer to have church discussions at the pub, paint-balling or 'having a curry'.
Spearheaded by male leaders, groups hoping to make church relevant for men are on the increase, suggesting that the word is out that this targeted approach is needed.
Says Carl: "We run 455 men's groups around the country who are working with a couple of thousand churches and we also run 14 regional days a year."
Many men who don't make it to church also cite time as being a major problem. As one male church member says: "It's not that I don't want to worship God, it's that I feel I have crawled towards the end of the week and I need space. Sometimes the last place I want to be is church.
"When we talk about church, we so often talk about Sundays. We should talk more about what we do throughout the week. Work is so important to men," adds Carl.
Meeting in this context is also likely to encourage men who don't believe to spend time with churchgoers. Says Carl: "I live a full lifestyle of having mates who aren't Christians. I go down the gym or the pub. I have made it a practice to get to know people."
Research also shows that making church activities man-friendly ultimately means other family members are likely to take an interest. In 2003, Evangelicals Now published research showing that if a man becomes a Christian, his family is 93 per cent likely to also follow. This is compared to 17 per cent when a mother converts and three per cent if a child comes to Christ.
Getting involved in a cause or sport is also a way in which men form bonds.
Last year, 21 men from Jesus House, a church in Brent Cross, London, went to Romania and worked with international charity Habitat for Humanity to build homes. Colin Tomlin from the church says: "The response to doing this was enormous. The men involved were saying 'This is tangible, hands on...' and they loved it."
"...the way best at reaching men, is often not through ecclesiastical Sunday events but by working in a relational way. With men you need to work a little harder and take them out of the church context sometimes"
Holding a highly popular Jesus Surf Classic contest every year, Christian Surfers UK attracts both the top competitive surfers in the country and sees thousands of people - most of whom are men and don't normally go to church - take part or spectate.
Having a range of things running for men is key, says Tony: "To get men together you need food and drink, sport and a project or adventure and it is easy to get men together. Men play together, work together and eat and drink together."
With a rich heritage in radical male leaders and inspirational Bible figures, the Church has a head start in finding inspiration from the past and present. Having inspirational male leaders like this is also vital for the balance between meeting men in their contemporary culture, and providing biblical spiritual teaching that is relevant.
Famous faces being bold about their faith in the public arena should also help encourage and inspire increased church attendance, with Bear Grylls presenting Alpha films and promotions, U2's Bono's work in international development and sporting legends rugby player Ugo Monye and Linvoy Primus being more upfront about their faith than ever. So does it help?
For Billy it does. "One of the most inspirational men for me is Bono. He gets Jesus, loves Jesus and is a man's man," he says. On their tours they take a pastor with them. I saw them in concert - he got 10,000 people all singing Amazing Grace! Hairs on your back kind of stuff!"
A radical heritage
As well as drawing on nurturing support of women, as a man of spiritual power and strength, Jesus also surrounded himself with strong men. His disciples were men who had been working all of their lives in jobs needing strength and responsibility.
Four out of the 12 were fishermen - a dangerous job now even with weather forecasting and satellite navigation. In those days, it meant dicing with death on treacherous seas. Following Jesus' death, Paul, supported himself by making tents (Acts 18:3).
Says Billy: "Jesus was radical - he's my hero and he certainly wasn't weak. He was a tough guy. My prayer is for more life-changing testimonies like the ones in Life Change - for men to get trained and take it out there. An army of men's men who go for it."
Adds Carl: "From a mission perspective we need to reach out. We need a healthy balance of all styles of worship and a desire to make faith work for men."
Action - what churches are doing
- Leicestershire - Harborough Evangelical Church holds karting, skittles, social action teams, paintballing, and games nights, golf and breakfast mornings for men and has seen church numbers among men increase.
- Liverpool, Aintree - starting out in its men's ministry Old Roan Baptist Church runs activities designed for men who don't attend church, including Band of Brothers TV and discussion nights, fishing and cycling clubs. They are also involved in men's conferences across the region.
- London - Jesus House in Brent Cross runs community programmes for men not normally in church including summer football academies.
- Brighton - Church of Christ the King holds days and events for both men in the church and those who aren't, with two football teams playing in local leagues. The church also runs cricket and rugby teams that play one off games locally.
- Christian Vision for Men - provide resources to more than 400 men's groups, host an iTunes chart- topping podcast and run codelife.org founded by Carl Beech, a site dedicated to helping men lead full-on Jesus-centred lives.
- Life Change, Alpha Publications - 15 men tell their extraordinary inspirational stories of lives changed through an encounter with God; from violent men who now volunteer to help others, drug addicts overcoming addictions to convicts now leading law-abiding lives.