Book Review: Why Men Hate Going to Church

David Murrow, Nelson Books, 2005

I happened on this publication in the men's literature section of my local Christian bookstore, which many of you will know is very small compared with the women's section of the bookshelves. The title sounds a bit provocative and the contents challenge many of our notions of "Church". Nevertheless it's a valuable document if you're looking to connect with men in and around your church.

David Murrow has the advantage of a layman's perspective and he claims to have worshipped in congregations of "every stripe". His broad observations and pointers square with many of my own experiences in working among men in the church context over 25 years or more. His observations start with the obvious, i.e. churches have a male attendance averaging only 35%. In other words women outnumber men almost two to one. This is in line with the Anglican community in the Melbourne Diocese according to the 2006 National Church Life Survey.

Why is this so, the author questions, when many other religions including Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism are proportionately equal: and in Islam, men are publicly and unashamedly religious? Perhaps, he opines, we've unintentionally designed the Church to produce this result. It's an unwelcome thought particularly when its founder was a man supported by 12 of his mates but his blunt assessment is that today's Church has developed a culture, which is driving men away. "What's more" Murrow asserts, "nobody seems to care!" I'm not sure whether this latter assertion is the case in the Australian Church, but my attempts to engage others in this issue have mostly fallen on rocky ground.

In case the author's reasoning is misconstrued, his emphasis, in the strongest terms, is not for a male dominated Church, rather a restoration of a numerical and participatory balance in the life of congregations. When this happens Churches become healthier both spiritually and financially. This is not a problem for the clergy to fix, rather something the whole congregation can work on. It's not so much a case of calling men back to the Church says Murrow, but calling the Church back to men. "If we can't start with men as they are we will never reach them."

Much of this volume focuses on the ways in which men differ and respond to the culture of the Church when compared with women. Murrow suggests, "the Church's spiritual temperature is often set for women, but it's too hot for lots of men. In many churches the feminine spirit has taken over and the masculine spirit has withdrawn."

The author concludes with numerous suggestions, starting with the need to develop a vision, focus and purpose, without which men tend to fall away. (When churches move in this direction, women numbers don't decline; rather they come in increasing numbers.)

Some suggestions include:-

  • let your men see how other laymen express and live their faith,
  • give men the opportunity to use their skills and gifts,
  • help men discover their gifts – do this one on one,
  • let them minister and let them know you expect them to minister,
  • give them a sense of going somewhere,
  • start small – do a few things well,
  • plan for risk and action – start a 4WD group
  • create men only opportunities such as breakfasts and outdoor camps,
  • let your men make a meaningful contribution; eg, make them your tech team for sound and video,
  • use personal invitations; a phone call from a man he respects, is really valued,
  • recognize the need for many entry points for men, as opposed to just worship,

Towards the conclusion, Murrow has a word for women clergy and leaders. "I entreat you, become students of men. Learn their needs and expectations."

This volume is an important document for all interested in building and transforming your congregation.

Doug Petering has been a servant leader in men's ministry across three decades in Melbourne, mainly but not exclusively through St Alfred's Blackburn North.