It Is Not Your Imagination: The Men Are Not In Church

February 15, 2012
It’s not your imagination, the men aren’t in church.  You probably don’t need a survey to tell you that.  There’s been a bit of a buzz in the internet community the last few days over John Piper’s recent talk, “The Value of Masculine Ministry” (you can watch and/or read the transcript here.  It’s worth your time).  Piper’s commendation of a more masculine Christianity coincides with the reporting from the Telegraph that for the first time in the history of the Church of England more women are seeking ordination than men, a moment the Telegraph denotes as a “watershed.”  My first conscious awareness of the, then emerging, trend came in seminary when I read, “The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity” by Leon Podles.
I’d be curious to know your thoughts on the questions, “why are men checking out of church?” and “what can be done to reach them?”
The folks over at Church for Men offer up some interesting statistics on the topic:
  • The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories. [1]
  • On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches. [2]
  • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands. [3]
  • Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants. [4]
  • The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male). [5]
  • Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return. [6]
  • More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church. [7]
  • Churches overseas report gender gaps of up to 9 women for every adult man in attendance. [8]
  • Christian universities are becoming convents. The typical Christian college in the U.S. enrolls almost 2 women for every 1 man. [9]
  • Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry. [10]

Church is good for men:

  • Churchgoers are more likely to be married and express a higher level of satisfaction with life. Church involvement is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness. [11]
  • Church involvement moves people out of poverty. Its also correlated with less depression, more self-esteem and greater family and marital happiness. [12]
  • Religious participation leads men to become more engaged husbands and fathers. [13]
  • Teens with religious fathers are more likely to say they enjoy spending time with dad and that they admire him. [14]

And men are good for the church:

  • A study from Hartford Seminary found that the presence of involved men was statistically correlated with church growth, health, and harmony. Meanwhile, a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline. [15]



[1] “U.S. Congregational Life Survey – Key Findings,” 29 October 2003, <>.

[2] This statistic comes from Barna’s figures on male/female worship attendance, overlayed upon the Census 2000 numbers for adult men and women in the U.S. population.

[3] I came up with this figure by taking the U.S. Census 2000 numbers for total married adults and overlaying Barna Research’s year 2000 percentages of male vs. female attendance at weekly worship services. The figures suggest at least 24.5 million married women attend church on a given weekend, but only 19 million married men attend. That’s 5.5 million more women, or 22.5%. The actual number may be even higher, because married people attend church in much greater numbers than singles.

[4] Barna Research Online, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America,” 6 March 2000, <>.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “LifeWay Research Uncovers Reasons 18 to 22 Year Olds Drop Out of Church,” PowerPoint presentation accompanying study, available at the LifeWay Web site,,1703,A=165949&M=200906,00.html, accessed 12 September 2007.

[7] Barna, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America.”

[8] I get an e-mail message about once a month from a pastor overseas whose congregation is almost totally female.

[9] Camerin Courtney, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Christianity Today, Single Minded. View at

[10] Based on a show of hands at the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries meeting in 2005. The consensus in the room among hundreds of men’s ministry experts was that less than 10% of congregations had any ongoing ministry to men. Compare this to the 110% of churches that offer women’s and children’s ministries.

[11, 12] “Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability,” The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, 1064, 25 January 1996,  <>.

[13] Penny Edgell (Becker) and Heather Hofmeister, “Work, Family and Religious Involvement for Men and Women,”Hartford Institute for Religion Research, <>.

[14] Christian Smith and Phillip Kim, “Religious Youth Are More Likely to Have Positive Relationships with Their Fathers,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 12 July 2002, findings based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1997).

[15] C. Kirk Hadaway, FACTs on Growth: A new look at the dynamics of growth and decline in American congregations based on the Faith Communities Today 2005 national survey of Congregations. Hartford Institute for Religion Research,

18 responses to It Is Not Your Imagination: The Men Are Not In Church

  1. While many of us won’t be terribly suprised, it is staggering to see these kinds of numbers. It is one among many other reminders that we truly have a responsibility and urgency to the very mission of engaging and inviting those that are seperated from a God who wants them. I stood with 160 men 2 weeks ago at our St. Andrew’s Men’s Retreat, various ages, backgrounds, color, etc. and we said “no” to a world that constantly does not see the need for men to step back into a leadership role. Whether that is their family, their friends, their community. We were challenged to believe and live into the understanding that we are His beloved, and that (in Christ) He is pleased with us. Very powerful and hard for many of the guys. I came away from that weekend with much more hope about the men at least in our community in Mt. Pleasant.

    What if every guy at that retreat, invited 3 other men to come join an outing, a hike, a service, a run, or anything that engages and builds relationship? If only half the guys decided to invite, and only one out of 3 accepted an invite, that would be be 80 guys invited into a relationship and potentially a life changing relationship. Why wouldn’t we do that!. Kurtz, quick, issue the challenge! 🙂

  2. A disheartening truth, no doubt. Our plant is 55% male and an average age of 30. How? Three “easy” steps: a) have too much ministry to do to allow folks to sit on the side lines; b) be a church plant that must schlep chairs, set-up a sound system, install signs in the cold and heat; c) preach the Gospel, straight up, no mixers; no apologies. Men respond because, well, uhhh, we’re men: we like to “do;” we like to fix problem and fill needs; we need the Gospel to counter our self-reliance and independence.

  3. If one listens to Mark Driscoll, he starts yelling at men to get themselves manly. Haha.

  4. Numbers have a way of telling a story. What we acknowledge, we can change, right? If ever there was a time to make a difference, could it be now?

  5. I don’t think it’s just the church, I think western nations are hurting for men. Particularly ours.

  6. It is the feminisation of western culture with the church following the trend rather than leading the way.

  7. They don’t want to sing “I’m desperate for youuuuuu-uuu”. Lots of men are turned off with theatrics. I absolutely know when I am being manipulated, especially in an institutional setting. The Holy Spirit can’t be begged.

  8. When I began attending an Eastern Orthodox church here in South Mississippi, I was immediately struck by the number of men in the congregation. We are a small group, mostly converts, in the South, so we aren’t a typical Orthodox body, but now that we have a mission going in another city, the same thing is holding true. (I’ve heard it said that Orthodoxy is a bit like the Marine Corps of churches, and men, particularly younger men, respond to its discipline and demands.)

  9. I think Michael is onto the answer… In our church plant in CO we were similarly 55% + men… and I think Holy Cross might be close to that as well.

    I think when you have not just Gospel preaching but Gospel “work” to do, then men respond. If not… then you bore them!

  10. Not surprized at the stats. The last time I was in San Francisco and went to an early mass at Grace Cathedral every person behind the altar rail was a female: priestesses,deaconesses, acolytes all. Tough for a man to not notice, and to not notice that he was probably one of the couple of straight guys in the 30-40 people present. Straight being identified only as not holding hands with another person of the same sex.

  11. @Greg – I’d be careful talking about “work” – even Gospel “work” – around HC. Some pretty radical Lutherans over there 😉

  12. Gospel “work”??? That will usually be defined as something other than you are currently doing. For instance, staying married, raising kids in the faith, etc. all hard work but very boring from the pulpit.

  13. One more stat for you… 8 to 1 ratio of women to men on the mission field.

  14. In part, it is also a long term historical trend. Historian Callum Brown, in “The Death of Christian Britain” has an interesting chapter on the ways in which, in the late 18th c. women came to be seen as the more “spiritual” sex. Women were “naturally” spiritual, men had to learn to become so.

  15. Interesting bit of information, Kathy. I’ll have to look for the book on google books.

  16. Haven’t read the book – yet – but the ideas this review puts across makes it sound for interesting reading I like the idea of ‘discourse’ what I would call the ‘story’. The ‘man’ is bad spiritually – and following science, psychology or pretty much anything in popular media and culture ‘man’ is seen as inferior now in Britain. It doesn’t mean there is equality for women in all areas though but church is perceived for men who are a little less man like. Me talking about mountain walking seems to shock people inside and outside the church!

  17. In 1966, I entered the Army as a chaplain. Of course in chapels located in male troop areas, one expected men to outnumber the women by a large percentage, which they did. (Some wives of the Officers and NCOs would attend troop chapels with their husbands.) What was a pleasant surprise, which I observed over the next 23 years, was that the ratio of men and women in the family chapels was essential the same—far, far different from my previous experience in the civilian church.