The Feminization of the Church

by Edie Wadsworth on February 14, 2009

Pay attention when you go to church this Sunday.  Your likely to see significantly more women than men.  Men are apparently leaving ‘the church’.  And just to make our discussion easier, when I say ‘the church’,  I am not speaking of any one denomination.  I mean to refer to the church as Christ’s bride; those who claim to be christians.  So why are men leaving?  And what effect does their leaving have on families, on the church, and on our culture.
The statistics are clear and sad.  There has been  a steady decline in church attendance by men for the past hundred years.  And there is no sign that this trend is slowing down or reversing.  The numbers vary based on who you read, but I’ve seen  an overall average of 60/40 women/men that attend church regularly.  There are many ways to analyze this data, but I will focus on possible reasons why men are leaving and the detrimental effects their leaving has had on families and culture.
Men, as a rule, don’t like the modern church.  They have in general found a very feminine culture there; an atmosphere where emotion is glorified and the ‘meek and mild’/turn the other cheek philosophy  is king.  True biblical masculinity has been lost and men are left feeling out of place:  like the burly guy wondering around in Victoria’s Secret holding a tiny piece of lingerie.  This is especially true in more contemporary worship where the music often has the overtones of “Jesus as my boyfriend”. The sometimes sensual, often emotionally driven music makes most men uncomfortable.  Combine that with a few songs in which they feel compelled to clap their hands and you’ve just made most men wish they were required to work on Sunday. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong  with contemporary music but it can be weak on doctrine and theology and  can leave us tangled up in a web of emotion where the focus has now shifted from the true message of the gospel of Christ.  
The music hasn’t been the only culprit either.  Most pastors seem to be watering down their message of redemption and salvation and spiritual warfare to another list of 7 things the poor guy needs to do to be a better husband/father/leader.  He came to church fully aware of his growing list of sins and shortcomings and will likely leave with a sick feeling of guilt and shame to which no real solution has been presented.  Men want meat…..for supper and from the pulpit.   They crave serious doctrine and truth and need to hear, over and over again, that Christ has come in the flesh to slay our enemies and to bear our overwhelming burdens.  Then they would be free to slay the dragons that breathe fire down the backs of their families.  Maybe this shift in preaching toward a ‘pop-psychology/therapy’ session has been in part to address the audience that has shown up at church…..the women.  But if we want men to come and to keep coming,  our churches are going to have to meet the needs of men.   Men need a clear, harsh presentation of God’s law followed by the sweet saving word of the gospel.  
If you think about it, almost everything at church is geered toward women and children.  And men notice…..and figure there’s not much there for them.  So they leave, often never to return. And the statistics show that when they leave, that’s a death sentence for the children.  Despite the overwhelming influence that mothers have on children, when it comes to faith, children follow their father.  The statistical evidence is staggering;  there is little chance that children will become people of faith if their father is not a man of faith.  That’s makes the fact that fathers and men are leaving the church a big deal.  In two or three generations, the effect is devastating…..to families and to culture.  
Is your church a place where men can be men?  Where they are fed by Christ’s body and blood and by His nourishing word?  Does it have the feel of an 1980′s pop concert followed by a therapy session where “Jesus can be your lifecoach” ?  Or are men engaged and challenged to join the battle of the church militant?  To fight for their families and their children and to wage war against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Some churches recognize this ‘loss’ and try things like Superbowl parties and fishing excursions.  These may delay the inevitable but it doesn’t address the core problem: the church has been feminized and men are increasingly making the decision to abandon ship.  If this trend continues, the church will continue to lose men, and therefore, continue eventually to lose children. 
In Leon Podles’ book The Church Impotent; the Feminization of the Church, Podles makes some interesting points.  He states that part of the reason for this emasculation is a shift from focusing on the objective doctrines and work of Christ to the more subjective emotional ‘personal relationship’ with Christ.  In religions that have clung closely to tradition such as Eastern Orthodoxy and Judaism, this feminization process has not been nearly as pervasive; and men don’t seem to be leaving.  Muslims also have a higher percentage of men than women because it’s a very masculine religion that focuses on personal discipline and often ‘jihad’.  It’s too bad that this shift has taken place in Christianity and we have been largely unaware.  It’s conceivable that the very men leaving the christian church could be drawn in to such religions as Judaism and Islam; where tradition and masculinity are alive and well.  And encouraged. 
If you’re husband will attend church with you on Sunday, give him a big hug and smooch and then pay attention.  Is the church you’re attending highly feminized?  Does he go there ‘for you’? Does he feel like a fish out of water?  If so, get somewhere where true doctrine is taught and masculinity is cherished and celebrated.  Where he can be a man……..full of rough edges and irreverence and strength.  Your children will thank you.
And if he will not be attending with you, ask yourself why?  Could it be that your church has become too feminized?  Will he be asked to embrace a more emotionally driven worship experience where he is left with little to ‘chew on’?   And pray for him.  That he would answer his God-given call and responsibility to lead his children to faith.  For that is the essence of biblical masculinity; the giving up of oneself for another.  The very willingness to die so that others might live. 
 We need a few good men.  To lead our children to the saving faith that only Christ can give.  And we ask our churches to stop catering to women and children.  Trust me, we’re never more content than when our men are by our side…..at church.
For some informative talk radio on the subject,  go here.
 

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alison February 14, 2009 at 3:53 am

Edie–I love this, and am linking it on my blog! Thanks for your honesty and perspective.

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2 mimi February 14, 2009 at 1:18 pm

This is a subject that has been on my mind a lot lately-and discussed with a few of my friends. Your post was wonderful!

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3 menley February 14, 2009 at 3:17 pm

My former mainline church, which ordained women, was much more feminized than the nondenominational church I attend today. It’s interesting that Promise Keepers has waned, while Women of Faith seems to be going strong.

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4 Sandy Toes February 14, 2009 at 3:28 pm

My dear bloggy friend…I could say so much but instead I want to thank you for writing the “perfect” post today…thank you and “AMEN”.

Happy Heart Day!
-sandy toe

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5 Jessica February 14, 2009 at 4:38 pm

OK so everytime I attempt a comment, I end up getting too personal…I’ll shoot it as an email instead. This is a good post, I don’t think that men in the Mormon church feel it’s been feminized since all the leaders are made up of men, and they have very strong role’s but I do think they must feel like ‘fish out of water’ when they have repeated sins that prevent them from holding callings or saying prayers, giving talks or that kind of thing. I’ve known some who feel such guilt just sitting in church that they end up falling away, which is sad.

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6 leigh ann February 14, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Hey there! About 5 min. into the audio it went silent…possibly my computer, but I’ll try to look it up online. They may have said this on there, too, but I think men have been told for so long now (by society) that women don’t need them, I’m sure they feel like they aren’t needed at church either. Our “culture” just doesn’t let men be masculine like Islamic cultures do…This topic is so multi-faceted…can you do a series on this? Maybe that’s what you planned on…I’m looking forward to reading all the comments. I re-read my comment, and you basically already said this…see why I don’t comment!!! I’m a dork!

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7 Melanie February 14, 2009 at 8:46 pm

I know you are not speaking of any one denomination but the body as a whole. I guess the church we are members of must be an exception. A third of our choir are men. Our worship and arts pastor is a man. Our youth pastor is a man. Many of our teachers are men. We have great male leadership who are not on staff. Our pastor just preached a message on Leaving a Legacy…geared to men. At least 1/2 of our Life Group and Wednesday night teachers are men. And in thinking of the contemporary worship music, I dare say most of those songwriters are men.
They are the ones, for the most part, who are crafting the contemporary music. Whether we sing contemporary or traditional hymns, I see men clapping and/or raising hands throughout our congregation.
I must say as a pastor’s daughter, I saw some churches with little male leadership – others had strong male leaders. Many churches have widows and single moms – so their men are not in the home either. Perhaps a “feminization” is a RESULT of some men abdicating their spiritual leadership and not the CAUSE.
Maybe our church IS an exception. Of course, I don’t know much about other churches since we are committed to ours and serve there.
As for the book you cite, the first edition is 1999. I wonder if that trend has changed in the past decade. I hope it has.
Melanie@Bella~Mella

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8 Holly February 14, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Powerful words! The church we attend does teach from the Bible, and the pastor does speak truth. That is why we left our previous church and started attending this one. It is straightforward and honest. I do think it needs a bit more commitment from its members, but the foundation is sure!

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9 edie February 14, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Thanks so much ladies for the input so far. I think Melanie raises a good point that the radio show also raised….that women are stepping in where men have abdicated their responsibility. I think that is definitely part of the picture. The statistics, from what I can gather, are only getting worse…not better.

My sister also attends a more contemporary style church where men are strong and integral. It’s definitely possible.

And the radio show also speaks specifically to Promise Keepers…..and it’s at the first part of the segment, so check it out.

Thanks again, for your input. It’s not easy to comment on ‘heavy’ subjects and especially when your views might be different than the author….so I really appreciate it.

And Leigh Ann, you’re so not a dork!

Love to you all! Keep it coming.

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10 Molly February 14, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Hi Edie! I agree with the feminization of the church although my church is mainly men leaders but we do have women deacons. Actually we have been contemplating on whether we should find a new church b/c we think our church is becoming a little too secular and I won’t go into detail but it has been heavy on our hearts. We have high standards of our faith and feel our church is going in a different direction than we are. I love your honesty about faith, I think we need more of that in the world. Have a Happy Valentines Day and great weekend!!
~ Molly P

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11 LuLu & Co. February 15, 2009 at 2:26 am

Great post, it is so important to have men in church, we go as a family, having my children see their daddy by our side active and involved leaves long lasting impressions.
LuLu

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12 Denise February 15, 2009 at 2:37 am

I had never thought about the worship part of it in quite the same way as you wrote about. It is an interesting thought and may explain some of my own family’s response to contemporary worship. I recently heard a sermon preached about true worship being service, not singing and such. It has made me think.

I personally do not like to see women in church leadership–call me old fashioned or something. I think I agree with Melanie though about the feminization of the church being a result of men abdicating their roles, not a cause of it.

I do think that a lot of women have had no problem with taking it willingly along with the church’s blessing. Hard to prove either way, but it does make you think.

I’ll be listening with different ears tomorrow.

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13 Melanie February 15, 2009 at 3:27 am

I had to come back and make sure that anyone reading my comment is clear about my opinion. While I have been in churches where there was less male leadership than other churches, I have not witnessed what I would call the “feminization” of the church body. While my particular denomination believes, based on our interpretation of the scripture, that women have a place in leadership in the church I DO NOT believe that is “feminizing” the church. Frankly I am not even sure what a “feminized” church would look like. If most churches are pastored by a male, have male deacons, have financial decisions made by men, sing songs that are mostly written by men…who is “feminizing” the church?
My father has been in full time ministry since he was 19. He retired from pastoral ministry at the age of 68. Because he was a church planter and builder for many years, he pastored several churches. As a pk I have been blessed to be in churches from Washington to Mississippi and beyond. My pastor (for the past 7 years) is usually one of the first to offer up his praise and worship. Yes, worship is much more than what you do during the singing…
Worship is offering every part of your life to Him. As a Christian everything is worship. However the literal translation of “worship” is “prostrate; bow down.” It is a position of submission. Living a life of submission to God is our worship. I realize that there are readers who have diverse church backgrounds, and may disagree with me, I just wanted to clarify my thoughts on this subject.
May you be blessed tomorrow as you assemble together with the body of Christ.
Melanie@Bella~Mella

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14 menley February 15, 2009 at 4:39 am

Sorry for commenting without listening to the radio clip. Now I’ve listened to the part about Promise Keepers. I guess I’ve been blessed to attend churches that seem to have about as many men as women, and active men’s Bible studies.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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15 patty February 15, 2009 at 3:56 pm

when i was planning the baptism of jordan, i had a woman minister who to this day i absolutely love. she was a “doer”, not a dreamer. she motivated our congregation to make changes to better our community. and i was absolutely inspired every week. she echoed what you say here. she had asked if my husband went to church (we were new to the community and he was in his residency) and said because statistics show that regardless of how often we (moms) drag our children to church, how faithful we are, if the dad doesn’t go, the children will eventually choose not to, as well. hm.

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16 Dana and Daisy February 16, 2009 at 12:41 am

You have characterized the modern worship music very well, and I am very uncomfortable singing it because, to me it does not glorify God, but rather kind of humanizes Him. I had not thought of it as a feminine influence, but I can see that.

You know, really, our whole culture has been telling men for a long time that there is something wrong with being the strong man and leader they were designed to be. They have been encouraged to get in touch with their feminine side. In return, I think we have ended up with few men willing to take a stand for their God or their family. It is sad really.

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17 flyinjuju February 16, 2009 at 2:11 am

This was a great post, I shared tid bits of it to my hubby and the comparison of the church worship to a 1980′s concert and the sermon to “Jesus, your lifecoach” unfortunately ring so true in many churches we have visited. This post has given a name/reason to the reason why we have not “loved” some churches.
P.S. – on a totally shallow note, I love all of your fun southern stuff. I am from the North but have much curiosity about the south and your ways. :)

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18 Jennifer February 17, 2009 at 3:08 am

Hello! And can I have a high five? I am so with you over here.

Let me preface by saying our church is not feminized, and I am SO UTTERLY THANKFUL. But that is not by accident. We have had women take issue with this very thing, and I’m telling you, it’s worth the fight.

But many years ago when we were in another denomination, things like “Promise Keepers” was pushed upon the men, and my very masculine husband could never stand the idea of being forced to hold hands and sing with other men – or cry and pray – or blather on about his personal stuff with other MEN! At the time, I was being fed the junk, too, and as a young wife I often wondered if there was something wrong with the fact that he didn’t want to cry, hug, and talk everyone’s ears off.

Now I can say with a huge sigh of relief, “thank you, Lord. And thank you, John, for playing the man.”

So now even when I listen to contemporary Christian radio stations, I cringe: is that a boy? girl? what? who is doing all that whining in there?

Great post – this one’s goin’ on the sidebar. :)

Jen

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19 Jennifer February 17, 2009 at 3:10 am

oh and p.s.

I recently read a biography of J. Gresham Machen that was rather enlightening on this subject, even though that was not the topic of the book at all. It was just good background on how we got where we are… including the feminization of our churches.

Just in case you’re looking for a good nonfiction to read anytime soon. :)

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20 Mac Girl February 17, 2009 at 2:44 pm

This hits the nail on the head. WOW, I am glad I read it. Thanks for sharing it.

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21 Anne July 1, 2009 at 4:56 pm

This makes so much sense. I grew up Presbyterian and we sang alot of hymns and my pastor was very much about expository teaching. He went into the Greek and Aramaic and didn't take things out of context to present a lesson that "felt" good. It WAS good because it was solid truth! I've had such a hard time finding another church like that since I left home and started my own family. My husband has had a hard time finding the motivation to go because everything is so much about raising your hands and getting emotional and I've only seen him cry ONCE in the 6 years I've known him.

I just love your blog. I'm a young mother and a stay-at-home at that and I've gone through some hard stuff recently, but somehow, reading your blog makes me feel like I have a mentor even if I don't get to see you face to face. Maybe that's odd, I don't know. I Just know that I wish you and I really knew each other, I think I could learn so much from you.

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22 Doug September 7, 2009 at 1:21 am

Great post, I totally agree and have written a blod article myself concerning the same thing. I would like to suggest googling "Paul Coughlin" author of Courageous Faith and No more Christian Nice Guy. I personally liked Courageous Faith the best.

http://prophetshrek.blogspot.com/2009/09/feminization-of-church.html

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23 Donna January 26, 2010 at 2:35 am

I know I am late to the game here, but I just started reading your blog only recently! I can appreciate what you are saying…I am not sure I agree that a contemporary worship service “feminizes” our men or our churches…I do think in some respect,part of this feminization has occurred bc our churches have failed to “teach” and “train” men to be what God created them to be! If you read Ephesians 5:21- 6:4 you will see God’s design for men and women alike! Far too many Christians do not know what scripture has to say regarding this issue. As Christians, we need to get in the word of God and KNOW what his purpose is for our roles – not just men, but women as well! Great post!

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