“Why do men no longer go to church?”

‘Beyond Belief’ on radio 4 asked this question today, quoting statistics that would suggest that 35% of the male members of congregations have stopped attending in the last 10 years. It is well worth a listen – here.

And as I confessed in my most recent post- I am one of them- at least as far as Sunday attendance at traditional church services goes.

This despite the continued male-domination of the religious machine, and the historic misogynistic flavour of many of our religious traditions (at odds with the way Jesus turned the tables on gender stereotypes.)

The questions I have often heard asked are-

What is about church that alienates men- even more so than women?

What is it about male spirituality that is no longer catered for within church?

How are healthy, holy versions of masculinity affirmed and modeled within church?

The spirituality of Jesus and his band of (male) disciples was one that tended to use words like these-

Risk taking,courage, self sacrifice, togetherness, adventure, mission, journey, loyalty, faithfulness in the long haul, friendship. ‘Taking a prophetic stance in order to change the world.’

The stories of the new men of the New Kingdom are full of tales of men fishing together. Learning and debating on the road. Living out practical God stuff in the presence of real human tragedy and ecstasy. The shadow of death and love of life in the middle of dangerousness.

What people like me have been forced to acknowledge is that our experience of church is often not like this at all.

We seem to have reduced spiritual practice to a very narrow band- as someone said on the programme- ‘Everything fixed by reading the Bible more and praying more.’ The problem is above all a moral one, and the answer to the problem easily results in  living more narrow, less colourful lives- less connected, less rounded, less real.


So- what is the answer?

There were stories of wilderness retreats on the programme, which is something we have been experimenting with for a few years too (here and here for example.) Dorothy recently sent me some information about a course being run at The Bield doing similar things too- along the lines of the Richard Rohr ‘Rites of Passage’ material.

The chance for us to go off on these kind of defined pilgrimages can be wonderful.

I have a mixed feeling about  male-only courses though. Some of this may relate to my own lack of clarity over what it means to be ‘masculine’- and what of my masculinity is praise worthy, positive and to be preserved.

I also am slightly suspicious of some of the language- the ‘warrior’ stuff, and the idea that at the heart of every man beats the heart of a hunter. I am not sure I ever want to fight or kill anything or any one- even in metaphor.

Richard Rohr describes his encounters with groups of nuclear scientists like this- “They don’t have a language to talk about faith.  They can’t discuss things, the chaplain says, unless they are objectified and given a law, order and structure.  But the language of inner states, inner movements, inner awareness, and inner consciousness is foreign to them.” I know men who are just like this- and many others who are entirely UNLIKE this.

I also strongly feel that male spirituality is substantively just the same as any other kind of spirituality. And I am not convinced that the answer to men leaving church is just to make what we already do more ‘butch’- tone down the love stuff and make it all less touchy-feely. As if women are not leaving church too.

Faith without works is dead- but ‘works’ without an inner awareness will almost always lead to damage- both to our self and to others. We need to be active and vital in how we live lives, but we also need to discover those soft supposedly feminine attributes and stop pretending that we can live like stones.

a final thought- I have come to believe that the obsession with getting men (and women) to come to church is entirely the wrong emphasis- rather we need to discover new/old ways to take church to them.

New/old ways to live out the mission of God in our context, and to learn to share this in community.

New/old ways to live authentic real lives.

And at the end of each day, new/old jokes to share around a fireside.



4 thoughts on ““Why do men no longer go to church?”

  1. Hi Chris, I heard the programme yesterday and was about to e.mail you to let you know about it when I discovered that our deeply spiritual minds continue to think alike…..ish.

    i found myself frustrated by the emphasis of the programme on church attendance as the sole (soul?) topic. It was fairly narrow really and I was heard to utter the spiritual invocation “Och catch yerselves on” on a few occasions. As you would expect I was pleased with the mention of wilderness stuff that we have taken a lead on altho’ they appear not to know this! They also have some catching up to do on the spiritual disciplines of moving heavy objects across country, fitting kitchens, munching curry and the enlightenment (and solitude)achieved through the discussion of intestinal upset and the practice of flatulence. Do you think BBC Commisioning editors would be interested in making that programme?

    with a manly slap on the backside,
    Simon R

  2. Chris,
    “But the language of inner states, inner movements, inner awareness, and inner consciousness is foreign to them.”

    As I read your blogs I find I have too much to say – And I’ve still got your ear as well, so I would be presuming upon you to reply to all of your blogs. I have to choose one or two. So I find myself here.

    Inner awareness. During my recent researches, about which you have learnt a little, one aspect was the subject of consciousness. (I might get technical again, my apologies). There is a well-established boundary in this subject; a boundary across which science has not been able to penetrate. Richard Dawkins says of the subject “It is a subject so difficult, I cannot even think of the question, yet alone the answer”. As an aside I find it amusing that someone who proclaims evangelical atheism admits with great proclamation that, what should be at the very core of religion (though it isn’t), he actually admits that he hasn’t the slightest idea about what this most important thing is. This is one of his greatest blunders. He is admitting agnosticism! The important thing isn’t evolution – that’s irrelevant. The important thing is consciousness.

    Anyway, consciousness. Nobody knows what it actually is, or what causes it. If we are destined (so they say) to receive an eternal life thing then to be a worthwhile gift what attributes would this life have? I’ve heard some people say memories made during their lives. That would be good yes, but these memories need something to play them back on. Either that or G-d just sits there and plays them back to himself, thinking He’s met His side of the bargain. No the playback device is consciousness. Consciousness is the key to everything. It is the key to deciding whether you are an atheist, an agnostic, or a churchist.

    What you say about the way men approach spirituality differently to women I like, but I think both can benefit from enhancing their understanding of what consciousness researchers call “the hard problem” . The hard problem is (oh dear looks like this is going to be a long one), is finding the tiny little part of one’s being that is the “you” of it all. It’s the little projector that plays the film in the cinema. The little tape recorder that plays back the memories. The deep core thing that gives “meaning” to the data that comes in from the senses. Without this thing, memories mean nothing. Uploading them to the celestial computer has no personal advantage. When Dawkins can explain what this “thing” actually is in material terms then all the religionists have lost their arguments and Dawkins wins. But he won’t, don’t worry – he can’t, we have nothing to fear (just shear maths/logic tells me this, not even theory).

    Getting in touch with this inner-self can be tricky for everyone; male or female. Perhaps females can hide the gap with more skill I don’t really know. But I am “aware” that either sex finds the subject alien to them.

    Personally I find it hard to remember what it was like before I found it. It’s like riding a bike, once learnt never forgotten. I find it hard to imagine what it is like not knowing what it is. It seems like I always knew it and I have to admit I didn’t. But I still can’t accept that others (of either sex) don’t know what it is.

    Once you know what it is it is liberating. It allows you to understand what will always be there, forever. It allows you to understand what it is that hurts or gives pleasure. It allows you to understand what “life” really is.

    Sometimes a meditative Buddhistic approach can help find it. I do hope I don’t sound condescending. Perhaps everybody else does already know what “it” is and it’s just me that’s the slow one. I do ask people sometimes and they do say they don’t know what it is (I’m talking about), so…

    So I would say that for whatever sex, getting in touch with this inner-self and understanding what it is that’s being bombarded with these thoughts and emotions. Understanding the division between the film and the projector is of enormous benefit.

    “New/old ways to live out the mission of God in our context, and to learn to share this in community.”

    Of course this is right, and it can (and perhaps should) have both male and female attributes (where they are good and appropriate). It should be risky and dangerous, but also touchy-feely.

    I just can’t find the fireside to share around.

    G-d bless

  3. Hmmm- conciousness. have made some intellectual journeys into this idea as a psychology student, and from the perspective of a therapist more recently. It is so elusive as you say- and is riddled with so many layers, imponderables and self delusions.

    When faced with this, I feel the need to- simplify. And much of it comes back to this thing of connection- to each other, and God. Which is perhaps the point of our blogging conversation right now.

    I hope that your connections strengthen and grow, and that you have opportunities to experience and display that most human aspect of our consciousness- kindness.


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