David Murrow has, for more than twenty years, produced and written television documentaries, commercials, and specials. He's won numerous awards for his production, writing, and creative skills. He's produced material for the Discovery Channel, NBC, ABC, Food Network, Travel Channel, Dr. Phil, The Miss America Pageant, and many others. He has owned Murrow Media, Inc., since 1987 and has a degree in Anthropology from Baylor University. He has served as an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and he and his wife have three children.
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May 24, 2005
FaithfulReader.com contributing writer Marcia Ford interviewed David Murrow, author of WHY MEN HATE GOING TO CHURCH. Murrow explains the characteristics of a "female-friendly" church and his belief that the church system is designed to meet the needs of women but not men. He talks about his own attempts to engender male interest in Christianity and why he thinks that, without such participation, the church will never achieve real success.
FaithfulReader.com: What prompted you to write WHY MEN HATE GOING TO CHURCH?
David Murrow: I've gone to church for almost 30 years. Every Sunday there are more women than men. Not only do women attend more faithfully, they comprise most of the volunteer corps and the non-ordained church staff.
I've been in the media and advertising business for 20 years. Given my background, it's not too hard to discern the target audience of the modern church: a middle-aged to elderly woman. Why? She's got the two things the church needs: money and time. Without the superhuman commitment of these women the ministry machine would grind to a halt. Churches work very hard to keep them happy, giving and volunteering.
So, without even realizing it, our church culture has subtly evolved to meet women's needs. But men and young people are dying in our churches, because we ignore their needs.
I wrote the book because a lot of people feel that they are to blame for this. Women feel guilty for failing to reach the men they love with the gospel. Men are confused because they love God but hate Sunday morning worship. Pastors are perplexed because they can't maintain a men's ministry. My message to them is simple: it's not your fault. Our church system is designed to meet the needs of women and old folks. Even successful, contemporary churches are heavily tilted toward feminine themes in the preaching, the music and the sentiments expressed in worship.
FR: What have you found to be the primary reasons why men dislike church services so much?
DM: Church services don't resonate with men in their current form. Here's why: our modern piety is built around feminine values. There's an unwritten rule that everything in church is supposed to be sweet and sentimental, nurturing and nice. There's a huge emphasis on home, marriage and family. We've inherited this from the Victorian era, not scripture.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with this feminine focus, if we're to believe John Eldredge, men are wild at heart. Although men see the goodness of the Christian faith, they are not swept up into it because of its softness. If our definition of a "good Christian" is someone who's nurturing, tender, gentle, receptive and guilt-driven, it's going to be a lot easier to find women who will sign up.
FR: In your book, you say that churches have become more female-friendly than male-friendly. What are some of the characteristics of a female-friendly church? How about some characteristics of the ideal male-friendly church?
DM: Most churches are female-friendly without realizing it. What do I mean? Studies have shown that women and older adults gravitate toward security. And that's what we provide on Sunday: a secure, unchanging ritual. Evangelistic churches sell security every Sunday: walk down this aisle and your spot in heaven is secured.
Our volunteer opportunities revolve around traditionally female roles: child care, teaching, singing, cooking and social gatherings. A woman has dozens of places to use her experiences and gifts; men have their choice of usher or committee work (The only men who break out of this mold are those who happen to be gifted in the areas of teaching or music).
Men and younger adults, on the other hand, gravitate toward challenge. They like risk, competition and adventure. But these things are discouraged in the local church, because they have the potential to upset people. (That's the 11th commandment in today's church: Do whatever you want, as long as you keep the peace).
Then there's praise music, which gets more romantic by the day (I call it "Jesus is my boyfriend" music). Men are looking for a leader, not a lover. Even the gospel itself is presented in terms of a woman's fantasy: a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally. And we focus exclusively on Christ's soft side. If today's Christ were a radio station, his slogan would be, "All tenderness, all the time."
Obviously, men could use more masculine imagery, illustrations and music. We could offer more volunteer opportunities for men to use their skills and gifts, instead of trying to squeeze men into roles they consider feminine. We should go back to the structure Jesus gave us: a church built on a small-group discipleship paradigm, instead of the classroom model that dominates today's church. There would be less emphasis on studying
about God and more emphasis on having adventures with God. This is just a snack; I included more than 60 pages of practical ideas that any Christian can deploy this Sunday to sharpen one's outreach to men and boys.
FR: You say that you're not calling men back to church; you're calling the church back to men. How must churches change in order to appeal to both men and women?
DM: You don't have to go hypermasculine to appeal to men. You don't have to turn the church into a hunting lodge. 90 percent of men in the U.S. believe in God; 83 percent call themselves Christians. Men consistently list Jesus as one of the men they most admire. Men are interested; why don't we meet them halfway?
Little things matter to men. For instance, how we decorate the sanctuary: soft, cushiony pews, fresh flowers, boxes of Kleenex, lace curtains, and of course, quilted banners on the walls. Honestly, how do we expect men to connect to a masculine God in an environment that feels like Aunt Polly's parlor?
I think we could ditch the handholding, prayer requests and screeching violin offertories from seven-year-olds without driving women away. I know a lot of women who would appreciate a more masculine Jesus. I also know women who are sick of the "I'm in therapy forever" emphasis in our megachurches. Men and women need a mission, not just a personal relationship with Jesus.
Bottom line: we have to do a better job considering men's needs, tastes and expectations. This will also help us reach younger women as well. If grandma howls, so be it.
FR: Some critics of your book point out that too many churches are dominated by men, not women. How do you respond to their criticism?
DM: Let me be clear: a male dominated church is not the answer. Neither is the "submit to me woman" version of Christianity where men are kings and women are pawns.
But the male dominated church is largely myth. Men dominate the pulpit (and some governing boards), but women dominate everything else. The average worship service draws an adult crowd that's 61 percent female. Midweek activities are often 70 or 80 percent female. Church staffs are almost totally female. Author Leon Podles puts it this way: modern churches are ladies' clubs with a few male officers.
If current trends continue, by 2050 the average pastor in America will be a 55 year-old woman. By 2075 the male pastor will be as uncommon as the male nurse is today. This is already happening in the Church of England; in 2005, that denomination will appoint more female priests than male ones for the first time. And their average age is nearing 60. One observer laments, "the priesthood is becoming a hobby for grannies."
So the whole "male dominated, patriarchal" whine doesn't square with the facts. While pockets of abusive patriarchy remain, these are confined mainly to smaller churches (which still draw more women than men, by the way).
FR: You indicate in your book that other faiths, such as Judaism, Islam and Buddhism, don't experience the gender gap we see in Christianity --- particularly, American Christianity. Why is that?
DM: It's not just American Christianity. The gender gap affects churches everywhere. I think our feminine piety has taken hold all over the world.
Consider Islam. It just feels more masculine. Men who practice Islam actually enhance their manhood in the eyes of their peers. There are still strong gender roles. Islam has stringent requirements, including an epic journey (haj). Concepts such as heroic sacrifice and holy war live in Islam. The genders worship separately. And compare our visions of heaven: Christians offer eternal singing, Muslims offer eternal sex!
I know Christianity is all about grace, but there has to be a way we can raise standards without succumbing to legalism.
FR: What would you like to say to the many married women who attend church either alone or with only their children, week after week, many of whom feel ashamed or guilty because their husbands will not attend church with them?
DM: I devoted a whole chapter to women. My primary message to them is: rejoice! If you can't get Bubba off the couch and into the pew, it's not your fault. The modern church system is getting the results it's designed to get. Until that system changes no amount of praying, preaching or prodding is going to get men (or young adults) into our sanctuaries. And there is reason to hope: the number of men involved in small spiritual groups doubled in the last ten years. Men are bypassing that bore called Sunday worship, but they're turning to God in small groups.
Second, I say to these women: talk about the missing men. For too long we've ignored this problem. Gather with other women and focus intense prayer on men's behalf. See what God does.
Third, realize a lot of men who attend church actually hate it. Men are DYING because we constantly praise the feminine while rebuking the masculine. Men get the impression that they're defective as God made them. We've got to stop using the church as a bridle to tame men.
Finally, now that you're armed with this knowledge, become a change agent in your church. Support policies that will make your church more man-friendly, even if those changes hurt people's feelings. It's OK to support change, even that which causes people to grieve.
FR: Tell us about the organization you founded, Church for Men.
DM: Church for Men helps churches and individual Christians sharpen their outreach to men and boys. We help them identify areas where the feminine spirit has taken over, and show them how to restore balance.
I'm sounding an alarm. Without men our church is in big trouble. A lack of men is strongly associated with church decline. The denominations with the largest gender gaps are also those that are shutting churches.
Amazingly, many people don't even realize we have a gender gap! Some don't realize how feminine our churches have become. I've found that once people wake up to this fact they are willing to take action. Right now I'm fielding one or two requests a week to speak at men's retreats around the country. I'm hoping to expand to women's retreats and pastoral conferences next year. We all need to work together or another generation of boys will be lost.
Here's my vision: the local church, once again, becomes a place where your average fisherman can have a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ.
FR: You've called for a worldwide summit of Christian men in your home city of Anchorage, scheduled for May 25-26, 2006. What do you hope to accomplish through that event?
DM: I want to bring academics, pastors and men's leaders together to focus discussion, research and prayer on this problem. There's been a paucity of research. For example, a search of the Religious Research Association archives turns up hundreds of scholarly papers on how to integrate women, minorities and gays into our congregations, but nothing on how to do the same with men.
We have a lot of work to do. We need new models of "doing church" specifically tailored to men and boys. Why? Under our current system, up to 90 percent of the boys who are raised in the church abandon it by their 20th birthday, many never to return. We also need a new kind of seminary, new models of pastoral preparation, and a completely new paradigm of men's ministry. (I think many of the answers we seek are hiding in plain view, on the pages of the Bible.)
FR: Tell us a little about your professional background and how it helped you in the writing of this, your first book.
DM: I've been a television writer and producer since 1983. When you write 30-second spots, you learn economy of words. I'm told I have a machine-gun writing style. Short sentences. Like a man's finger on a TV remote. I plead guilty.
Also, my advertising background helped me realize that the church, like everything else in today's society, has a target audience (whether we admit it or not). Any first-year marketing student could tell you in 15 minutes that the local church is not targeted at men. Think about the environments men hang out in: bars, stadiums, construction sites, etc. Now think about a Bible study group. The whole feel is so different. Men don't create warm, nurturing spaces where personal expression is paramount.
No, men are built to achieve. When our churches rediscover the importance of mission, we'll see more men in the pews.
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