There are some books which prove quite important to one's growth and development in life because they make evident a pattern, challenge, and/or idea that is true, real, and yet somehow neglected or left unconsidered. Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow is one such book: after reading it, you will never look at Christianity and its practice in 21st century America the same way again.
I first encountered this book a few years ago and was glad to have the chance to read and review the updated and revised edition. "Completely Revised and Updated" is not an exaggeration: I remember many of the key arguments and themes, but in the new edition they are presented more powerfully and underscored with more evidence. My reading of the original edition really caused me to think about the best way of approaching ministry; reading the new edition has led to the same process.
Why Men Hate Going to Church presents one of the pressing challenges of American Christianity: where are all the men? The author sets out the evidence: most churches have a gender gap, featuring far more women than men. The more active the women get, the more likely the men are to leave. When men are not active in churches, their children are less likely to be active in churches, especially their male descendants, and the challenge grows.
The author then provides helpful analysis of the sources of the difficulty: church plays to the strengths of women but the weaknesses of men. Women tend to be more auditory, better at study, more relationally-driven and focused, willing to sit and listen, share, and better at expressing themselves verbally. Men are more visual-spatial, less patient with study, less relationally-focused, fidgety, and often find expressing themselves verbally as challenging.
Men do excel at boldness, willingness to take risks, and engagement in acts of service, but many times these values are not honored as highly in the assembly and in the general life of a church. The author spends some time contrasting different images of Jesus and to whom men and women best relate ("the Lion of Judah" vs. "the Lamb of God"). The author describes how churches better appeal to women, and on account of it, develop a more softened and feminine approach, further alienating men and enhancing women's presence.
Yes, many ministries are male-dominated, but the author does well at showing how ministry is often done by men who are more verbal, studious, and more "feminine" than the average "macho man" (and I, for one, must plead guilty). The author also shows how when women do take over, either in terms of various matters within the congregation or as preachers themselves, men are most often further alienated and their number continues to drop.
The author spends some time looking at historic trends and the various reasons why we have come to the place at which we find ourselves, as well as seeing different experiments that seemed to work in the past (like the YMCA). He also spends a lot of time considering how to bring the men back in: return to a mission-based view, consciously think about how a given prayer, song, lesson, theme, etc., would sound to the average man and adapt accordingly, find things for men to do that play to their strengths, and find ways to work with boys and their particular composition in such a way as to respect their constitution and not develop an inferiority complex in the face of all the girls.
I have some concerns about many of the suggestions which put a lot of the impetus on the church where the Lord put it on the individual Christian in terms of service and in terms of the programs which should be provided for the youth; thankfully, the revised and updated edition put less emphasis on adaptations to the assembly and more on finding ways to get men to serve out in the world. I'm afraid that some of his theological points in terms of masculinity might be a bit too reactionary against an overly feminized version of Christianity; it's understandable but not necessarily beneficial.
These concerns should not distract from the main point of the book or its importance. I believe this is a must read for anyone who seeks to promote the Gospel of Christ and wishes to encourage his or her fellow Christians: you don't have to agree with every point or every solution to gain from the author's perspective and the needed reconsideration of thought, feeling, and practice toward being more inclusive of masculine characteristics. There's a reason Jesus speaks more concretely and obviously about mission than relationship; there's also a reason why Jesus chose 12 men and worked intensively with them. If the church will grow and prosper in the twenty-first century it will need men to stand up with faith, boldness, vision, and effort to promote the Gospel message, and an over-emphasis on the "feminine" aspects to the detriment of the "masculine" aspects of humanity is pushing those men out and away. There are times for preaching and study; there are times for service and boldness. There is a strong need for greater relationship; there is as strong of a need for recognizing, understanding, and accomplishing God's mission for His Kingdom. Let us find ways to bring men into the fold and make sure that we are not pushing them away on account of our distorted emphases or an environment hostile to masculinity!
*---book received as part of early review program