Nalini Joseph: The real reason why fewer men are in church
Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 23, 2021
By Nalini Joseph
Last week, I left you with more questions than answers about why our male church-going population is dwindling in the United States. To answer my questions, I spoke and corresponded with a few pastors in Salisbury.
One obvious reality is that women live longer. They continue to come to church after their loved one passes away; church is a familiar place that brings them comfort and peace. Many widows (and widowers) feel close to God and to their deceased loved one as they participate in a ritual that they shared with their life partner for many years or decades.
I spoke with Rev. Mark Conforti, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Salisbury, about the diminishing presence of men in church. He talked a little about the insecurity some men face as they step foot into a worship service. Church can be a place that men feel vulnerable.
A parishioner is not in charge of the structure of the service; they are told what to do, when to sit, stand or sing. In fact, many churches now feature women as leaders of the church and the church service: they are bishops, deacons, acolytes, and altar servers. Men have to “take a back seat” in many churches and must be at ease while learning and spiritually advancing through the help of a woman who delivers the Sunday morning message.
“I struggle with…” or “I need help” are not comfortable words for many men to utter. Men are often reticent to visit their woman pastor when they are in trouble and need counsel or spiritual comfort. For many, it’s easier to meet and confide in a group of friends at a local brewery rather than talk with a pastor — let alone a woman pastor.
Church can be an experience that brings to the surface emotions that lie deep within us and for this reason, many men shy away from the entire church experience.
Here are some words to this effect from Father Robert Black of St. Luke’s Episcopal church in Salisbury: “Christian values (humility, obedience, non-violence, charity) are most often associated with Western cultural depictions of the feminine and run counter to the prototypical ‘male’ descriptors.”
Rev. Conforti also speaks to another huge factor in accounting for the lack of men in church, which is the idea that “Sunday is just another Saturday.”
The stress on families during the week, the demands of work, school, and community work, can create an environment that does not allow for rest on Sundays. Church now has to compete with household chores, movies, shopping and sporting events. Think about the growth of football and baseball stadiums across the United States in the last few decades.
Stadiums are often full on Sundays, with season ticket holders traveling on Sunday mornings to get to their destination in time to enjoy game day. Many of us that work hard during the week want freedom over our schedules on the weekends. Our commitment to ourselves and our families outweighs our commitment to attending church.
Finally, our boys and young men need spiritually strong fathers. Fathers who regularly attend church, who pray and praise God through song and attentive participation, who demonstrate a need for God in their life, are strong fathers. Fathers who teach their children to open their hearts and ask God for help when they are in trouble, are strong fathers. My hunch is that many children who grow up without spiritually strong fathers are part of the select demographic that checks the “unaffiliated” or “none” box next to word “religion” on a form.
Thank you to Rev. Conforti, Rev. Black, and all the other pastors who took the time to shed light on this difficult subject. If you have comments or questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nalini Joseph lives in Salisbury.