Why Men Hate Going to Church

I’ve been reading David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church. I am not positive where he stands theologically but I’ve benefitted from his insights. In one part of the book discussing male impatience with inefficiency, he writes:

Why are churches so unproductive? They try to be all things to all people. They can’t say no. They do too much and end up doing a lot of things poorly. They keep adding ministry programs but never prune the ineffective ones. But parachurch organizations do one thing–such as hunger relief, housing for the poor, or Bible translations–and do it very well. Productivity fires the imaginations of men. In Genesis, God gave Adam the first job–produce a crop. Ever since, men have longed to be productive. That’s why many are abandoning the local church and investing their talents elsewhere.

Obviously there are many more reasons men leave the local church which are delved into in the rest of the book. But there are things Murrow gets right here. Church meetings are among the most inefficient I’ve sat in, and I’m a federal employee.

Do you guys have any deliberate approaches to church administration to avoid bad meetings? Do you encourage risk taking, and how? Do you take programs off life support occasionally and if so, is it the result of an objective analysis or more of a gut feeling? And other such questions.

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I served for a time as our church secretary. This was partly prompted by intense frustration at the sheer bumbling inefficiency you describe.

One thing I did manage to do was increase the efficiency of church meetings significantly. When the meetings are led by someone with absolutely no patience for faffing, who understands the legal requirements for decision-making, and is willing to shut people down when they start waffling on about their own irrelevant and long-winded opinions, things can get done with remarkable alacrity.

Unfortunately, when you serve in a church that believes women ought to be involved in rulership (i.e., standard congregationalism), this does not tend to endear you to the congregation as a whole, and eventually it all implodes in upon itself and you get quietly replaced and everything returns to the status quo ;p

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Dear Eric,

Bring danger back. That’s all. Bring danger back. Love,

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I find this subject interesting generally, but I don’t understand the reasons presented here. What in the world is going on in your church meetings that drive men away? I’ve been a part of small Southern Baptist churches my entire believing life and church meetings are always orderly and tidy. Both of the churches in which I’ve most recently belonged involved:

  1. Congregational restatement of church covenant
  2. Prayer
  3. Confirmation of new members, announcement of departing members
  4. Issues of church discipline, if needed
  5. Budget presentation, if needed
  6. Miscellany, if needed
  7. Sing the doxology
  8. Pray
  9. Depart

All points are led by elders with the occasional exception of point 6. Meetings are seldom an hour even when issues of discipline prove contentious. Is this really the reason men aren’t coming to church?

I have been discussing with my wife and some brothers recently about how different the nature of the faith feels when one spends time reading and meditating on the wisdom literature. A Christianity informed by Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job; and enriched by the Psalms and the Song of Solomon, is distinctly more masculine. The problem we’ve burrowed down to is that the gospel is frequently presented as the only thing in the holy scriptures. It is, of course, the most important thing, but without being informed by all that God has spoken to us, it’s hard to present Christianity as something other than primarily emotive.

Even with the doctrines of grace firmly within the congregation’s grasp, men need action to which to commit and practice, and the fact is that if every sermon (speaking in hyperbole) boils down to: you were dead and doing nothing, you were saved by the grace and mercy of God through Christ, now go and work out your faith with fear and trembling (which tends to carry the subtext as “go and think about these things with guilt and gratitude”), that’s a lot for the heart and head and comparatively little for the soul and strength.

I think our churches have been so careful to preserve and teach the doctrines of grace that they’ve tended to veer far away from what praxis looks like. A faith that comes across as all dogma and no praxis strikes me as pretty unappealing.

Say what you will about the “Baptist formula” for a sermon, that is, 1. the Scripture and what it means, 2. the gospel and “altar call,” and the seemingly heavily-Presbyterian-derided 3. application - at least there’s mind payed to giving the people something to do with their faith, no matter how mealy-mouthed that application has decayed to today.

To hearken to Pastor Tim’s call earlier: “Bring wisdom back.”

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It’s interesting that you’ve selected a quote about efficiency, because around here a hyper-focus on efficiency is considered more of a feminine trait. I think that may come from Chesterton, but I couldn’t find a quote to back me up in my short search yesterday.

Tim mentioned danger. The first thing that came to my mind reading your excerpt, @Auslander, is a lack of leadership. You don’t have leadership until you have someone saying “no”, and especially saying “no” in the face of arguments that “it would be more efficient” or “easier”.

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I work in academia, which is reputed to have terrible meetings, but actually I’ve found them to be run pretty well, probably because professors at an R1 university have a great amount of autonomy and simply won’t come to badly run meetings.

What is essential to a well-run meeting is have a clear agenda of what is to be accomplished going into it, have any necessary background work completed ahead of time, and to have the chair keep the discussion on topic and shut down people who speak more than their share. There’s no reason why a church can’t run a meeting this way except unwillingness to exercise leadership.

Under the Presbyterian polity of my church, congregational meetings are in almost all cases simply informational – a chance for the Session to inform the congregation of some decision or policy and for the Session to hear comments from the congregation on the same. So these meetings don’t run long. The Session also delegates a lot of the background work for making decisions and developing ministries to lay committees, and I don’t know how efficient their meetings are, but because it occurs in smaller groups than the whole congregation I assume things go better.

The approach we’ve adopted is that we will always do the core ministries of the church called for in Scripture. Regarding other ministries, if no one is sufficiently enthusiastic to put in the effort, we will stop doing it. And if someone is excited to begin a new ministry, we encourage that person to recruit other people to help, and if no one is excited, then for the first person to go it alone or drop it.

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But Joel, shutting people down is not nice.

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Men, don’t jump to conclusions about the best way to handle elders and deacons meetings. There’s much more going on in session meetings than getting work done. Much, much more. And if that “much more” is not being done, the moderator is failing at his work. Which is to lead the elders. Often, men impatient with the moderator taking time to build consensus and to teach and rebuke and exhort the elders are proud men who are unwilling to be either taught or led. Love,

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Did I already say much more?

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Is hyper focus like obsession? A bit of an exaggeration… I think that efficiency is important; it’s not all there is, but at least inefficiency should be avoided.

There is a lot of great stuff in the book–I only cited this part because the other areas dealing with gender differences, while insightful, is heavily trodden ground here. I am more curious about the various approaches different pastors and leaders take to avoid inefficiency.

I have also seen it happen where the moderator’s idea of building consensus is getting everyone to subscribe to his personal project. This thankfully does not happen at my current church, where in session meetings TE/REs carry equal weight and real consensus must be achieved.

In fact our session meetings are deliberately open ended because we go to prayer frequently and somewhat spontaneously in the course of the work and we do not want to abbreviate that. I think more of the inefficiency I see is in committee meetings, not session meetings. Committee meetings in my experience tend to stumble on, veer off topic, and sustain terrible ideas longer than appropriate because people are unwilling to simply label a bad idea. I am guilty in this area by the way.

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Give me effectiveness over efficiency every time. Being efficient at all the wrong things is a hallmark of evangelicalism’s slick, professional churches that make my skin crawl.

For the record: all else being equal I agree that the efficient church is doing better. But in practice, achieving efficiency in church life often happens by trading off something more important.

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Exactly right. I had a conversation about this with a few other people here at our church just a couple weeks ago. But I don’t know of any good way to deal with it aside from good leadership at the committee level. You want committee leaders who have the humility to take seriously the input of others, but who also have the wisdom to know when an idea is just bad and needs to be canned. Or when to shut down a discussion.

When I think about the inner-workings of a church – how things actually get done – it always comes down to people and process. You have to have good people and good processes, otherwise you have a mess. But I’ve focussed on people (leadership) in my answer to your question about efficiency because I think we tend to focus on process and assume that it will take care of the people problem. I think the opposite is much more likely: good leaders will resent inefficiency and look for ways to get rid of it.

I think it is very important for programs to die at a church. I think there can be “objective analysis” for closing down this or that program, but I think a leader should feel free to kill something because of a gut feeling.

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BTW, the Chesterton stuff is pretty common in What’s Wrong with the World in chapters dealing with distinctions between women and men. Search for words like “parliament” and “pub.” This point is men do their work in a way women despise. Women have no patience for parliament or the pub because both are, in their view, entirely inefficient. Didn’t Her Majesty express this sentiment earlier this very day? Smile.

Which gets back to an earlier point I was trying to make, that discussions between men are often very hard work being done in building love, peace, trust, unity, common commitment to common vision, fencing off the divisive, passive-aggressive man, etc. But helpful comments above

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Being a military man, I’m somewhat conditioned to more of a top-down style of leadership - just give me an order and I execute. Most organizations work this way; at bottom, someone is steering the rudder, saying we will go this way and not that way. This is not parliamentary but by no means is it feminine. As with anything, I suppose it depends on the question at hand. I know in more than one case in meetings, I’ve thought to myself, “why are we going on with this theater of consensus? Make an edict, give me my marching orders; it falls to me to marshal my forces and make it happen.” (my Episcopalianism is showing I guess)

Interesting. I’ve never thought of it that way.

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Yes, building consensus can be coverup for manipulating uniformity. But it can also be a deliberative assembly, right? And that’s what Presbyterian polity is all about. We believe Acts 15 is not bad, but good, so we try to copy it. In my experience, military men and engineers share little patience with deliberative assemblies. Love,

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A huge amount of time in our Session meetings is spent cooperatively chewing over some issue. Note that this deliberation is usually not for the sake of building consensus for something already proposed by the pastor, but instead because coming into the discussion, no one has any idea of what the right course of action ought to be. Raising a variety of points and putting forth arguments and counterarguments to each other enables us to think through an issue and reach one mind on what ought to be done.

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