Terry Mattingly: Fathers and church

When it comes to who fills the pews, every Sunday is Mother’s Day in most mainstream American churches.

And what about Father’s Day? That can be a touchy subject for pastors in an era in which men who religiously avoid church outnumber active churchmen roughly three to one. Worship just doesn’t work for millions of ordinary guys.

“What churches are doing isn’t getting the job done. Mom is having to take the kids to church because Dad doesn’t want to go,” said Marc Carrier, co-author, with his Cynthia, of “The Values-Driven Family.”

“That leaves Mom in charge of the spiritual upbringing of the children, which means faith is a Mom thing and not a Dad thing. … So why is little Johnny — who is 25 and has his first child on the way, whether he’s married or not — never in church? The odds are that his father was never in church.”

Church attendance among men had already fallen to 43 percent in 1992, according to the Barna Group, which specializes in researching trends among Evangelicals. Then that number crashed to 28 percent in 1996, the year before the Promise Keepers movement held its “Stand in the Gap” rally that drew a million or more men to the National Mall — one of the largest gatherings of any kind in American history.

No one involved in national men’s ministries believes that those stats have improved. That’s one reason why a nondenominational coalition wants to hold a “Stand in the Gap 2007” rally on Oct. 6, hoping to gather 250,000 men at the Washington Monument and on the Ellipse, just south of the White House.

The American numbers are sobering, noted Carrier, but they are nowhere near as stunning as another set of statistics in an essay entitled “The Demographic Characteristics of the Linguistic and Religious Groups in Switzerland,” published in 2000 in a volume covering trends in several European nations. The numbers that trouble traditionalists came from a 1994 survey in which the Swiss government tried to determine how religious practices are carried down from generation to generation.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life

15 comments on “Terry Mattingly: Fathers and church

  1. Chris says:

    before someone blames this solely on revisionist, feminist theology, let me say that my reasserter (no women prech, clergy is all male) parish suffers from this phenomena of wives without husbands in attendance too. on the flip side I can’t think of a single husband who attends without his wife.

  2. deaconjohn25 says:

    It isn’t feminist theology that is the problem–it is the feminization of Church culture. Most of the major churches have taken out the vibrant and strong hymns and replaced them with treacly, syrupy, hymns that sound like kindergarten songs. Add that to sermons that are of a similar vein and you have a culture that is repulsive to most men. And then some pastors want us to hold hands while reciting the Our Father at Mass. Bleeech!!!
    And, unfortunately, even if –as in comment #1–a parish tries to do something about the situation–that parish’s efforts are lost to the public mind in the tidal wave of sissy religion that is driving men from Christianity (No wonder Islam is growing so rapidly!)

  3. Sidney says:

    I have a theory that something else that is contributing to the problem: that women don’t like men who go to church (even among women who go to church themselves!) Men need to project strength to be attractive to women, and perhaps churchgoing does the opposite.

    I have to say I’m amazed at the number of women in my own parish who married guys I’ve never even met. I’m afraid it says a lot about the nature of their faith that somehow they do not even care to share this aspect of their life with their spouses.

    I find the statistic – cited in the article – that the percentage of men attending dropped from 43 to 28 in just four years.

  4. Sidney says:

    Oops, I meant to write that I found the statistic hard to believe.

  5. MargaretG says:

    The article talks about the Promisekeepers movement in the past tense. I am not in America so don’t know the story so can someone tell me what happened to it?

  6. Juandeveras says:

    #5 Promisekeepers was a national revival effort [ comprised of mainly normal evangelical men ] put together by the coach of the Univ. of Colorado football team to have primarily men-only revival-type gatherings by the thousands at large footbal venues [ at about $20.00 a pop ]. It was well-run and worked for a few years. It was evangelical men who could finally be themselves in a public Christian setting and in a masculine setting. . The idea was to send the men back to their churches all fired up for God. I attended several, and noticed that most evangelical church hierarchies had a dominant male as pastor [ view the ones on TV ], and the congregation consist mostly of weaker men with fired-up wives who wish their husbands could be as dynamic as their pastor [ mine had played NFL football ]. The strong men are considered competition by the pastor to be competition, were so treated and left; they didn’t grovel enough. I have a strong personality, stayed in such a church 14 years, aware of the game, but wanted to truly follow the Lord’s will for my life. The pastor picked all the wimpy males to be the “elders” [ certainly not me ]; I was a single male parent all this time, trying to instill values into my two kids, but left when the pastor attempted to turn my 21-year old son against me and he reported it to me. I contacted the church national headquarters and they called him on the carpet. I left them with a 14-page indictment of the pastor’s behavior and over 50% 0f the church families left thereafter. Similarly, it seems to me if the TEC continues screening for wimpy androgynous seminary applicants and indulging the whims of a vocal minority of lesbians and gays to be clergy, any self-respecting male adult living in the real world is going to say ” To heck with this noise “. Additionally , many normal men have an underlying distrust for many men in the clergy [ except for maybe the Catholics and some Episcopalians ] – they’re viewed to be somehow somewhat misanthropic [ right or wrong ]. My current [ the one I started out in ] church has a history of real men as rectors, and that is what attracts men to church.

  7. Juandeveras says:

    PS to #6 – It’s interesting that Don Armstrong, the rector of the seceding Anglican church in Colorado Springs, is a man’s man, is a former combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam, a very strong spirit-filled [ I have heard ] Christian leader in the truest traditional biblical sense and yet is being forced to endure an incredible attack from a bunch of the above wimpy pro-homosexual “men” and their fellow-travelers [ such as his former classmate at Virginia Theologogical Seminary, Bp. Jon Bruno of LA, whom Armstrong has publicly referred to on this blog as a “phony then and a phony now ” ] who now, along with an equally androgynous female, pro-homosexual ex-mollusk expert, now “run” TEC. Now tell me, why would any “normal” man want to involve himself with this chazerai ?

  8. Jim the Puritan says:

    Re No. 6–You may be right as to other churches, but I go to an evangelical church now and I have to say I don’t think any of our 5 pastors fall into the mold of being “dominant males.” They’re just regular guys, as far as I can tell, which is what I like about them. There’s no “holier than thou” pretension.

  9. Craig Stephans says:

    #6 I hope I don’t fit the pattern: “Similarly, it seems to me if the TEC continues screening for wimpy androgynous seminary applicants and indulging the whims of a vocal minority of lesbians and gays to be clergy, any self-respecting male adult living in the real world is going to say “ To heck with this noise “.” Of course the Diocese of SC is not the norm for TEC. I will try to avoid being “adrongynized” during seminary. ha ha. http://www.craigstephans.wordpress.com

  10. Juandeveras says:

    The anecdotal responses are fine, but the question was why men are not going to church ? From a biblical perspective, the man is supposed to be the spiritual head of the household. I do not necessarily believe that gathering 250,000 men in front of the Washington Monument is going to address this issue unless the 250,000 begin to meet in small groups of 25 individuals on a regular basis. . Men function well in a grouping of men without women around on certain well-selected occasions. In our church we hold a monthly early Saturday AM ‘Holy Huddle’ where we have our own breakfast [ two guys cook, do the dishes and each pays his share ] , have a discussion on a relevant topic – religious or otherwise. Note that Pres. Bush was led to the Lord at a Midland, Texas men’s prayer group which continues to meet regularly. Out of that group he felt the call to run for office. Note that Orthodox Jews and Quakers keep the women and men separated within the service and it would be interesting to follow the history on that point.

  11. Juandeveras says:

    PS – The interesting question would be whether Bush would now be president had he not switched from his TEC roots, become a Methodist and allowed himself to become spirit-filled – not so likely, it would appear.

  12. Jim the Puritan says:

    #10–I did a response relevant to this on another recent thread which I’ll repeat here:

    “I think there are a number of reasons.First, our church is roughly 50/50 men and women, so we don’t have this situation with being “feminized” in our church.

    “Two. We have a lot of military installations in the area, army, navy and marines. Unlike most mainstream churches in the area, we are known as being “military friendly.” In other words, military members and their families know they aren’t going to get anti-military, left-wing, anti-Iraq sermons every Sunday. Our church, like the military, is apolitical. We’re concerned about spreading the Gospel, not pushing forward some political agenda like most mainstream churches are. We also have an active ministry outreach to the military and their families, developed as a result of meeting with some of the local military chaplains a couple of years ago. A lot of the young soldiers are lonely and far away from home. And a lot of the families whose husbands or wives are deployed really need help, which we try to give. So we have a lot of military attenders and their families.

    “Third, and most important, our church doesn’t belittle or marginalize men. Our monthly meetings cover a lot of practical topics, such as how to be good fathers and husbands and how to care for your family, how to be a Christian and apply Christian principles at your jobs, and helping each other with practical problems. We have a men’s presentation group that meets once a month, and a men’s prayer group and Bible study that meets at least every other week, and another Bible study that meets on Saturday mornings. We’re also looking at setting up a ministry to area men (believers and non-believers) based on the “Men’s Fraternity” system (http://mensfraternity.com).

    “Four, our Bible studies are serious. We don’t have touchy feel-good sessions. We actually go through the material carefully and have some really heavy discussions on what the Bible means and how it is applicable in people’s lives.

    “Five, we do things. We have had groups of men helping build homes for Habitat for Humanity, and caring for the homeless. We sent teams to New Orleans after the hurricane, and to Sri Lanka and Thailand to help after the tsunami. Fortunately, we have a number of guys who are in construction and related trades and so they can really help lead, and the rest of us can swing a hammer if we’re shown how and where.

    “The moral of the story is that if you want to have men in your church, treat them like men, not like appendages to their wives and children.”

  13. godfrey says:

    Some of this discussion is pretty disturbing. The most masculine guy I can think of was Jesus–but evidently some of you guys would have been worried about him. It has always seemed to me that men who were secure in their maleness could afford to be gentle. And I never once have noted Jesus likening the Holy Spirit to a Scout helicopter.

  14. Juandeveras says:

    #13 – Kindly advise what subject is “pretty disturbing “. The earlier reference to Don Armstrong, who happened to pilot helicopters in Viet Nam once [ though the “Scout” model does not sound generic to that era ], is descriptive of a man who I would describe as quite secure in his masculinity to the point of being quite gentle when appropriate, but quite a ‘man’ as well – exactly the kind of man I would have thought Jesus to be – a guy who threw the money changers out of the temple and who told the harlot to go and sin no more.

  15. Juandeveras says:

    PS: the authors cited have further interesting comments at http://www.valuesdrivenfamily.com. They are homeschoolers as well.