Why it ain't raining men in UK Christianity
It's Raining Men! Hallelujah!
It's Raining Men! Every Specimen!
Tall, blonde, dark and lean
Rough and tough and strong and mean
So sang the Weather Girls in 1982. I remember seeing a remarkable performance by these ladies on Top of the Pops.
But it certainly ain’t raining men in UK Christianity. Oughtibridge Parish Church in South Yorkshire, where I serve as incumbent, would be very typical of the situation in local churches on the ground.
Only 25 out of 76 on our electoral roll are male; the proportion is even lower in our regular Sunday congregation of 35 adults – only about 10 are men. The Sunday Club is much healthier with about half of our dozen or so regulars being boys.
According to Christian Vision for Men, a charity set up in 1999 to address the crisis of masculinity in UK Christianity, the official statistics put the proportion of women to men in churches at 60:40, though on the ground many churches would be more like Oughtibridge with a proportion closer to 70 per cent women, 30 per cent men. CVM points out that during the last 20 years there has been a 49 per cent decline of men in church under the age of 30 and a 38 per cent decline across the age range.
Chief executive Revd Carl Beech says: ‘The Church desperately needs to wake up to the fact that we are haemorrhaging men at an alarming rate of knots. We urgently need to ask why it is that our presentation of the Gospel attracts more women than men and ask why our church culture doesn’t seem to grip and excite men in their walk with Jesus.’
It is certainly going to require a concerted effort by local churches against the cultural climate to tackle this crisis. The reality is that any meaningful initiative to reach specifically men at a parochial level immediately encounters opposition from the growing culture of political correctness, even and perhaps especially from within the Church. I recall in my previous parish the opposition to starting a men’s breakfast.
One unpolitically-correct question needs to be asked and another fact to be faced:
1). If an institution is led by women, will men affiliate? If the answer is no or they are less likely to, then in an Anglican context the advent of female incumbents since the 1990s has not helped the situation and the prospect of women bishops could make it worse.
2). Unless an institution can attract earning men, it will struggle financially. Even with the social changes we have seen in the past 30 years, men are still the principal earners in most family units. And the practical reality is that even if a woman who comes to church is herself an earner, it is difficult for her to commit financially if her husband/partner is not himself committed.
It is defeatist to say that normal parish churches will never attract men and that the only churches that can reach them are the newer church plants with a dynamic and risk-taking ‘entrepeneurial’ culture. If the ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ paradigm is correct - according to which men are task-focussed and attracted to a risk-taking culture whereas women are relationally-oriented and attracted to a nurturing culture - then parish churches undergoing culture change are exactly the right environment for male disciples. There is plenty to be done and many risks to be taken.
Certainly, changing the culture of local churches to make them more male-friendly calls for determined front-line clergy worthy of the Weather Girls. The fact that their song does not currently apply to UK Christianity is all the more tragic when one reflects that the apostolic founders of the Church were hand-picked men whom the Lord Jesus Christ inspired to put their lives on the line in His cause.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Canon Christopher Sugden for his generous support in circulating the details of our youth volunteer around the Anglican Mainstream mailing list. This has resulted in a wonderful flurry of interest from Africa, South America and the United States.