Where Have All the Single Christian Men Gone?
- Christianity Today Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2004 7 Jul
Read the original article.
I, too, have noticed the uneven gender split in church singles groups, and I've been curious about what's going on. I don't recall this being nearly as true (or at least as apparent) a generation ago. I agree that Christianity is presented today in predominantly feminine language, and I think the church has come to look as if it's a "women's world," like a hair salon or a garden party. There's a snowball effect, too; the more this is perceived, the more men leave, and the more it becomes true.
It most certainly wasn't always like this. If you look back at the early church, virtually all the important leaders weren't just men, but single men. All important offices were preferentially reserved for single men. I wonder if that wasn't due to a shrewd appreciation of how important it is to "make the men feel useful." Certainly Jesus was sufficiently revolutionary that he could have selected six women and six men as his disciples. But I think there was an important appreciation that men are harder to bring into a social network. Get the men to commit, and the women will come too. Get the women first, and the men will stay home and go fishing. As fewer and fewer leadership positions in the church are specifically reserved for men, that problem will only grow worse. Maybe the gender-skewed church is just the price we have to pay for a more egalitarian leadership structure. Eventually we'll need to decide whether it was worth it. I have mixed feelings myself, but I suspect women will be reluctant to give up their new influence, even if it comes at the cost of a gender gap.
So how do we make men feel useful again in church? Well, the natural problem the church has is that it's a cooperative, relationship-valuing community. Women are, on balance, cooperative and relationship-valuing people. Men are competitive, task-oriented people. They need jobs and duties. They need to be challenged. Make church too easy and friendly, and men will assume it's not worthy of their time. That's why the entire modern approach to outreach—reducing barriers—is making the problem worse. Most men actually want higher barriers to membership—a fence to jump over is a good challenge that can't go unanswered! The church needs to start making serious demands of people, and acting like a more demanding institution. It needs to move to a more intrusive stance and require more personal accountability—and that runs strongly counter to American culture, where we consider freedom and privacy to be innately good. But religious groups that make strong requirements of members—think about the Eastern Orthodox or the Mormons—still do a much better job of obtaining loyalty from men, even in the modern Western world.
Historically, spiritual challenges have taken two forms: Protecting the church from enemies (i.e., opposing false doctrine), and struggling in spiritual warfare against demons (either literally or figuratively). The first requires an appreciation of the importance of academic orthodoxy, of wrestling with difficult theological ideas instead of watering everything down to the lowest common denominator. Some of the sermons preached in previous eras—check out the homilies of Augustine or John Chrysostom—were really intellectually challenging! These days, pastors are afraid to leave anyone behind, and sermons have become an exercise in finding entertaining ways to state the obvious. As someone with a doctoral degree in the hard sciences, I find it impossible to recommend most church services to my (mostly male) friends, because the intellectual engagement seems so juvenile and simplistic. Popular theology (what you'll pick up in the devotional section of a Christian bookstore) just doesn't seem as deep as physics, philosophy, or political science. It's all bones and no meat. That's where you're loosing the educated men who ought to be rising leaders in the church. Parachurch groups such as InterVarsity are probably doing a little better than the church itself at this point, and hopefully some of their influence will eventually migrate over.
On the "spiritual warfare" front, since the Reformation we've essentially developed a form of Christianity with almost no appreciation for ascetic practice, and I think that loses us men as well. Doctors and theologians steadfastly defended the church against heretics and secular intervention. There's a heroism in this—one that appeals to the male mind more than the female, I think. But today we shy away from metaphors of warfare and struggle. We tackle psychological issues under a medical paradigm, rather than military one—we are the "victims" of "unhealth" and we need to seek out help from others who will encourage us to "talk about our emotions." There's nothing to struggle against. The sense of bravery and heroism against fierce opposition is lost. Everything gets reduced to various bland truisms of pop psychology.
These observations hardly exhaust the causes and solutions to the current situation, but they at least reflect my own thinking—and the reasons why I have a strong urge to find some community other than the Protestant evangelical world in which I was raised. I also agree that churches are predominantly family-centric, and that single women function more easily in that world than men. Single women, for example, are encouraged to be affectionate with other people's children, whereas single men who do the same thing are regarded with a deep suspicion. And even most men's groups revolve around family responsibilities—the Promise Keeper's rallies in the 90's focused heavily on getting men to take responsibility for their wives and children. But if you didn't have a wife or kids, they had little to say to you.
At some point, we need churches that are willing to hire single men as pastors, especially in towns where a college or university ministry is expected. That won't happen by accident; it needs to be done purposefully. But social prejudice probably makes that idea almost impossible in the current climate. Trying to find a pastoral position as a single who's recently graduated from seminary is just about impossible. That's totally backwards, from a scriptural standpoint. And so I sympathize strongly with single men who think the church doesn't value them, and thus conclude that they shouldn't value it either.
And while I understand it's hard to be on the "overweighted" end of the gender imbalance, it's also hard for different reasons to be on the "underweighted" end. At least women can blame demographics for being single. Here I am, single at 29 and unable to get the time of day from any of those women outnumbering me two to one. I can only assume it's a personal reflection on myself. The marriage game is stacked in my favor, and I'm still scoreless! That amounts to a real blow to one's self-esteem. I get that kind of dismissal from other people all the time—"What's wrong with you? The church is full of women!" Plus, it's hard to find anyone else to commiserate with!
I've worked for a missions agency for teens for ten years now and have seen the gender imbalance first-hand, across the board, the entire ten years I've worked here. In a team of 50 students going overseas for short-term missions (even to a rugged country like Nepal!), we'll often have maybe 10 guys. That's a 1 to 5 ratio! We've discussed it as a ministry, we've discussed it as friends, and we've found no easy answers. For our ministry in particular (a relational/discipleship ministry as opposed to a work-project style), we've wondered if the relational draw simply appeals more to females. We've also looked at the churches we recruit from and spoken to countless youth pastors who share the same dilemma—there are simply more often more females in the youth ministry than males. This isn't always the case but is most often the case.
Just before heading overseas himself, the founder of our ministry called out the men who are joining us this summer. He challenged them to look around, to see the imbalance (overall we are probably 70/30 women to men), and rise to the call of being men who raise up men. His words were literally "Men win men!"
This discussion shouldn't be shocking to anyone. Nor should it be taken personally. We're talking about statistics here, not personal issues. And statistics can be incredibly helpful when it comes to goal-setting and vision-casting. In my opinion, the most significant place believers can begin is prayer, asking God for wisdom, insight, and direction. And it's up to each of us within the body to determine how we will respond. As believers, we can join in prayer. As women, we can consider how we can honor men, release them to be who they're created to be, and encourage, lift up, and build up who they are in Christ.
I think a key part of the problem is that churches are so family centered. That's not bad in and of itself, but it can create major problems for single guys. While married women often make time for their female friends simply to enjoy friendship, married men often don't make time for relationships. I think married people with children and careers are simply too busy to be friends with people other than their spouse or coworkers.
In the large community of singles I've been involved with for the last several months, there are many cliques. Most people seem preoccupied with their established friendships and see no need to absorb newcomers such as me into their groups.
As a single guy, there's also an assumption that if you even speak to a single woman then you're trying to get involved in a romantic relationship with her. There's also an assumption by some single women that if a guy is seeking to develop a romantic relationship with her, then he's bad or dangerous.
It's difficult for men to develop a connection with one another anyway. Because there are more single women in Christian singles ministries than men, the women have more people they can choose to befriend (of the same gender) than the men do. While it's true the message of the Gospel is that everyone is in some sense a loser, singles ministries unfortunately attract many men I wouldn't want to befriend and who any woman in her right mind would view as losers.
It would be nice to go to a church whose theology I agree with and where there's a group of single friends with whom I can hang out and serve the Lord. I've spent a decade searching for a church whose theology I agree with where I have good friends, and I haven't found it yet. I'm losing hope that I'll ever find a church that meets both requirements or that I will ever really feel like a part of the body of Christ.
I spoke with a pastor at a previous church and he said people's social lives aren't his responsibility. That's true to a point, but I still think it should concern him that many single people aren't finding meaningful Christian fellowship in church. Some, like myself, have turned into ecclesiastical gypsies, wandering around looking for true Christian fellowship.
I, too, have a difficult time finding godly men in Christian circles. One thing I've noticed in churches, particularly large ones (with large young adults ministries), is a lack of inter-generational male ministries. I'm now at a smaller church where the older men actively pour into the younger men (and hold them seriously accountable) and the growth in maturity I'm seeing in my male friends is staggering. And their hunger for more church and fellowship only grows greater with such investment.
I firmly believe that to get more single men into church, active involvement and personal investment by older men is critical. Not only do many TV ads label straight men as buffoons, but many boys and young men growing up in society today have few role models of godly manhood. I think we women can plead endlessly for men to come to church and/or get involved without much success. Most men, however, are focused on developing a career and a life. I think men would be much more significantly convicted if a Christian man in their profession (or one simply further along in career/life) came alongside them to advise them in career, life, and how to grow into being a strong man of God. Now those are men who would send my heart "pitter-pattering!"
Of course such investment by older men requires a sacrifice. I hope it's one they're willing to make for the future of the church, God's people, and their own daughters.
I've felt the same gender imbalance, but in reverse—there are so few Christian women in my area. Actually, I should qualify that by saying there are few single Christian women in or near my age who are interested in somebody who isn't some form of Super Christian or pastor-type person—handsome, outgoing, funny, quick-witted. These aren't bad things, but this leaves an Average Joe like myself feeling as though there are no women out there.
This may be unique to my church, but we have maybe a 3 to 1 ratio of successful single guys to successful single women in the 20 to 30 age group. Of those who are single guys I've noticed a few trends, which might have more to do with our single status than the lack of good Christian women. First is that most of us tend to be the quiet type. Though we're present at church, we may not say hello to somebody new because of our shyness. Personally, this is my difficulty. The second trend has its roots in the first, in that most of us single men tend to prefer supporting roles instead of those onstage in the limelight. We'd rather work the sound room than lead worship. Unfortunately, this decreases our visibility.
I wonder if the dilemma is that there aren't many single Christian men or if it's really that there aren't many outgoing, highly visible, Super Christian single men. In other words, do Christian women tend to notice shy, quiet guys who sit in the back or are we overlooked when it comes to calculating the single men to single women ratio?
The topic of a shortage of single men in our churches hit home for me. I'm a Christian woman in my early 30's and lead the singles group at my church. The male/female ratio has always been very disproportionate for us. While I've always tried to keep our group focused on God to prevent it from turning into a "meet market," it's concerned me that very few men ever attend. Many single men in their 20s and 30s seem much more interested in their careers than in spiritual matters.
Not having a better balance of men and women in our group has really affected us. There's a completely different dynamic that happens in a group when things are more balanced. I know men can contribute a lot to a group and we miss out on that. Not only that, but the men who are in our group don't get the support they need because the strong Christian males just aren't there. I've often wondered how to change things. So I pose a question to the men out there. What can we do to help? I'd like to know what we can do to reach out to our Christian brothers and even to non-believing men who are seeking. Are there any specific strategies we can use to target them? As a woman, I need a male perspective that I don't really have access to otherwise.
I'm a 27-year-old single Christian male. I can count on one hand the number of dates I've had in my life. From my personal experience, here are my suggestions to women looking for places where eligible men (including eligible Christian men) outnumber women:
- Engineering schools. In spite of all efforts to encourage women to enter math- and science-related fields, guys easily still outnumber women in engineering schools. Fortunately, I went to a university where the overall gender ratio was about one to one, but within the engineering school, that certainly wasn't the case. Any social interaction at the engineering school favored women looking for men. For women who can tolerate a bit of geekiness (or who happen to be geeks themselves,) most engineers would make great husbands, being intelligent men working in a respectable career that pays reasonably well while allowing for a good family life.
- Military. Just when I thought the male-female ratio couldn't be worse than engineering school, I got commissioned into the US Navy. Not only that, I entered the submarine service, one of the few all-male communities left in the US military. It's almost like a convent for men. While some Navy men might enjoy a "good time" a little too much, there certainly are many fine Christian men in the ranks. Even if a woman chose not to enter the military herself, she might be pleasantly surprised should she move to a Navy town (especially a submarine port).
- Business school. I thought surely business school must have a large number of women. Um, no. The male-female ratio in business school was only marginally better than engineering school. So, for women interested in finding intelligent, ambitious men, I suggest going to business school. Be warned though! While men in business school generally have better social skills than engineers, they often lack the gentle, laid-back spirit of engineering geeks, and they often find themselves in jobs that require psychotic working hours and constant travel.
- Web forums and online dating. Basically, if it involves a computer, you usually can expect men to outnumber women. Web forums associated with a church or club are often dominated by men. These are often a great way to meet people and even arrange in-person events. As for online dating, profiles of men outnumber profiles of women for almost all dating services. There's no shortage of men online.
- Wherever I am. Sadly, I'm good at unintentionally finding places where men outnumber women. Follow me around, and you'll probably meet a lot of eligible guys and not a lot of women with whom to compete!
Where are the single Christian men? We're everywhere. We're men who love God, cherish people, and desire a relationship with a great woman. We're in the church; we're in the world. I think you find us perhaps more in the latter (though our hearts rest with the former). There are several reasons I believe men are in (supposed) short supply.
Remember that men crave adventure, danger, thrills, and risk. We desire to fight battles and win wars. Unfortunately, the church is vastly effeminate. It speaks of peace and love—it's happy, touchy, emotional, soft, safe, and womanly. We like those things, but not as a way of life. Those are the qualities we love in women, but we can't be fully immersed in them or our manhood is lost. There are few preachers who speak of battles, winning, conquering, overcoming, slaying dragons, rescuing princesses, and joining with other men in a fight for excellence. Instead of learning to embrace our masculine nature in godly pursuit, we're taught to become more feminine (subtly, not overtly). We can't find a fight in the church, so we leave. We are constantly encouraged to be gentle, meek, humble, tender. What about bold, confident, warrior-spirited? We still love God but we can find more fulfillment in the world. Is this right? Not necessarily. But I think it's true.
The other reason is the women. I love women. I think they are God's greatest creation. I dream everyday of my someday wife and daughters. Women are a mystery and an adventure. However, I believe the reason men don't seek out women in the church is because they aren't much different than in the world. Let me explain.
There's a rash of thought and controversy in our culture regarding the "status" or "place" of women. The Bible says things about a woman's place that have been misinterpreted for years. Also, our societal history shows oppressed and downtrodden women for centuries. However, the problem today is the opposite. Women (mostly the feminists and extremists, though they lead the predominant thought in culture) have gone too far. Similar to the "gay rights" movement where it's not about equal rights (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness) but about special rights, the trend is that every time a woman is treated badly we should change policy and disallow that treatment. Hey, people get treated badly … it's called a sinful world. That extreme thought is played over and over in our media and entertainment outlets, literally brainwashing our innocent young girls into believing the world is against them. Naturally, they learn to be tough, independent, stubborn, and self-reliant. These aren't womanly qualities to which men are attracted. Those are the things men strive for in themselves. We don't want a woman to be tougher than we are or so independent she has no need for our abilities. We want her to be tender and gentle—a servant. God calls women AND MEN to be submissive. Women have taken this wrong and swayed too far to the other side. Many women are so independent these days they have a difficult time submitting to anyone (God included). It's interesting that most independent (by the way, not being independent does not mean incapable or unable) women I know are unhappy. If women expect men to differ from the world, they should too.
Those are two main issues I see. Combined, they make a deadly combination that deters and discourages men. No wonder we don't stick around in churches. Obviously, this is the general trend—there are many wonderful exceptions.
Now, what's our responsibility in this? I believe we real men need to stand up and allow these diseases to perpetuate no longer. We need to bind together with other men and speak of great battles and loving our women. We need to submit our lives to God and our pride to our fellow man (and woman). We need to encourage women to rely on God, not themselves or men. We need to lead the church away from the cultural rot that we allow through the doors every Sunday. We are men and it's our responsibility to lead this change.
I know all too well of the shortage of godly single men here in the States, especially being a single 30-something, African-American woman. For me the numbers are even less hopeful than for the larger population. However, I was very surprised to hear that the shortage is a global phenomenon. Upon hearing this, I began to think about the fact that we're living in the end times. I've questioned God many times about why so many of us Christian women are still single well into our 30's and 40's, why we seemingly have to suppress our desire to be married, lest we take on guilt and shame for yearning.
I wish I had an answer that would be suitable for all of us. The only thing I can offer is prayer that our brothers will come forward and step into all of the promises of God for their lives. My prayer today is that we as women of God begin to pray for our men like never before, not out of selfish motivation, but out of a sincere place of longing for our brothers to take their rightful places in church, in ministry, and maybe, just maybe, in our hearts.
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