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Male-Female Imbalance in Church Leaves Women Alone

  • John McNeil/Challenge Weekly ASSIST News Service
  • 2006 4 Oct
Male-Female Imbalance in Church Leaves Women Alone

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND (ANS) — Where are the single Christian men? And why does the Church by and large still not know what to do with the older single Christian?
FRUSTRATION: A lot of the men who are of marriageable age don't know how to pursue women properly. ... They are all looking for Pamela Anderson, because of the media. ... They're all going for looks first, instead of character - it's a huge problem in the Church at the moment.
For at least a century women have generally outnumbered men in the Western Church. According to Barna research in the United States, there are between 11 million and 13 million more born-again women than born-again men there, and according to 2000 American census findings, there are 86 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women.

No one knows the equivalent figures in New Zealand. Some say that women predominate because church is culturally more feminine, but inquiries show that despite major changes in the way churches do things – with more culturally relevant services – there is still a big imbalance of the sexes across most age groups.

Women seeking partners are as frustrated as they ever were.

And the societal shift towards “girls can do anything” doesn’t appear to have helped greatly.

Robyn Burnett, aged 30 and single, a staff member at one of Christchurch’s larger churches – Hornby Presbyterian Community Church – says that in the 25 to 35 age group she can think of only three single men, against 10 women. Among older singles, there are two men and 10 women.

“The majority of women are looking for partners. The common complaint is that the men are either too young or they’re married. It seems to be women left single – I don’t know why.

“Perhaps the Church is not attracting guys. Churches tend to be very emotional kind of places, which is much more attractive to a woman than a guy, generally speaking.”

A nationwide friendship group, Christian Friendship Fellowship, holds social events for members in various cities.

Founder Norma Laing, of Nelson, says that from the inquiries CFF gets, women would outnumber men. “Our membership is largely in the 35 to 45 age group and two-thirds are women.

“Most of the women are probably in the 45 age group, while the men are generally younger. So there is an imbalance of age as well as gender.”

Belinda Devlin, founder of Auckland-based Christian dating agency 74heaven, says they have 50 per cent fewer males on their books. In the 30 to 40 age group there are three times more women, and among 40 to 50s twice as many.

Things even up, though, in the 50-plus group. “This goes against the thought that there are fewer men over 50 for those looking.

“From observation, men in second relationships (usually the 40 to 50 age group) generally find another partner quickly whereas women often have children to care for and recover from a break-up a little slower and are often on their own for a longer length of time.”

Ms. Devlin says guys are also usually more readily available to go out to events, so 74heaven often has a male surplus at these. The reason is that the women often have children, which means babysitting costs.

“Women are also more prone to be nervous about getting out by themselves on the dating circuit, or they have done the experience once and not met Mr. Right the first time and so are discouraged.”

Tereze Vermunt works with young people in the area of sex and sexuality through Blueprint, a division of The Rock church in Wellington. When called by Challenge Weekly, she had just returned from her honeymoon.

Mrs. Vermunt said that in her experience there was definitely an imbalance of sexes in churches she visited.

“My husband went to a different church – both of our churches had a significant difference between men and women, and it meant that women were either finding themselves very frustrated, or they were going out with non-Christians.

“Not only that, a lot of the men who are of marriageable age don’t know how to pursue women properly. Everything’s based on feelings, I suppose. They are all looking for Pamela Anderson, because of the media.

“It’s a really big problem for guys, because of all the pornography that’s out there, and all the advertising. They’re all going for looks first, instead of character – it’s a huge problem in the Church at the moment.

“Or they’ll get into a relationship and freak out after a month or six weeks – do a runner. They’re not taught what commitment is. They think if their feelings suddenly change and they’re not falling madly in love with this woman, it all must be wrong.”

So what do women do when they want to find a partner?

Mrs. Vermunt says they might ask for the help of friends. But some Christian women are making the mistake of thinking that if a male shows any interest at all in church, “they’ll think that means they can put them on the available list. A lot of guys will start going to church for a girl, and some girls think that is sufficient.

“In my experience, the result is pretty much always bad. I can think of three off the top of my head that have happened quite recently - where the guy has gone to church with a girl, it hasn’t worked out and he hasn’t set foot in the door again.

“I can think of only one time when it worked out, and that was a Christian guy and a non-Christian girl. When I first became a Christian, I went out with a non-Christian guy, and he became a Christian. But when we broke up he fell away.

“In my opinion some people should not be dating anybody because of issues within themselves that need to be sorted out first. But when everybody else is getting together with somebody, and you’re left alone, it’s very easy to get into a wrong relationship.”

Says Robyn Burnett: “It’s not just a case of a male being available. We want the right sort of person. We look for someone who’s on fire for God, and there’s a serious lack of that.”

Despite the imbalance, she doesn’t think many women change churches for the sake of finding a partner.

“We crave intimacy, and we can do that with other women. So for me to up and leave would mean leaving who I am intimate with. We would relate at a deep level with our women friends, which is also what we want from a guy.

“But if we go to another church just to find a husband, we lose that support we already have. Whereas I think guys would struggle to get that close to other guys anyway, so they’re more likely to go somewhere else.”

Consequently, she believes Christian women do settle for non-Christian husbands, “which I think is really sad. I have seen it happen. It’s in the hope that they’re going to find God, and that when they get married everything will work out.”

“But it’s not great. Because once they’re married the guy’s got everything he needs and he just cruises along with life.

“I know of one couple where the guy did become a Christian and it’s worked out really well. But there was a lot of heartache along the way. Every other case I know of – and there’s been a few – it’s never worked out.”

One avenue is to use a dating agency or the internet to find that special someone.

Norma Laing says many CFF members also use other agencies, “or any avenue they can to find friendship, for example overseas websites. The Church doesn’t cater for them – the singles ministry is not high on the priorities - so I guess they will try and find any avenue.”

Belinda Devlin, of 74heaven, agrees that women sometimes feel forced to go outside the Church.

“I think we are seeing something critical that the Church isn't catering for. Loneliness – especially when having been in a relationship – is hard to handle. I see single Christians often settling for non-godly partners because of this.

“There is also the perception there is no-one else out there that is a decent enough Christian man. I guess in this society there are so many issues addressing us – break-ups, pornography, loneliness, baggage – that it complicates and challenges the single Christian.

“The reason I started 74heaven was I was so angry at what Satan was getting away with that I felt we needed a place where it was okay to be single – but on the cutting edge – feeling good about oneself rather than the fringe single groups at church.

“It has been a battle to keep it all happening, but is satisfying seeing friendships made, engagements and weddings among like-minded believers.”

The pressure to find a partner means that some Christian singles are cohabiting or engaging more often in casual sex. It’s not something the Church talks much about, but Robyn Burnett acknowledges that it is becoming more common.

“They are generally younger, of student age – ones that I know of. Among my friends, we’ve waited so long we might as well keep on waiting.”

Tereze Vermunt says people start out with good intentions, but sometimes get themselves into trouble.

“In all of our churches there will be young couples who fall into sexual relationships, make mistakes and push the boundaries too much, because they are not taught what the boundaries should be – or, more importantly, why we have those boundaries.

“There is definitely more pressure now in the churches, because of the media.”

She believes the Church is not doing sufficient to teach their young people in this area.

“I go to a church that was established for younger people. And there’s no mentoring in this area. I guess the generations before us were not really taught, so they’re not sure how to talk about it, either.

“My generation lacks mentorship. We lack a lot of spiritual guidance – people shining the way. It’s pretty good when you can come across someone older who can talk about it.”

But the Church appears just as uncomfortable dealing with older singles. “There is pressure for Christians to get married and start building the family, perhaps not quite as early as it used to be. I’m 24, and I and my friends were already feeling the pressure.

Robyn Burnett also says the Church does not handle single people well. “They don’t know where to put them, it doesn’t matter how old they are. There’s a feeling, ‘we don’t know where to put them, and that makes us uncomfortable, so we’ll just ignore them.’

“Singles are always included as the young adults because there’s nowhere else for them to go. They don’t fit with the families situation or the couples thing. A lot of single people feel on the outer.

“I don’t know if I’ve come up with an answer as to what the Church can do about this. I think it’s accepting that it’s okay to be single. God loves marriage and family, but he also loves singles.

“It might be hard being single, but it’s hard being married as well.”

© 2006 ASSIST News Service.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.