Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Our Church" -- ?

Courtesy of our beloved InstaPundit comes this curious report:

How Far Should Churches Go to Appeal to Men?

One question has plagued the modern church over the past few years: how to appeal to men, particularly to fathers? Churches across North America have tried different tactics to lure men into the fold, with varying degrees of success. Men’s events like motorcycle rallies and fish fries often work. Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix once temporarily replaced a planter in their foyer with a motorcycle in an attempt to attract male members. Eastridge Community Church, where I am a member and serve, has brought in various players and coaches from the University of Georgia football team for men’s events.

But should churches consider the impact of their worship music? The women of one church in Canada did, and they enacted changes that increased their male attendance....

Without changing anything other than the music, the church’s gender gap quickly evaporated. Men participated more, including a marked increase in the number of men who spoke their praises aloud to God. And overall attendance grew.

The title of that piece -- "How Far Should Churches Go To Appeal To Men" -- irritates me greatly, and for more than one reason. But the body of the thing is puzzling in the extreme. A superficial change -- the excision from the liturgical music schedule of pieces deemed "too feminine" -- increased both male attendance and overall attendance? Really? How about asking the next questions?

  • Who are these new male attendees?
  • What sort of men are they? Husbands or singles? Fathers or childless? Workingmen, idlers, or retirees?
  • What prompted them to attend? (After all, they couldn't experience the change in music without first being there, now could they?)

Superficial matters matter to the superficial; the rest of us yawn and change the channel. All the same, at least someone has noticed that men have distanced themselves from churchly attendance and involvement in an unprecedented proportion. But it would be nice were our clerics to consider soberly what it is about contemporary Christian practices has so depopulated their congregations of Y chromosomes.

Any question that asks "why men," or "why women," or "why women but not men," et cetera ad nauseam infinitam, is a question about the innate differences between the sexes. Inasmuch as one risks being tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail for even daring to suggest that there are such differences, it's no surprise that such questions are asked only infrequently and always sotto voce.

All the same, one of the reasons you come here, Gentle Reader, is because I'm crazy enough not only to ask such questions, but to do so in a loud voice, and to answer them without regard for popularity, political correctness, or who might take offense. So let's get it on, shall we? To begin, the most salient and penetrating questions are:

  1. What differences between the sexes are relevant to Christian affiliation and involvement?
  2. Are those differences natural, cultural, or incidental to particular congregations?
  3. Has the Church changed perceptibly? If so, was it in "message," or merely in tone?
  4. What aspects of those changes would appeal differentially to men and women?
  5. What forces or influences brought those changes about?

Let's examine the matter through those lenses.

The Church exists to conserve and promulgate the Gospels of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the Redeemer of Mankind. It has no other legitimate mission. Those Gospels, which a sincere Christian believes to be substantially accurate records of the commandments and other teachings Christ bestowed on Mankind, constitute the whole of the Christian creed, mythos and ethos both.

Time was, Christian clerics understood this. They stuck to the Gospels. They emphasized their primacy, and were humble before the Authority expressed therein. They didn't try to lard the Gospels down with officious dictates that have no foundation in the words of Christ.

Time was.

Today's Church -- and in using the capital C, I don't mean to refer solely to the Catholic Church, though it stands at the center of Christianity and is ever in my thoughts -- doesn't exactly demean the Gospels, but it certainly emphasizes quite a lot of activity beyond the promulgation and explication of the Gospels. Most of that activity falls under one of two headings:

  • "Good works"
  • "Reaching out"

"Good works," one of the doctrinal tenets of Catholicism and an important part of most of Protestant Christianity as well, have been at the forefront of congregational activity for centuries. "Reaching out" is a modern addition, an attempt to increase congregation size by appealing to groups traditionally uninterested in or hostile toward the Church. Both these motifs result in the proliferation of "programs."

It sometimes seems that the most serious activity in a Catholic parish is making sure there are "programs" for every imaginable "need," and that all such activities are well staffed and funded. Some such "programs" do have some relation to Jesus's teachings, though some are feel-good exercises that don't objectively benefit anyone, and one or two are actual departures from the wisdom of the Redeemer. But all require participants, and therefore time.

Even today, with women in the American labor force to an unprecedented degree, women have more discretionary time per capita than men.

Christian clerics can't help but respond to this. More, experience shows that people tend to collect around those like them, and that those who already give are the best bet for giving more. Thus, once a "program" becomes female-dominant, it tends to accelerate in that direction until male participation has dwindled to little or none.

Statistically, men tend to prefer individual decision-making and action. Eons of evolution have oriented us toward the roles of protector and provider. We outperform women at tasks that require aggression, concentration, and symbolic manipulation. Though we are capable of the full range of human emotions, we tend to subordinate emotional considerations in our decision-making. The manly virtues are not some sort of artificial veneer we don for mating purposes, but an expression of our natures.

Statistically -- I have to keep saying that if I don't want some feminist harridan to start raving about exceptions that "disprove" my thesis -- women tend toward consensus decision-making and collaboration. Eons of evolution have oriented them toward collective action, particularly in matters that go beyond an individual woman's individual or familial concerns. They outperform men as organizers and front-line managers, though their advantage disappears at higher levels in a corporate hierarchy. They are more susceptible to emotional appeals than men. And of course, they are more domestically and parentally oriented than most men, though those traits are probably not germane to this subject.

These divergences between the sexes factor into involvement in the Church in certain ways. The "programmatic" aspect is probably clearest, as any "program" is likely to emphasize consensus and organization over individual initiative. But the differences also affect our responses to religious rituals. A rite that attempts to elicit powerful emotions rather than depths of comprehension will be more to women's tastes. To the extent that contemporary religious practices emphasize the emotional aspect of Christianity -- and the trend in that direction began decades ago -- they appeal more strongly to female communicants, perhaps far more strongly.

Perhaps the most painful aspect of the disaffiliation of men from the Church pertains to preachments from the pulpit.

When the CSO and I go on vacation, I make a point of acquainting myself with the local Catholic parish, at least to the extent of attending Mass. The trend in sermonizing has quite definitely been away from salvation and toward Earthly compassion. Indeed, much of that preaching explicitly exhorts the congregants to endorse and support specific government programs. As a man determined to keep my own counsel about politics and make my own decisions about charity, the practice repels me; I find it hard to imagine a self-respecting man who'd react favorably to it.

But women seem to like it. The emotional reward from "doing good"...well, at least according to the pastor's own lights...appears to influence them positively and powerfully. Groups that respond to such exhortations, particularly those concerned with some political issue, are almost uniformly female.

That's a considerable departure from the words of Jesus:

“Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:1-4]

...but it synergizes with women's preference for collective action.

All the above combine into a single thrust toward female preferences and aptitudes. They fail to ratify men's preferences, our special capabilities, or the manly virtues to which Christian men have traditionally aspired. The overall effect is to give many Christian men the sense that the Church is indifferent to us or worse -- that women have the tiller and will keep it to themselves. As we prefer not to insert ourselves where we're not wanted, the consequences could not be more obvious.

If Christian clerics are conscious of these forces and approve of them, I fear there's little to be done. To those who are unaware, or who are bewildered by the absence of men from the pews and "programs:" Consider this a wake-up call.


A Reader said...

Oh, for the love of Pete. Here we have a faith which revolves around the Bridegroom winning back His bride at the cost of His own life, and then walking out of His grave three days under His own steam, and we're talking about motorcycles in the foyer? A faith which rests itself - and a Church who rests herself - in the proactive love of He Who invented masculinity, and folks think we have a marketing problem? What we have is a frelling reading comprehension problem. Didn't He say "If I am lifted up, I will draw all men to me", or am I just imagining that?

It's simple. Granted, there are mysteries. The Trinity, for one thing. Christ and the Church, for another. Maybe when we as American Christians accepted divorce as normal or at least permissible with our churches, we lost something more than the right to lecture those outside the Church about the sanctity of marriage.

Perhaps in giving up on lifelong union and on our brides, we lost the capacity to see our Bridegroom as we should and to appreciate His love by feeling a fraction of it flowing through us toward our own brides. Having disbelieved His love, we no longer preach it. No longer preaching the plain, simple Gospel, our churches lose their purpose and die on the vine.

Kyrie Eleison.

Rick C said...

I wouldn't base my decision on whether or not to go to a church on the music, but I do know that at the church I went to before I moved a few years ago played a lot of modern music that I didn't like very much. They also played it so loudly it hurt my ears. That could make me not want to go to service.

Also, entirely as an aside, they played a modernized and bastardized version of Amazing Grace with new lyrics added that would have embarrassed any decent person. Horrible, horrible song, although nobody I ever talked to seemed to mind it the way I did.

Again, not something that on it's own would make me not go to a church...probably. But all else being equal, if there were two churches, one that played insipid modern music and one that didn't, I'd probably choose the latter to attend.

Francis W. Porretto said...

I must say that high among my irritations with the contemporary liturgy is the obnoxious practice of having loud music playing during and after the distribution of the Eucharist. We're supposed to be communing with Christ, which is a lot harder to do with insipid music being blasted at you at a pain-threshold volume.

LordSomber said...

Interesting, if somewhat related post:


Pleistarchos said...

Oh my, did you hit the nail on the head. I can't recall the last time that I heard any talk of sin, redemption, and calls to holiness at mass. I fear that we are being set on a path to being perceived as irrelevant in the eyes of those who see the Church as a second-class Social Justice organization.