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Men and Religion: A Reluctant Relationship

This is news that is probably not all that surprising to most people: men are less likely to embrace religion than women. There have been a number of studies conducted that have confirmed this fact. A survey by Ellison Research found that almost one third ― 31 percent of men — never attend church, even on holidays.

These figures are very striking and revelatory. Most of us would likely not dispute the fact that a sizable percentage of men spend their Sundays satisfying their cravings for sports, beer and catching up on sleep loss during the week. Attending Sunday worship is not on their list. That being said, the fact is that there is another segment of men who do not follow such a regimen yet still do not attend church. Among the likely reasons for this situation are:

1. Men are looking for relevance.

2. Their fathers did not attend church.

3. Many men want to be seen as successful.

4. Many men, particularly younger men, want to be challenged.

5. Many men have lost faith in God or do not believe in God.

6. A number of men are looking for camaraderie.

The list goes on. Let’s address some of these factors.

·        Many men in our 21st century society do not see the value of attending church due to the fact that they do not see the church as addressing issues that are relevant to their current or everyday lives. Issues such as work, family, sexuality, finances, education, etc., are topics that are likely to be rarely or ever addressed from the pulpit.

·        Guys who do not attend church are likely to be the offspring of fathers who did not attend church. These are the men who likely saw their fathers criticize or berate the church or religion in general and were more inclined to sleep in or engage in other activities on Sundays. These negative attitudes were often further solidified once these men reached adulthood.

·        How many men do you know who want to be seen as a loser, failure or derelict? My answer would be zero. Men want to be seen as winners and aspirational. The image of being No. 1 or embodying a sense of heroism is commonplace in the psyche of most men regardless of race, age, religion or socioeconomic status. Many see the church as wanting men who are average, conformist and cut from the same non-threatening cloth. This is undoubtedly a turnoff for younger men, particularly millennials and a few Generation Xers.

·        Many men (not all) by nature tend to be competitive. A large number of men seek risk, adventure, change, competition, action, etc. They see the church in its contemporary state as discouraging such traits, and rather, promoting an image of masculinity that is emasculating as opposed to empowering for men.

·        Men who have grown up with a firm religious foundation usually have an easier time coping with adversity, but, as most of us know, life is filled with many unexpected and unpredictable situations that can test the faith of even the most devoutly religious person. As someone who faced considerable adversity in my life when I was younger, I can attest to the fact that my faith was tested at times; nonetheless, I also knew that it was grace for God that helped me through my crises. Not everyone who faces major setbacks is able to maintain faith. Thus, some eventually forsake their previous religiously held beliefs.

·        There is no doubt that, over the past few decades, immoral behavior, sexual misconduct, financial skullduggery and other unethical behavior have caused many to give cause for pause in regard to their attitudes toward the church. They see church members behaving in a manner that was far from Christ like. In fact, it was behavior that was the antithesis of Christianity.

·        Many men are looking for other men to bond with. The fact is that there have been a considerable number of studies written about the fact that, while many men have plenty of acquaintances, very few men have a good friend. Men need an environment that encourages and fosters camaraderie, brotherhood and bromance. The church has not necessarily done an effective job in this regard.

·        Let’s face it: many men (and women) who are religious and attend church are likely to be looking for an environment that is free of or less prone to harsh judgment. On the contrary, many men see the contemporary church as an environment that is very harsh and judgmental, insensitive or unsympathetic to their situation. This is particularly true among younger men (especially those under 30), many of whom are still attempting to forge an identity and are largely coming to grips with who they are as men. Having the pastor spew a plethora of condemnations toward you can be both humiliating and devastating.

To be sure, there are many churches that have moved beyond the traditional and basic hellfire and brimstone sermons that have largely characterized many houses of worship in America from the Puritan era to the late 20th century. Moreover, there is a growing acknowledgment among many religious leaders that it is crucial for the church and religion in general to successfully adapt, acclimate and become more receptive to the climate of the 21st century, as well as the needs and issues facing the members of their congregations. Let’s hope this will indeed become the case. If so, all I can say is amen.

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