For the cover article of the spring issue of Biola Connections, we interviewed David Murrow, the author of a provocative new book, Why Men Hate Going to Church (Nelson Books, March 2005). The interview includes many of his thoughts that we didn’t have space to include in the article. Here’s what he said.
What made you interested in the topic of men and the church?
At various times in my life, I have had a little bit of difficulty finding my place in the church. I noticed that was a very common experience. I knew a lot of guys who had met Jesus Christ and wanted to be His followers, but had very little interest in church activities, had trouble integrating themselves into the life of the church, found sermons boring, that they [sermons] were too long — these were common complaints. They couldn’t find a ministry that used their skills and gifts, they felt alone in church. It’s not only that men don’t go to church. A lot of the men who do go kind of grit their teeth every Sunday. Even for a lot of the men who are in church on Sunday, the church is not meeting their needs.
In your book, you say that a lot of the ministry opportunities in churches are geared toward women. Can you explain what you mean?
A lot of the volunteer opportunities in the church involve roles that have been traditionally held by women. Most churches need people to volunteer in the nursery, to work with children in Sunday School, to cook meals, to plan ceremonial gatherings and sing in choirs. Given that list of volunteer opportunities, a lot of guys feel marginalized. There’s that old hymn, “Give of Your Best to the Master.” The problem is most churches today don’t need men’s best; they need women’s best. And so men end up doing ushering, or they serve on the building committee, and really there are not a lot of male roles in churches. A role that takes advantage of a man’s gifts. The church I now attend has an automotive ministry. We take donated vehicles, fix them up, and then turn around and give them to single moms and the working poor. What we’re finding is, this is not only a way for a man to give back but, once they’re under the hood of a car with a little bit of grease on their hand, they will open up and talk about their lives in a way they would never do sitting in a Sunday School class on a hard metal chair. Men don’t usually relate well face-to-face; they relate side-by-side while they’re doing something else. So much of our church activities and our spiritual work are based on the face-to-face model, and that’s tough for a man.
Can you give an example of a church that is doing men’s ministry well?
New Commandment in Colorado. They have a model where men’s ministry is based on teams of four. You take four guys, they get together for breakfast on Saturday and pray, and then they go out and minister to a woman in the community — like a single mom or elderly woman. They spend one Saturday a month at her house doing whatever she needs done: help wash the car, watch the kids, fix a broken light fixture. [In a case like this] men are not gathering just to study the book of Jeremiah; they’re gathering around a purpose and a mission, and that’s what galvanizes men.
In your book, you also address the length of sermons. Can you elaborate on this?
My big beef with the sermons is their length. Studies have shown that the average American man has an attention span of six to eight minutes. The average Protestant sermon is 31 minutes long, and it’s getting longer by the year. The church with the largest gender gap in America is the African American church where sermons typically go 75 to 90 minutes long. So, the longer the sermon, the fewer men you’re going to have in your church. That’s a generalization. There are a few churches like Mars Hill in Seattle that are bucking this trend. The guy [at Mars Hill] goes on for an hour and a half, and he’s got a lot of men. But, generally speaking, the number of men who can sit still for a long verbal lecture, who are physiologically capable of being locked into a lecture for that long, is smaller than the number of women who can do that. That’s a function of their biology, not their spirituality. Men have 10 times more testosterone in their bodies than women do which makes them more prone to wiggling, moving around, needing to get up and move more often than women do. Men just need space, need to move around and get up. Also, the verbal regions of a woman’s brain are much more developed than those in a man, so women respond well to verbal stimulus whereas men are more experiential. They experience God through being outdoors, through having adventures with Him. Even some high-church rituals are more meaningful than a spoken sermon would be with certain men who grew up in those traditions.
What would the ideal church look like?
It hasn’t been invented yet. That’s what the purpose of my ministry is: to get God’s people praying and seeking the answer. I think the ideal structure for that church is found in the Gospels where Jesus took 12 men and discipled them intently and then said, “Go out and do everything I did.” I think the ideal church structure is a pastor taking on 10 or 12 men, making them his disciples, and then sending them out to find 12 more. I found a church based on that discipleship model in Texas [PowerHouse Christian Center), and it’s growing very quickly and seeing tremendous transformation among the men.
For more information about David Murrow’s ministry, visit churchformen.com