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Active outcomes put men in pews

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A WOMAN once confided that she wished her husband would come to church with her.

He was a farmer and there was always something to do when you are on the land. She died unexpectedly.

After that her husband attended worship every Sunday. The style of worship hadn’t changed. The farm still needed attention.

Central Queensland Presbytery Minister Rev Kaye Ronalds often wondered about the widower’s attendance and why people stay away from church.

“As a church we are concerned about the groups that are under-represented,” said Ms Ronalds. “We mourn the missing youth, young adults, young families, Indigenous families, middle-aged women or men.”

What triggers people to begin attending worship or to reconnect with a faith community?

What causes people to stop attending? Why are men generally under-represented?

“Over the years I have heard all kinds of reasons proffered… money, too much singing, the wrong kind of music, sermons are an outdated style of communication, haven’t got time.”

Ms Ronalds suggested a wider view.

“Western Christians are not struggling to put food on the table,” she said.

“Our government provides a safety net for vulnerable people and welfare agencies try to address the gaps. For those who are on good incomes the weekends provide a welcome break: time for hobbies, sport and recreation.

For many in our society, Sunday is a day for family and that, for some men, is their first priority and highest calling.”

A round of golf, a game of football, a ride on the bike may recharge and refresh body and spirit, providing an opportunity for contemplation and inner renewal.

Mission Consultant Rev Dr Graham Beattie has looked for historic context to the 2006 National Church Life Survey results for the Queensland Uniting Church.

“The average of the 165 congregations surveyed indicated 64% of attendees were female and 36% male,” he noted.

“I suggest that there are some strong historical and cultural factors behind this.”

Perhaps the modern recreational lifestyle actually flows from an Australian male culture dating back to early white settlement. At times men outnumbered women nine to one.

Dr Beattie said it could be argued that this lack of female companionship resulted in the mythical Aussie male developing a strong sense of mateship with other blokes.

The demands of hard, often isolated work may have created the first absentee Dads: the father who left the ‘women’s work’ of shaping children’s morality and spirituality to his wife – and the church.

“Women made most of the really vital decisions that have shaped the life of families and local communities,” he said.

“As late as the 1970s Australian author-psychologist Ronald Conway concluded, ‘Relying on information obtained from tests and hundreds of case histories at all levels, I would judge that the Australian urban family is shaped mainly by the emotional pressures generated by the mother in over 75% of cases and this trend has not reached its climax’.” (The Great Australian Stupor, Sun Books, 1971, p 91).

Beyond a national male psyche, Ms Ronalds noted that some men (and women for that matter) are not in worship simply because they are running a family business on Sundays. Others are filling the shift rosters of various industries or caught in the seasonal pressures of agriculture. Other men are volunteering at the SES, training with Rural Fire Brigades or taking a turn at the Coast Guard.

They have not rejected God.

“I have also observed that some men are very pragmatic,” she said.

“If church attendance is not actually producing anything, they cannot see the value of it.

“I don’t think less feminine language in worship will suddenly enable men to feel a greater sense of belonging.

“If you take direction, from the boss most of the week, a one sided conversation in the shape of a sermon may seem like more of the same.”

Both Ms Ronalds and Dr Beattie wondered about contemporary men’s attitudes to worship and new expressions of church.

“If those who conduct worship and make decisions in the church hold to the traditional view of Christianity and are suspicious or nervous of emerging styles of Christianity then some people will leave because they cannot see a fit between their experience of the world and the practices and thinking of the church,” said Ms Ronalds.

“Perhaps women will sometimes stay on for the relationships of friendships and loyalty to old friends whereas men are more likely to vote with their feet or say out loud, ‘I no longer believe that’.”

Dr Beattie said decades of Women’s Liberation have created a platform for change in the church.

He pointed to a high percentage of women in the workforce and a breaking down of stereotypical male and female roles in home, work and community.

“For example, in congregations with a younger age profile, especially congregations that are vital and growing we tend to see a higher proportion of men attending worship, usually somewhere between 40-45% of the congregation,” he said.

“While it seems that men are more drawn to active, making a difference, hands on, outcome oriented activities where faith is explored and relationships are developed as a flow on (as contrasted to more discussion centred, relational focused activities) men, and especially men under 45, will attend church services where their contributions and missional passions are affirmed and respected.”

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