Why “Men’s Ministries” might save the church
So its a Saturday, which is, by no logic whatsoever, the day for Gender-related posts on my blog. I’ve been wondering about this post for a couple of weeks, as I’m more than aware past posts on similar topics have caused considerable conflict. This week I popped in to Conversations, a service in a Vodka bar in York, and my suspicions were largely confirmed: Men’s ministries may still save the church, regardless of the validity of their gendered approach..
This realisation began with a discussion about the criticisms of mainstream church. It seemed that what was being said was that modern mainstream church was geared more towards females, but that churches that successfully aim their work towards men are also drawing in women from outside the church. So if these new, supposedly male-orientated churches are drawing in females as well, and the church is not only losing men at a vast rate but also losing women, isn’t something going a bit wrong with the statistics?
The common argument is that somehow men are more likely to bring along women than women to bring along men. Whilst I can see this being the case in relationships, I wonder if this is not perhaps patronising towards women, even despite some underlying truth.
The fact is, having heard people state clearly they feel the church is appealing to 1950’s gender stereotypes, I can’t ignore the idea that the church is just failing to appeal. If it were aiming at today’s females, would they not be seeing a significant growth in numbers attending, even if the men were ignoring the church completely? Yes, there’s a gender bias, but women have always been see as more spiritually inclined, a phenomenon not limited to Christianity. As such, it might not be a bias on the part of the church, more a bias in the response of the population. If women are more likely to attend, it doesn’t matter what the church does, there will be more of them in churches.
Perhaps the reality is more that the modern Western church, specifically the modern British church, is just not engaging with the general populace. Perhaps what these men’s ministries have as an advantage is simply that they inherently create for themselves the freedom to do things differently and in a more engaging way using the male attendance figures as a strong pretext for urgent and radical action. There’s nothing wrong with this if that’s all we’re talking about, though other factors do wind me up the wrong way.
As such, saying British churches are aimed more towards women than men is actually potentially quite patronising to the women – its perhaps more true that they are aimed at the 1950’s gender stereotype for women. The world has changed, and both genders respond differently to the way they did 60 years ago.
I shall take as an example of this Conversations, the church in the Vodka bar, Its run by someone with a big passion to see more men in church. Now, we have our disagreements, but I’ve been to Conversations twice and was struck by just how much more appealing it seemed to be to everyone. Yes, the drop-off in male attendance was part of the pretext, but its not what I see happening. I don’t see Conversations as having very much to do with gender, even if its clear that men are significantly happier with the format.
So, yes, Men’s Ministries and churches specifically targeting today’s men might have more success all round, but is this really because they target men? Is it not perhaps because the depressing statistics force them to re-evaluate what men want, in a more honest and deep-rooted way, and then create a better church environment all round? I’m not convinced of the premise, but I think the outcomes, if they create more inclusive churches that are more aware of the reality of modern life from which people are being drawn, this offers an expression of hope seen in few other quarters in today’s Western Church.