Churches nationwide are fretting and sweating to reel men into their sanctuaries on Sundays. Women outnumber men in attendance in every major Christian denomination and they are 20 percent to 25 percent more likely to attend worship at least weekly.
Although every soul matters, many pastors say they need to power up on reaching men if the next generation of believers, the children, will find the way to faith. So hundreds of churches are going for a "guy church" vibe, programming for a stereotypical man's man.
"I hear about it everywhere I go," says Brandon O'Brien, who detailed the evolution of the chest-thumping evangelism trend this spring in Christianity Today.
One church, 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas, outside Dallas, was even designed with dudes in mind, from the worship center's stone floor, hunter-green and amber decor and rustic-beam ceilings to woodsy scenes on the church Web site. Women are welcome, but the tone is intentionally "guy church" for a reason, says Ross Sawyers, founder and pastor of 121.
"I have read that if a child comes to Christ, 12 percent of the time the whole family will follow," Sawyers says. "If the mom comes, there's a 15 percent chance the family will. But if the man comes to church, 90 percent of the time the family will come along behind.
That's the reality, and that's why we do this."
Recent surveys show:
Some 52 percent of women and 48 percent of men say they identify with a particular religion, and women are the majority in 21 of 25 Christian denominations, according to the recent U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of 35,000 people by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. And 77 percent of women but just 65 percent of men say their faith is very important in their lives, according to a 2008 survey of 1,006 adults by Barna Research in Ventura, Calif.
Decades of traditional men's ministries and fellowship groups within most churches even the stadium-packing 1990s all-male rallies run by the Promise Keepers haven't made a dent.
Blame the church, not the men, says David Murrow, author of "Why Men Hate Going to Church" (Thomas Nelson, 2004, $14.99).
Warm, nurturing congregations ignore men's need to face the epic struggles of living for Christ, writes Murrow, of Chugiak, Alaska, on his Web site, churchformen.com. He trains leaders for Promise Keepers and writes on his Web site: "We've wrapped the Gospel in this man-repellent package."
If they could pump essence of testosterone into the sanctuary, some churches might try it. O'Brien says most of the "guy churches" don't go to the degree 121 has, "but much more prevalent and more alarming is the number of churches that promote a stereotype of muscular male behavior as the only correct godly way to be."
O'Brien counter-punches that those who prefer lattes and books to bows and arrows are equally able to embody Christ-like qualities. "Guy church" pastors should not forget that "humanity in the image of Christ is not aggressive and combative; it is humble and poor."