As the Church declines in the West, the equal and opposite reaction from within the Church is, "What do we have to do to attract and/or keep our members?" Asset-rich but people-poor churches are either revamping worship services, upgrading hospitality efforts, or soft-pedaling doctrine in an effort to throw off old and negative stereotypes.
Once the dominant player in culture, that literally had the power to send to heaven or hell, now the Church is practically reduced to begging people to consider what she has to say. And she will pretty much say whatever you want her to for the privilege of a listen. This is all very reasonable and an expected reaction. It's what any business would do when sales decline: change the product, increase the marketing, listen to polling data.
And in the Church, generally what gets lost in this age of scrutinization are the hard edges. You know, the kinds of things that keep the un-churched, the de-churched, and hurt-by-church away. Hard stances on hell and salvation? Gone. Traditional liturgies with vestments, hymns, and the recitation of creeds? Gone. Expecting visitors to conform to your norms, learn your doctrines, and adapt to your standards? Gone.
Now, it is a bit like the old joke where a man asks a mathematician, a minister, and a lawyer what two plus two is. The mathematician answered 4. The minister answered the same. The lawyer answered, "What do you want it to be?" Now, the world comes to the church and says, "What do you believe?" The mathematician gives a literal, creedal answer. The lawyer gives the answer that strictly conforms to the liability policy and recent lawsuits against churches. It is the minister who says, "What do you want us to believe?"
The loss of those hard edges has given rise to the church being labeled "feminine" in recent years. That is, the Church soft-pedals its message and its aesthetics because it is playing ecclesiastical prevent defense. Rather than aggressively promoting this or that, the Church is trying to attract and appeal to the unchurched. Churches now are more likely to present emotionally-charged sermons and worship services, a feminine trait in the eyes of many. The music is also emotionally-driven. Don't tell me waving arms while singing "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs is something most men would be comfortable with, though some are, of course.
And there is a stronger emphasis now on close-knit communities and fellowship, often through small groups. These strike many men - and not a few women - as overtly feminine traits. That is not to say they are wrong, of course, only that they represent one of the sexes more than the other. In general, the church is seen as weaker because it is seeking to attract adherents rather than stand on principle, unashamed of what it believes. As personal relationship building - rightly or wrongly - is often seen as the province of women, the church by and large does seem to be lead by women and attracting women.
Those are not just anecdotal observations, as according to Pew Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Evangelical Protestant churches have a 10% gender gap (roughly 55%-45% women to men). What is interesting about that is that most of those churches do not ordain women, so that issue cannot account for the gap.
There have been many ham-fisted attempts to attract men, but they run the risk of being equally stereotypically-driven. Muscle Car Days at the church or the pastor entering the sanctuary on a motorcycle come to mind. One pastor came in on a zip line I guess to be geeky and cool. I'll take the relational approach any day over what others perceive to be masculine. In the end, getting the local biker gang to stop by the church parking lot one Sunday won't sustain the Church.
Likewise, soft-pedaling what we believe, whether that is "feminine" or not - won't sustain the Church, either. Why can't we simply say that we need both relational ministries and we need to be firm in what we believe? We need to be kind when visitors enter our sanctuaries and we need to have strong communities that support one another and work together for the Kingdom. We also need to seek and destroy efforts to be attractive if and when such attempts compromise any doctrine.
In that same Pew data, there are a number of religions that are majority male, and most of them would fall on the side of being uncompromising when it comes to doctrine: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. There are things about each of those faiths that I wouldn't want to emulate, either. As Jesus himself thinks of the Church as his bride, perhaps we should simply heed Paul's marital advice as found in Ephesians 5. The Church should aim to respect men and love women. Or rather, maybe we should strive to be respectable to men and lovable to women. In general, that seems to be what these different, compatible genders need. Of course, that is not true for all men and women. I know plenty of doctrinally-fierce women and men who attend church for the relational benefits.
But it is hard to deny that the Church is on a course to attract itself into irrelevancy. Whether that is a "feminine" problem or not, I wouldn't be comfortable saying. But it is hard to imagine men wanting to participate in an institution that panders to them or simply appeals to the heart and not the mind. And it is even harder to imagine the children of those men will even darken the door. From an older article from Touchstone magazine: "It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children."
So be tough and loving, Church. We need both. I believe Paul said it best: "Speak the truth in love."
Photo Credit: Gallup.com-polling-opinion-matters