“Where are the men?” has long been the cry of those observing the congregations attending Christian services. Writers such as Edward Weston and James Fordyce could be found complaining about the relative absence of male worshippers in the eighteenth century, and prominent Nonconformists such as John Clifford added their concerns in the Victorian era.
When the first large-scale census of churchgoing which controlled for gender was conducted, in inner and outer London in 1902-03, 61% of worshippers were found to be women. At the 2005 English church census the proportion was 57%.
Sorted magazine (the “lads’ mag” for Christians, launched in November 2007) and Christian Vision for Men have recently come together to examine the phenomenon of male attitudes to churchgoing.
They commissioned Christian Research to oversee a new empirical investigation, which was undertaken by Research Now among a representative sample of 1,003 UK men, interviewed online between 9 and 14 April 2010.
Headline findings from the survey were released by Christian Research at last month’s International Christian Resources Exhibition in Esher. There is also an article in the current issue (No. 20, May 2010) of Christian Research’s membership magazine, Quadrant, while another short feature (later repackaged by the Baptist Times and Methodist Recorder) is available online at:
Although most men have visited a church within the past two years, principally for a rite of passage, it is apparently not a place in which they feel entirely at ease, in comparison with other environments which were enquired about. The latter even included ladies underwear shops, where many men said they would feel more relaxed than in a place of worship.
Only 20% of men said they would feel very comfortable in church, with 41% uncomfortable. There were significant variations by age, with 58% of the 18-24 year-olds feeling uncomfortable in church but 22% of the over-65s. Even among professing Christians, 41% of 18-24 year-olds feel uncomfortable in church.
Hymn-singing partly explains male discomfort about attending a church service. 48% have an aversion to singing hymns, with still bigger numbers of the young and those with no religious affiliation.
However, there is also discomfort about singing in public more generally, such as in public houses (60%) and at parties (52%). Only in the privacy of the shower (83%) and alone in the car (86%) do men feel totally relaxed about exercising their vocal chords.
Levels of discomfort fall to 20% when it comes to men having a conversation with the vicar, with 28% very comfortable and 51% quite comfortable. There are notable differences by age, once more, both for the sample as a whole and for the sub-sample of Christians (33% of whom aged between 18 and 24 would be uncomfortable about chatting to the vicar).
Setting church on one side, religious profession is also heavily conditioned by age. The number of Christians is only 42% for men aged 18-24, against 84% for the over-65s. Another 15% of the youngest cohort claim to follow other religions (2% among the over-65s), while 44% have no religion at all (14% for the over-65s).
In summary, according to the author of the Quadrant article, “the survey highlights the urgent need to find better ways of engaging young men – both to encourage them to become Christians and to help those who are Christians feel more comfortable to practise their faith”.