State of the Church: Where Are the Dudes? And Where's the Apologetics?

The following post is the first part of what will be an ongoing series, "The State of the Church," where we look at issues relevant to the current state of the body of Christ. Through these posts, we hope to bring to light issues of both encouragement and criticism which we feel deserve more attention.

This is a pretty common question today in the church, and not without good reason. From the college level, to young professionals, to families, to the more chronologically experienced, there seem to be a lot more women involved and active in the church than men.

How could this be? It’s been called a real crisis in the church by many. There are quite a few explanations given for the overall lack of presence of men; unfortunately, the conversation often devolves into misandristic bashing (yes, I did just invent the word “misandristic”). Before moving on, it is important to stress that the crisis should not be overstated; in many conversations over the subject, it seems pastors, elders, and male worship team members somehow don’t count towards the overall level of involvement of men in the church. That said, even taking them into account it seems men are just less involved.

In attempts to solve this problem, the issues are often oversimplified, so that a single reason and its corresponding solution emerge as dominant. I tend to think the issues at hand are complex, and that there may be many reasons for men being less involved. Here I hope to cover one or two that are seldom – or never – mentioned. I do not think for a moment they are the only – or even primary – reasons. Nonetheless, identifying these reasons may go a long way in finding a solution and turning the tide.

One of the reasons may be that the church has become increasingly feminine – there are far more programs for women, the radio programs generally attract women, the worship often doesn't pass the Girlfriend Test,1 etc. I recently had a young pastor admit to me his consternation at the fact that the church is essentially catering to the effeminate, in worship and in content. He just wants some of the theologically meaty hymns that have been such a big part of the church for so long, and instead he gets written-in-the-last-20-years songs that are (mostly) emotionally driven and theologically vague – even vapid. He also would like to see courses on theology in the church.

This dovetails into the second – and somewhat related – cause: where’s the intellectual outlet? Start teaching theology, philosophy, and apologetics in the church and I guarantee you will see a lot more dudes. And I’m sure there's more than a few women who would appreciate having an intellectual outlet in the church. The Christian philosopher William Lane Craig publishes a monthly newsletter detailing some of the public speaking he’s done in the last month. The April newsletter had this to say on the subject:
One overwhelming impression of these engagements is the way in which the intellectual defense of Christian faith attracts men. Both at Texas A&M and again at Miami every single student who got up to ask a question was a guy! I wondered if the girls are just shy. But then I remembered a lengthy clip Jan and I watched of cast members of Downton Abbey doing a Q&A with an audience in New York. Almost every person who came to the microphone at that event was a woman! It wasn’t until late into the evening that a man finally asked a question, which was remarked by all the cast members. Why the difference between that session and the ones I experienced?—simply because the Downton Abbey program is highly relational, which is more appealing to women, whereas my talks were principally intellectually oriented, which is more appealing to men.

Churches have difficulty attracting men, and the church is becoming increasingly feminized. I believe that apologetics is a key to attracting large numbers of men (as well as women) to church and to Christ. By presenting rational arguments and historical evidences for the truth of the Gospel, by appealing to the mind as well as the heart, we can bring a great influx of men into the Kingdom.

Consider my own experience with a church I attended while in graduate school. They had a biweekly meeting the called “Theology at the Taproom.” It was held in a private room of a local microbrewery, where Christians in the community would fellowship over food and beer and discuss an assigned book on theology – Bonhoeffer, Lewis, Calvin, Eckhart, Aquinas, and others. I was only able to attend once (remember, this was during grad school), and I couldn’t help but notice that while there were some women, there were tons of dudes.

Add to this the somewhat more sobering anecdotes from both authors of this blog. Both of us know guys who either drifted away from or utterly rejected the Christian faith because what was being presented to them on Sundays (and other days of the week) was not intellectually satisfying, and did not answer the challenge from their own studies in various scientific fields. There was no voice from within the church to answer the challenges from without in these men’s lives, and because of it they left the church. Certainly, there is a spiritual element in each of these cases, but the lack of intellectual response from the church – and the lack of resources for finding answers – cannot be ignored.

You may hear a pastor take a shot at evolution or at some half-baked scientist, but there is no real defense of the Christian faith from the pulpit. “Well that’s not part of the pastor’s responsibility when preaching,” you might reply. First off, I would argue that it is; but even conceding that, what about Sunday school classes dealing with issues of theology and apologetics? “Well Sunday school isn’t meant for that sort of thing; it’s to work through books of the Bible and should focus on spiritual content.” Fine. But where can we go to learn more about theology? To learn how to defend our faith? To have our questions answered? To have our doubts assuaged? Hello?

William Lane Craig has many times written and spoken about the importance of having apologetics teaching in the church. Ravi Zacharias – who has basically made a career of defending the faith and building up other people’s faith – has a page on his website outlining the need for apologetics in the church. There are many other apologetics outlets making the same plea2 - and in large part it seems to be falling on deaf ears.

More than once I have heard the charge that the church needs to move away from being overly intellectual. I would dearly love to visit one of these churches, because the dozens I’ve either attended or visited have revealed no such thing. Clearly, the church should not reinvest in its intellectual life at the expense of heartfelt worship. At the same time, we cannot leave off reinvigorating the intellectual life of the church simply because of a fear of treading compassion underneath. We must love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, and minds. This is not an either-or issue; it must be everything. This is not an issue of balance – we as a church must love the Lord with 100% of our hearts, 100% of our souls, and 100% of our minds, not 33-33-33.

Before wrapping up, I should mention one possible misunderstanding. I do not mean for a second that intellectual doubts and apologetics are solely the purview of men. For a counterexample, here’s a fascinating article written by a young woman who rejected the faith for precisely the reasons I have outlined above, and who returned to the faith because someone took the time to grind away at some of her intellectual objections in a kind and patient manner. I simply mean to say that this is more common among men and, as such, should be an area of focus if we wish to keep men in the church.

So some of the answers to why there are fewer men in the church are tied to issues that in and of themselves are big problems in the church. You’ve probably noticed that this post actually took on two big issues in the church – the first being the lack of dudes, the second being the lack of intellectual vigor. I think the two are closely tied together.

1. The Girlfriend Test is pretty simple: could you sing the worship song - or part of it - to your girlfriend? If you can, then a song fails the Girlfriend Test. For example, "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing" passes with flying colors. And here's a song that fails the Girlfriend Test pretty catastrophically.

2. Here are just a few of varying flavors:
CRI: The Need for Apologetics in the Local Church
One Minute Apologist
Apologetics 315
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  1. I think one could make the arguement that much of life in America in general is dominated by (many more women than men pursuing higher education), commerce and advertising, the economy (i.e. more men out of work than women), just to name a few. It may be of a problem of the Church in America too closely mirroring the culture at large.

    That being said, I would qualify your article title with saying this is "the state of the Church 'in America' (or in the West)." I don't think this is a problem in other cultures where men are still dominant.

    1. To add to the above, by "Commerce and Advertising" being dominated by women, I meant that many ads (especially on TV) are portrayed to make women look like heroes for using the product while making men look like fools.

    2. Hi Anonymous,

      You bring up a good point. You are right that this is specifically only relevant to the church in the West, or America. While not explicitly stated, this series will necessarily come from the perspective of two guys who grew up in and attend American churches.

      I also think you are right that the church is reflecting American culture in this sense-- it may be a symptom of the modern American church striving to be "relevant" in order to attract a larger following. There was a time when the church was paving the way for culture, and not merely following in its shadow.

    3. Anonymous, you bring up some salient points. I simply wanted to address some issues that are often overlooked.

      I agree with the qualification. My original ideas for the post included making such a qualification, but for some reason I failed to include it in the post's final form.