the numbers don't lie. Men are staying away from church. The reasons are undoubtedly complex, but perhaps a clue can be found in a Christian group that attracts men and women in roughly equal numbers: Eastern Orthodoxy. A cynic might say that men are attracted to Orthodoxy because it is conservative, with an all-male clergy, many of them sporting beards. The finding of religion journalist Frederica Mathewes-Green, however, is closer to the truth. She surveyed male adult converts and discovered that Orthodoxy's main appeal is that it's "challenging." One convert said, "Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it is also about overcoming myself." Another said that he was sick of "bourgeois, feel-good American Christianity."
Yes, some churchgoers are satisfied with feel-good Christianity, but I think many Christians—women and men—yearn for a more costly, demanding, life-changing discipleship. Perhaps women are more patient when they don't find it, or more discerning of the deeper cross-bearing opportunities that lie beneath the candied surface. Men take a walk or hang around the church coffeepot talking in jargon about football: another disciplined and costly arena of life in which people sacrifice their bodies and their individual desires for a larger cause that matters to them, at least for the moment. Near transcendence is preferable to no transcendence at all.
full article at Christian Century.
I can relate to this. On 3 months of sabbatical, the things I enjoyed most were not really the free time, or the cold beers, but the challenges: a weeks silent retreat, a 30 mile walk in the Lake District, converting half the garage into a games room for our kids with limited (read 'no') DIY skills. Those were the highlights.
Here's the survey the article refers to, which really is worth reading in full. Here's a snippet
The term most commonly cited by these men was “challenging.” Orthodoxy is “active and not passive.” “It’s the only church where you are required to adapt to it, rather than it adapting to you.” “The longer you are in it, the more you realize it demands of you.”
The “sheer physicality of Orthodox worship” is part of the appeal. Regular days of fasting from meat and dairy, “standing for hours on end, performing prostrations, going without food and water [before communion]…When you get to the end you feel that you’ve faced down a challenge.” “Orthodoxy appeals to a man’s desire for self-mastery through discipline.”
“In Orthodoxy, the theme of spiritual warfare is ubiquitous; saints, including female saints, are warriors. Warfare requires courage, fortitude, and heroism. We are called to be ‘strugglers’ against sin, to be ‘athletes’ as St. Paul says. And the prize is given to the victor. The fact that you must ‘struggle’ during worship by standing up throughout long services is itself a challenge men are willing to take up.”
A recent convert summed up, “Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it’s also about overcoming oneself. I am challenged in a deep way, not to ‘feel good about myself’ but to become holy. It is rigorous, and in that rigor I find liberation."