At the beginning of a new year, I want to explore a big challenge for the Church – women, who have always been the backbone of church life, are slipping away. Why? And what can be done?
We all know that men are giving up on church big-time: the typical U.S. congregation is 61% female and 39% male. In the UK, churches are 65% female. Over 70% of American boys who are raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties.
This is bad news for men (churchgoing men are happier and have better relationships with their children) bad news for the Church (churches with lots of men do better) and for women (for a start, there’s fewer eligible males).
But churches have probably always had more women than men. What’s new is that women are turning away too. Research in America has found that the number of women attending church is falling and that amongst Christian women, church is a low priority.
Why? Women’s lives are changing. There is increasing pressure to have a good job because we all have high aspirations and because singleness is on the increase – marriage and babies are delayed or may never eventuate.
That makes women’s experience more like men’s and the drive for success may come at the expense of spiritual life. Getting ahead is hard work – 72% of churchgoing women in a 2015 study in the States said they felt stressed out.
Sunday becomes a day for catching up with friends, for relaxing. Brunch is the new communion. Women want community and friends not formal church structure.
This is evident in lots of nations and situations: Zimbabwe, Germany, Barbados and Egypt, as well as the USA and Australia.
There is also a problem with how women experience church. My own observations as I travel around the world are that young women – educated, accomplished and with good jobs – are still expected to be docile and quiet in church, and take on servant-hearted roles. There is still a stained glass ceiling, either clearly enunciated or more often, just carrying on church and cultural tradition.
Ironically, it’s considered OK for women to teach children and pray. These jobs are low down the list of ‘important’ leadership roles in the church even though raising the next generation of Christians and praying fervently are massively vital.
Women also do administration. The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male).
Women don’t feel valued or validated at church. Keen ones may be busy but they don’t often have a voice. In most churches I visit, it is still men who are the elders, deacons and pastors. Their wives and daughters are loved and respected (even put on a pedestal) but they are not invited to use their gifting in the same way as men. For some women, this is fine, but for many young women, the church seems outdated.
So what is to be done? Style is NOT the answer. In Taiwan, a glass church built as a high heel shoe has been created in eastern Taiwan, hoping to attract more females. It took two months to construct and will open next month. The church in the town of Budai has over 100 ‘female oriented features’ which include biscuits and cakes, and chairs for lovers to take photos!
Such gimmickry is part of the problem – women surely are not this shallow?
Valuing women’s gifting is certainly part of the answer (just as we need to value men). Let’s encourage women to stretch their faith at work, in our communities, and in public life.
The non-Church world has been better at catching youthful idealism to change society and improve lives for women. Even corporations have caught on that having ‘a conscience’ can improve sales.
God’s church has the best conscience-potential of all because we have God’s values. We should be at the forefront of fighting for women, at standing against violence, at encouraging girls to see their inner Deborah (or Katniss Everdeen) and at standing for true feminism.
That’s my priority for 2016. And the priority of the women I lead in the vast family of evangelical churches. To see women equipped, encouraged and valued so that we can offer truth in a mixed up world.
 See the references at the website http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/where-are-the-men/
 The wonderful heroine of The Hunger Games