Why are men missing from the pews?

“How can a faith that was founded by a Man and His twelve disciples become so unpopular amongst the men of today?”

Keep The Faith recently ran an article encouraging men to attend church. Tony Tomlin dug a bit deeper to learn why men avoid church like the plague. Their reasons will surprise you.

My mission wasn’t going to be easy. Armed with nothing more than a pen and a notepad, I set off to find out why Black men are no longer attending church and what could we do to get them to come back?

I jumped in my car and started driving, without a clue as to where I was going or to whom I would end up speaking. All I knew was, I needed some answers as to why our men were avoiding the church pews on a Sunday morning. What was it about church that repelled them so much that they were giving it such a wide berth?

Furthermore, how can a faith that was founded by a Man and His twelve disciples become so unpopular amongst the men of today? Most pastors are men; the key biblical characters are mostly men – not ordinary men, but take-charge men, such as Daniel, David, Moses, Solomon and Peter, who risked life and limb and were more lion than lamb; men who left a real legacy. So what could be the problem?

Research has shown that people of African and Caribbean origin make up 2% of the UK’s population, but account for more than two-thirds of Sunday churchgoers in London and 7% of worshippers nationwide. Figures for how many Black men attend church on a regular basis are hard to find, but one researcher put it at just 5%. Not good!

I spot a group of Black men outside my local West Indian takeaway, and pull over.
Some I already know, so we touch fists, bump chests and start making small talk. No point in beating around the bush, I thought, so I just asked them point blank, why they don’t attend church anymore (assuming they used to go in the first place). We went inside, bought soup and dumplings, and they began to speak.

Michael said he used to be a youth pastor, which totally shocked me. “I was saved, filled with the Holy Ghost, and used to prophesy. I was part of the evangelism team as well,” he added.

I didn’t want to pry too much, but curiosity was killing me as to where it all went wrong. “I was seeing this girl and we got too close, and she ended up getting pregnant. From there it was downhill. The pastor humiliated me, and I just left.”

“Would you go back, and what would it take?” I asked. “I would go back in a heartbeat,” he said. “I still see some of the youth I used to lead and I feel embarrassed. If the pastor or someone from the church reached out to me, that’s all it would take, but they won’t, and I’m not making the first move.”

Delroy was clear why he didn’t attend church. “If church on a Sunday morning could be wrapped up in an hour, I would go,” he said. Trevor’s response was more detailed, but a view shared by many Black men: “I personally don’t believe your soul goes to a heaven or hell. Death represents the end of mortal life. I just cannot imagine a loving God casting someone into a lake of fire. Yet that’s the premise of the Christian Church,” he lamented.

As more men began gathering around the table, the excuses for not attending church began to flow thick and fast. “The Christian religion was used against us Africans,” said a man who refused to give his name. “Preachers have profited from it and Black women cling to it, but it’s not a religion for Black people.”

“Why does it always have to be about God and salvation?” asked Benz. “If someone has something to say, why can’t they say it without preaching? Plus the person who is in charge never seems to have a clue.”

Abdul, who was waiting patiently to make his point, and who used to be a Christian before embracing Islam, said: “I found Christianity weak, because they made out that if you sinned, don’t worry because God will forgive you, and I didn’t like that. When I joined the mosque, they had a more structured approach and emphasised the importance of the family. Christianity didn’t do this. It was all about money and the pastor’s needs and wants.”

Will any of these men return to church? It’s hard to say. However, any initiative to win them back must be multi-faceted, where the members leave the building and go out into the community.

Importing an expensive preacher from oversees is not going to do it, neither is sending a rag-tag army of believers to stand outside the local market giving out tracks and bellowing from a loud hailer.

The rhetoric has to appeal to men for any recruitment drive to work. It may not happen overnight, but there are so many men like Michael, who have been hurt, standing outside West Indian takeaways, waiting for someone to reach out to them.

We could at least start with those.

Tony Tomlin is former Religious Columnist for New Nation newspaper. You can contact him at tonytomlin@hotmail.co.uk

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