Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How we screen young men out of church - by David Murrow

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Christian dating scene. A shortage of dateable men is making it easier for guys to play the field – and harder for women to find godly guys for romance and marriage. Gina Dalfonzo writes in Christianity Today:
These days, the old courtship formulas no longer apply: A devout woman, instead of being likelier to marry, may very well find herself alone.
In response to this anxiety, women position themselves to compete for fewer single men. [Journalist Jon Birger] recalls anecdotes of Jewish girls starting strict diets in their teens, escalating to anorexia in adulthood. Many single Mormon women embrace elaborate beauty routines, plastic surgery, and breast implants. The statistics on dating in their communities—discussed in this chapter excerpted in Time—back up the contention that there’s a very real demographic issue at work here.
So what happened to all the devout men? Simple. We screened them out of the church as boys. Picked ‘em off one by one.
The way we raise boys in the faith eliminated the very kinds of men women find attractive.
Metaphor time: you’re standing in an asphalt plant. The operator loads pebbles of every size into a hopper. The pebbles are shaken through a series of screens that remove every stone that’s either too large or too small. The resulting gravel mix is perfectly suited to road surfacing.
Now, let’s apply that metaphor to the local church. Children of every kind come into the hopper. They are screened through children’s ministry and youth ministry. These programs remove the ones who are poorly suited to church culture. The final mix of adult churchgoers is heavily female, and very short on high-testosterone men. But it’s perfect for perpetuating the church culture we presently know.
Little boys love going to church. There’s no shortage of lads in nurseries, VBS and the lower grades of Sunday school. But around the 4th or 5th grade, boys start disappearing, because that’s the age when males begin losing in church.
Losing in church? You didn’t realize church was a competition, did you? Well, with boys everything is a competition. And it’s a contest most boys can’t win. The rules of Sunday school are stacked against them: sit still, read aloud, memorize, find passages in the Bible, and receive instruction from a female teacher. So if these are the rules, who’s more likely to win, girls or boys?
By the age of twelve, many boys have been losing in church every Sunday for years. Girls possess superior verbal skills, reading skills and finger dexterity (for finding Bible passages). They can sit still longer and instinctively know how to express themselves in small groups. The average girl is made for Sunday school, whereas the average boy is made for the soccer field.
And that’s where increasing numbers of young men can be found on Sundays – kicking a ball, doing something they’re good at. Many of the dropouts are the wiggly, high testosterone boys who grow up to become leaders, athletes and alpha males.
Of course some boys DO make it through Sunday school, where they encounter the next screen: Youth Group.
When I was an adolescent, youth group was fun. It was based on the three Gs: games, goofiness, and God. We sang simple songs. We played nutty games. The teaching time was brief but meaningful to teens. I loved it. And it attracted a lot of guys. Church services were sometimes boring, but youth group was always a kick. Youth leaders of the 1970s were always men – that big brother role model the boys craved and the girls looked up to (and had secret crushes on).
Fun and games are still a part of youth group, but there’s been pressure to make it more “spiritual” by increasing the amount of time devoted to teaching. Singing time has also increased. And today many youth groups are led by young women. These three trends are screening boys out. Let’s take them in reverse order:
Female Youth Leaders. Here’s the politically incorrect truth about teenage boys: they are blatant sexists. Most young men will not follow a female leader unless they can be flunked, fired or court-martialed. And women bring a different style to youth group – more emotive, more introspective and more focused on feelings. I’m not saying it’s impossible for a woman to minister to teenage boys, but it’s a lot harder.
Lengthy “worship sets.” Praise and worship arrived in youth group during the early 1990s. The goofy songs disappeared. Singing time expanded to twenty minutes or more. The whole feeling changed from a fun group activity to an intimate personal time with God.
The youth meeting is quickly evolving into a music-centric experience. Teens stand in a darkened room and sing love songs to Jesus, led by a praise band of their peers. Singing can occupy up to half of the meeting. This has been great for the musicians—they get lots of stage time. But for the nonmusical, lengthy singing can be a drag.
Girls thrive in this emotional hothouse, but boys melt and evaporate. Many guys stand in the crowd with their hands in their pockets thinking, “I’m supposed to like this, but I don’t. What’s wrong with me?”
Before you know it, you’ve got nineteen girls and five guys at youth group. And there’s not a jock among the guys.
Then there’s one more screen: evangelical Christianity’s approach to dating, sex and marriage. Some seriously weird teachings got sown in the church during the 1990s, and they’re producing the fruit of loneliness in our generation. We’ll talk about that next week.