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Gender in the Pews

A recent article in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinel explores the issue of gender in the pews. It outlines statistics that suggest that the average congregation is 60% female, and it’s even higher for Catholics, where 64% of members are female.

There are a number of explanations for this gendered separation in the pews. One the article outlines is the ideas of separate spheres — men have a focus on the outer world of business and politics, and women are focused on the inner world like families and religion. Another theory suggested is that church has become more focused on relationships and feelings, alienating men.

A number of Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregations are attempting to find ways to reach out to men. Reverend Tim Wright explained it this way: “Men want action, not language… Quite honestly, we need to put the testosterone back into Jesus.”

These churches have been working to implement new programs to appeal to men, including outdoor activities like canoeing and skeet-shooting, attempting to build friendships between the men of the congregation to encourage them to continue attending.

How active are men and women in your congregation? How would you go about studying the degree to which men and women are involved? To what degree to different sorts of programming appeal to men and women? And what sorts of programs is your congregation more likely to endorse and support?

Perhaps by examining rates of attendance (in worship, or at activities) by gender may help to illuminate gendered breakdowns of interest in activities. Sitting down with a focus group of just men and just women will help to flesh out issues of gender in your congregation. By creating programs with all subsets of individuals considered, greater attendance and adherence may result.

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org