Males in Churches


It’s a problem shared by most all of us. That U Washington study I’ve linked before confirmed that every major world religion, including the ones perceived as male-dominated in hierarchy, have more women than men participating.

Though we know women make up a shade over 50% of the population, here are the church numbers I’ve seen (These are approximate and from some study I read about 15 years ago): registered parishioners 55%, churchgoers 60%, active volunteers 67%, professional non-clerical ministry 83%. I think the USCCB document on lay ecclesial ministry now puts the last number at 80%, but regardless, we see where the religiosity drifts.

I think boys-only altar server cadres are undeniably well done in some places. But do we want ten-year-olds starting on their path to church involvement motivated by a boys’ club? Are men so immature they can’t work along with women in choirs, committees, soup kitchens, parish festivals and dances?

Just as an aside, my grade 3-4-5 children’s choir is doing well with boys this year: about 25% of eighty-some kids. That’s up from zero in year one and four or five last year. There is a hump to get over in children’s activities, a barrier of sorts after which both sexes feel they can comfortably get involved.

That said, how do you make Sunday Mass, if not the parish, more attractive for men? I have a few ideas.

It’s a fact that untrained singers will sing out less if unsupported by strong music underneath their vocal range. Treble voices (women and children) do well with guitars because of the harmonic support an octave under their singing range. However, untrained male voices tend to struggle unless their voice range is supported by organ pedals, string bass, or piano left hand. Without the undercurrent of lower tones, people feel their voices are standing out. And if the acoustics are poor, that problem is compounded. Men will sing if they have any combination of competent musicianship playing on the needed instruments and good acoustics.

As for church decoration, I suspect that’s a lower priority in anybody’s list of must-have’s in their parish. Traditional clergy tend to wear more ornate vestments. I’ve seen photos on priests’ blogs and the Latin Mass society and all. These are not manly vestments. And most mainstream men today would probably vote for clerical shirt and black blazer over a cassock.

I’ll raise the importance of parental example. When Anita and I were in the adoption pipeline, I was reading various articles and books about the role of the father. I recall that in giving advice to fathers of boys, one writer said one of the most important things a father could do is to read: read to his son, and be seen by the boys in his family as a lover of reading and knowledge. No other single factor was more important for a boy to take education seriously. Except in math and maybe science, we know that girls consistently out-perform boys academically. (It’s one reason why I support gender-separate education in theory.) I wonder if our fatherless society is reaping that harvest in its sliding education performance today.

I suspect the involvement problem in church will require the cooperation of dads giving good example to sons: joining choirs, becoming lectors, volunteering at soup kitchens and charity drives, and especially doing things religious with their sons. This issue strikes me as more aligned with apprenticeship than instructional education. You can tell a young man: go to church, tithe your income, sing in the choir, give to the poor, pray daily. But without the let-me-show-you-how-it’s-done personal example of a father or father figure, I think we cast many boys (if not most) adrift without benefit of a paddle, or sometimes even the boat.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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