By Lorraine Walker
Music is one of the major areas of dissension in the local church. Hymns, Southern Gospel, old choruses, new choruses, alternative worship; all of these are written to focus our attention on God, and each style has its own set of fans. Whether your church uses some or all of these styles is likely a topic of debate from time to time. However, have you ever thought about the content of your worship songs?
A quick scan of websites on the topic of church attendance reveals that although the polls remain at approximately 40% of Americans attending church, there do not appear to be accurate polls regarding gender attendance. Generally, articles refer to the fact that there are more women than men in the pew and responses from a brief and unscientific poll on Facebook concur with this observation. On www.christianity.ca , an article entitled, â€œMars and Venus Go To Churchâ€, comments that the content of worship songs can appeal more to men or to women, and churches that have a majority of feminine worship songs will have a majority of women in the pew. (http://www.christianity.ca/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=7243 , Mars and Venus Go To Church, by Bob Goethe and Michael Pountney)
The article refers to a church that looked carefully at the content of their worship choruses and rated the amount of feminine or masculine phrases or subjects in those choruses. It was hypothesized that songs declaring the might, power and majesty of God were more masculine. Choruses with words such as precious, beautiful and other phrases denoting an almost romantic love, appealed more to women and were therefore more feminine. The church altered their use of choruses based on masculine/feminine ratings so that there was gender equality in their worship lineup. Within a year, the congregationâ€™s makeup matched that of the chorus list: half men, half women.
The idea of praise songs having a gender bias and the effect of this on church attendance is an intriguing one, so we decided to ask our SGM Radio friends about their opinion on this subject. The answers we received were equally interesting.
Stephen said, â€œI have heard the arguments about the new worship choruses being sung to God versus the old hymns being sung about God, and since men are not inclined to even tell their wives they love them, the odds are against getting men involved in singing those types of songs.â€
A quick look at the local congregation would likely show an even breakdown between male and female in the children and youth age groups, as young people are brought to church by their parents. As young people mature, depending on the types of programs offered, men often drop away. Among the young married age group, attendance is by couples or by women alone. In the demographic of older singles, between 35 and 50, there will often be more women than men. The senior groups show this discrepancy even more, as women live longer than men.
It would be interesting to hear if any other churches have attempted this experiment and if the results concur. A pastor who was also intrigued by the article, responded with these comments:
â€œI would say that church went through a lot of work for such an unscientific result. The whole premise is that if a church changes the gender-sensitivity of songs that are sung, then men, who donâ€™t currently attend the church, will somehow come out to services. Hereâ€™s a question: How would they even know that the church is now gender-sensitive to them? Hereâ€™s another question: Can a small committee really determine which songs are feminine and masculine (and rank them using a 9-degree scale)? I think they are using some subjective criteria and making it look scientific.â€
â€œThe fact that they reached their goal of 50% in six weeks also tells me that there were other factors at work,â€ says the Pastor. â€œFor example, a church of 100 people, where 40 of them are men (we donâ€™t know the initial percentage for this church, but it must have been significantly below 50% for them to even start the process): If at least three more men arrive and no more women, that results in 42% total men. If at least 21 more men and no more women join the church, the congregation is at 50% men.â€
â€œThat means that there has been a 53% increase, from 40 to 61, in the number of men who are attending the church in order to reach their goal, in just 6 weeks. So, either the congregation was out pounding the pavement and inviting men to come or women left because they no longer liked the music.â€
The Pastor summarizes his comments: â€œReally, I question the goal in the first place. I agree that more men should attend church, but is there a real purpose behind the goal? For instance, are they now a more effective assembly because they have equal numbers of men and women? Are they better able to share the Gospel? Has the congregation grown in their faith and their maturity as disciples? Or do they just have more men? Would it not be much more beneficial to teach people to be more flexible in the songs they like?â€
This response begs the question that has been asked by countless congregations and pastors: How does the local church teach their congregation to be more tolerant of worship music and more flexible in their appreciation of the style or content of that music? One friend commented that the men were more conservative in the area she lived in and that was reflected in how they worshipped. Is this also reflected in the style of worship music men appreciate?
According to our Facebook friends, there is a mix of worship styles in many churches. Please note that the quotes within this article are the opinions of the respondents only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the author, editor, or this website.
Sheila writes, â€œWith our church I think it’s about even, men and women. The songs are a mix of songs, both contemporary and traditional.â€
Brenda says, â€œI’ve never noticed there being more women than men in the actual church, but you’re totally right about the choir. I was in a 35-40-member choir for eight years at my previous church and a 20-member choir at my current church for a couple years. In both, there was a 3-1 ratio of women to men. It’s been that way in Christmas and Easter productions as well. A lot more women sign up than men, and when we needed men in specific rolls, it was a lot harder to find men that were willing to participate.â€
Sharon says, â€œSpeaking for Heart to Heart, we sing all over the country and we structure our program equally, we hope, for both women and men. Sometimes, if it is an older demographic, there might be more women than men in the congregation or venue; but we also sing where there are young families, children and a good mix. So far as we’ve been able to tell, probably an equal number of men and women, or maybe a few more men, come up to us after the concert to express their appreciation.â€
â€œAll need to be encouraged and uplifted as Christians,â€ says Sharon, â€œAnd if they are not Christians, they all need to hear the Good News story of Jesus. We are a full-time, Southern Gospel music ministry and we aim to touch the hearts of all who hear, men or women.â€
Marty says, â€œThere is nothing particularly masculine about â€˜â€˜Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesusâ€™. Stronger men than you or I have sung, â€˜He’s the Lily of the Valleyâ€™, and, â€˜In The Sweet By and Byâ€™, for years and felt no threat to their masculinity. I suppose we could toughen up and try singing â€˜Onward Christian Soldiersâ€™ more often, but the essence of worship is singing love songs to a Savior. A believer, man or woman, who genuinely longs to verbalize that holy passion, cannot find words tender enough to express how he or she feels.â€
Patti says, â€œI see an enormous increase of men in the Pentecostal churches these days. As for the worship being a problem, I wasn’t aware that worship could be male or female oriented. That’s an odd concept. Worship is from the heart; it’s about God, not about us. Whatever the content, we should be thinking about Him, not about whether we like the content of music or the singers. God is strong and mighty, but He is also tender, easily entreated and more precious than fine gold. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but He’s also the Lily of the Valley. He was â€˜fire on the mountainâ€™ for Elijah and â€˜the still small voice outside the caveâ€™ for Elijah. I can worship Him while singing, â€˜Ride On, King Jesus No man can not hinder Thee!â€™ Or, â€˜What a Lovely Name, the name of Jesusâ€™. When we make it about Him, then we can really worship.â€
Ron says, â€œWe used to sing from the Church hymnals and even us guys knew most of them, or could at least follow along in the book. Then they went those worship tunes and they are all geared to women’s voices and men just don’t sing along.â€ This is a point not yet expressed, that often worship choruses are just set too high and men arenâ€™t able to sing along.
Carol has only positive things to say about worship at her church: â€œI feel our worship services are geared to both men and woman. We have a 60-voice choir and we have a great mixture or voices that make a joyful noise unto the Lord. We also have a mixture of men and woman in the pews. We are also blessed to have a lot of teens and youth. I feel I am a part of the best Church Family ever.â€
Tammy says, â€œIn our church, we are evenly populated between woman and men. Being a pianist since the age of 13, I have played for churches, choirs, solos, etc. For me, it’s always fallen within the singer. The song could have more masculine words and a female is carrying the lead, or it could be a softer song with a male for the lead. Think about a song that you have heard many times but yet heard another sing the same song. In the way that the singer reflects the song is how the content and purpose comes to them personally.â€
Denise responds, â€œWe are a very small town and most of our women are widows or single. Our Pastor is non-biased. He preaches the Bible: that Jesus is powerful. The Holy Spirit moves in our church and that is why we have a lot of people of both genders. We average 350-400.â€
Leta says, â€œWe sing a lot of the old hymns about the Lord and they tell more about Jesus as Lord, Savior, and Redeemer. We do also have praise songs sung. I agree that sometimes in our churches there are more women than men. The reason for that in our church is that the women have outlived the men. But the message in the old hymns is geared to us all, sinners saved by God’s grace. We do have a lot of programs geared for women only, but recently we have hired a new pastor that is connecting with the men in the church, getting them involved and together in one spirit. God’s message is for everyone and so where we lack in music geared for the men, we can help them by presenting activities that they enjoy too.â€
Linda responds, â€œOur church has about a 50/50 mix of men and women. We have many strong men who are not afraid to express their faith to the world. We do a mixture of songs that describe Jesus as beautiful, precious, and sweet, but also songs that declare him powerful, omnipotent, great, mighty, etc. Many of the men in the church openly express their feelings by raising their hands in worship, placing their right hand over their heart, or kneeling before Him.â€
â€œI feel that people are drawn by the Spirit of God to church, so if a church is preaching the Word, men and women alike are glad to be a part of what’s going on. If the words of the songs are worshipful, lifting up the Savior, they touch the heart of worshipers everywhere. As a musician that is on the platform weekly, I love looking at the faces of people who came there not for a social occasion, but to feel the mighty presence of God.â€
It appears as though the gender bias of worship songs may not be an accurate barometer of the presence of men in the pews of the church. But this whole discussion creates a set of new questions regarding the lack of men in church: Does worship come â€˜easierâ€™ to women than to men? Do men need to be taught to worship? If a church recognizes the lack of one specific demograph in their services, should they make changes to reach out to that group, perhaps to the detriment of other groups already in the church?
Another reader, Sandi, comments on the previously mentioned â€˜feminizationâ€™ of the church. â€œAlthough males have not completely abandoned the church, manly men are disappearing. Tough, earthy, working guys rarely come to church. High achievers, alpha males, risk takers, and visionaries are in short supply. The truth is, most men in the pews grew up in church. What a contrast to the men of the Bible. Think of Moses and Elijah, David and Daniel, Peter and Paul. They were lions, not lambs; take charge men who risked everything in service to God. Such men seldom go to church today.â€
If â€˜manly menâ€™ arenâ€™t attending church, is it because of the words of the songs, the programming, or is it the church itself? Is it the feminine dÃ©cor, the touchy-feely practices of sharing your problems with a stranger or holding hands during prayer, or is it even the style of expressive worship or audible praise?
Perhaps we need to take our focus away from pleasing any demographic group, and get back to the reason for worship: uplifting and building relationship with an Almighty God. Perhaps todayâ€™s church and churchgoers need a refilling of the Holy Spirit rather than a revamping of their worship songs. Church should be a place for everyone, regardless of gender or other defining factors.
Our thanks to everyone who contributed to this discussion on the gender of worship. We appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. Please continue to send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Born and raised in southern Ontario, Canada, Lorraine Walker has been interested and involved in Southern Gospel Music since the mid-80â€™s. As part of a ladiesâ€™ trio, she became more familiar with this style of music and the people that made it popular, and began writing occasional articles for a Canadian publication on Southern Gospel.
Known online to her internet friends as â€œCanChikâ€, Lorraine began writing a monthly inspirational article entitled â€œCanChikâ€™s Cornerâ€ for www.johnlanier.com in 2002.Â This column began on www.sgmradio.com in January of 2005, a popular southern gospel music radio and information website which also publishes other features and interviews with her byline.
â€Reality Checkâ€ is a monthly column relating the realities of living every day as child of God. Lorraine welcomes your comments and suggestions, and you can write her at email@example.com