Historians, social scientists, religious leaders, and others have long pondered the question of why women seem to be more drawn to religion than men are (see Related Items). The issue has major practical implications for churches and other faith communities. Women may be the backbone of a congregation, but the presence of a significant number of men is often a clear indicator of spiritual health in congregations. As the Rev. John Belmont, rector of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Pennington, N.J., comments: "Both [men and women] are needed to bring vitality and completion of community life to a church."
A mountain of Gallup survey data attests to the idea that women are more religious than men, hold their beliefs more firmly, practice their faith more consistently, and work more vigorously for the congregation. In fact, gender-based differences in responses to religious questions are far more pronounced than those between any other demographic categories, such as age, education level, or geographic region. The tendency toward higher religiosity among women has manifested over seven decades of scientific polling, and church membership figures indicate that it probably existed for many decades prior to the advent of survey research in the mid-1930s.
Reasons Why Women Are More Religious
Historically, differing social roles may have encouraged greater religious participation among women: for example, mothers have tended to spend more time than fathers in raising and nurturing their children -- which has often included overseeing their involvement in church activities. And though two-income households are more the norm today, in the past women often had more flexible daily schedules than men did, permitting more church involvement during the week.
But more complex factors relating to the female and male psyches may contribute as well. Gallup surveys (as well as my own personal experience from participating in small Bible study and prayer groups over the last 15 years) point to the following:
- Women tend to be more open about sharing personal problems.
- Women are more relational than men. Gallup research finds that a higher proportion of women than men say they have a "best friend" in their congregation.
- More so than men, women lean toward an empirical rather than a rational basis for faith.
What Can Faith Communities Do to Attract Men?
There are several courses of action that congregations can take to attract a greater percentage of men:
- A concerted program of invitation. Studies show that between
60% and 90% of members in most congregations joined their church
because they were invited to do so.
However, men who join congregations will not become actively involved unless they are engaged in an intentional way. Gallup's congregational engagement research reveals that to cultivate a congregation that engages men at the same level as women, leaders must discover an individual's talents and strengths first, then find -- or, if necessary, create -- an opportunity for service that builds upon these talents and strengths. (See "Religion and Gender: A Congregation Divided, Part III" in Related Items.)
- Small group ministry can help participants become more highly committed members of their congregations. In such groups, usually consisting of 10 to 12 people, participants discover how the Bible or other religious text relates to their daily lives; learn how to share with one another on a deep level; and become comfortable praying with and for each other. Encouraging men to participate in such groups will help them become more committed to their congregations.