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Mars and Venus Go to Church
A church sees changes in attendance as a result of an experiment with worship that involved making gender-sensitive song choices.

Why are there so few men in the average Canadian congregation? Early in 2009, the women elders at Strathcona Baptist Church in Edmonton suggested that the congregation adopt as a key objective over the next few months “That 50 percent of our church attendees should be men.”

…the “F” (feminine) songs and the numbers of the “M” (masculine) songs, they should come out roughly even.

Bob Goethe, also serving as an elder, took the opportunity to purchase David Murrow’s book, Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson, 2004; related website www.churchformen.com). He gave each elder a copy of the book, along with his own one-page study guide.

Goethe asked them to read 42 pages in the book and answer three broad questions. On the evening they met for discussion, they went over their general responses to the book, and then looked at a worksheet and evaluated several songs by their lyrics.

They used a scale to rate songs as to whether they appealed primarily to men or women. The theory here is that on any given Sunday, if you add up the numbers of the “F” (feminine) songs and the numbers of the “M” (masculine) songs, they should come out roughly even.

Here are some of the results Strathcona Baptist came up with.

One song (author unknown), based on Psalm 125:1-2, got an average rank of M2. The elders chose that because of the imagery of Mt. Zion, of bigness, of power. Some lyrics: “Those who trust, those who trust / Those who trust in the Lord / Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion / which cannot be moved but remains established forever.”

The song “Lord, you are more precious than silver” (by Lynn DeShazo, 1982, a setting of Proverbs 3:14-15) rated an F8, which the elders decided is too feminized to be sung in a worship setting. The women elders were actually harder on this song than the men. Calling Jesus “precious” and “beautiful” made it a feminine song. And the line “nothing I desire compares with you” made it strongly feminine, since such language is so associated with romantic love. Some lyrics: “Lord, you are more precious than silver / Lord, you are more costly than gold / Lord you are more beautiful than diamonds / And nothing I desire compares with you.”

The elders came to agree that feminine worship songs tend towards celebrating a passionate love affair with Jesus, while masculine worship songs are more about strength, power, commitment and loyalty.

Participants decided to implement a balance of songs based on their scale to see if there would be any effects. Goethe reports that they have been very positive, even striking.

Before opening the issue, Goethe counted about 40 percent men in Sunday morning services. Whenever the worship team used to invite worshippers to “take a few moments to speak out our praises to God,” the voices one heard were almost all women’s voices. The men had nothing to say during these times of corporate worship.

They began discussing Murrow’s book and analyzing worship songs in March 2009, and started making immediate, small changes in the mix of worship songs, eliminating songs that were F6 to F10s, and trying to make sure there was a balance of masculine- and feminine-flavoured worship every week.

After they got into this process, one of Goethe’s male friends said to him: “This is great. It helps me to understand perhaps why I have often found it hard to ‘enter into worship’ – something I usually attributed to be just being ‘less spiritual’ than those around me.”

Only six weeks after they began making intentional changes, when a worship leader called on people to speak out their praises to God, half of the voices were male. It seems men are finding it a bit easier to track with the worship times and engage with the Holy Spirit.

After six months, overall attendance had grown, and fully half of those who attended were men. The elders have taken the “50 percent men” goal off the To-Do list and put it on the Done list.

Admittedly this subject and this method are controversial and easily misunderstood. No one should think that leading worship at church is an easy task for anyone, male or female. But let’s not be afraid to open up a conversation that will allow us all to begin to think seriously about the words of the songs that we are trying to get men to sing on Sundays. If that can help deal with one of the issues that keep men out of church, we might be able to attack some of the others. FT

Bob Goethe is a computer network support specialist in Edmonton. Michael Pountney is a retired Anglican priest and teacher who formerly headed Wycliffe College in Toronto. Both previously served on staff with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.

Originally published in Faith Today, March/April 2010.

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A ministry of
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