Two religions that put special emphasis on men are America’s fastest growing, according to a study released this week.
Mormons and Muslims are adding the most members, while mainline Protestants and Catholics continue to shed followers.
I want to emphasize that this is not to devalue the essential role women play in churches, but to give valued information to pastors and leaders to cultivate men intentionally and proactively for the life and the health of their congregations.
“The number of Muslim adherents rose to 2.6 million in 2010 from 1 million in 2000, fueled by immigration and conversions,” said Dale Jones, a researcher who worked on the study by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.
The number of U.S. Mormons grew by 45% over the past decade. They were the fastest growing group in 26 of the 50 states.
Muslims and Mormons would seem to have little in common, yet both have strong appeal to men. This is undoubtedly one of the factors driving their explosive growth.
Mormons give great discretion and latitude to their laymen. The Latter-Day Saints do not have professional pastors. Each layman is considered a priest, and is authorized to preach, teach, prophesy and baptize.
The LDS church offers a formal, rigorous training program to every young man. Males are initiated into a lower priesthood at age 12, and the higher priesthood at 19. Mormons have a long tradition of sending their young men on two-year missions after high school (although women have joined this tradition in recent years).
Muslims also take pains to accommodate men. Men and women worship separately in the mosque. Friday prayers are a full-body experience, with an almost militant air. There’s no emphasis on emotion or “feeling God.” Islamic leadership is completely male dominated and female imams are extremely rare. Islam’s reputation as a dangerous, violent religion only increases its allure among young men.
As a practical matter, both Mormons and Muslims value childbearing and large families. High fertility is another reason these groups are growing so rapidly. Interestingly, both faiths have a reputation for polygamy, and both promise sex in the afterlife, which undoubtedly increases a man’s yearning for eternity.
Both faiths are known for theological and social conservatism. Numerous studies have shown that high-demand churches that lean conservative attract more men (and tend to grow). Meanwhile, theological liberalism drives men away.
The study found that the more liberal the denomination, the more likely it was to have lost members. The Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church, both of which made major concessions on homosexuality during the past decade, each lost more than 15% of their members. The United Methodists lost four percent, while the Southern Baptists held steady over the past decade. Non-denominational Protestants grew slowly, with most of the growth occurring in micro-congregations of fewer than 100 people.
The Catholic church, rocked by allegations of sexual abuse against boys, saw huge declines, particularly in the Northeast. The exposure of gay and pedophile priests has been a definite turn-off for men.
This report simply confirms what we’ve been saying at Church for Men since we opened our doors seven years ago: laymen are the key to church growth. Faiths that are intentional about reaching guys grow the fastest. Meanwhile, churches that marginalize or drive away men are declining.
Jesus started his church with 12 common men. The original church growth strategy still works today. Recruit men. Train them. Create an environment where they can grow. Just ask the Muslims and Mormons how this strategy works.
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