Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Spring Writing in Steamboat

It is officially Spring and I'm up against a writing deadline. So I'm catching snatches of the gorgeous color and warmth in writing breaks, motivating me to write better, faster, nourishing me with beauty before I jump back into the work.

The project is a chapter on apologetics and gender for Sean McDowell (Josh's son's) compilation book "Apologetics for a New Generation." It will be published by Harvest House. I've been toying around with ideas and titles, things like "Finding the Feminine in the Sacred" (too edgy?), "Gender and Apologetics" (too academic!) "Carrying the Light to Women" (somewhat unclear and boring?). Titles are usually Dale's department.

One idea that I've been writing about, one that merits a short entry here is that of marketing in the church. Have you ever heard the statistic (source I have not found--would love some help here) that if churches cater to men, then the women and children will follow? A sort of reverse Titanic scenario.

It's a stat out there, believe me, the idea (and supposedly the reality) that if you can get the heads of American households to church, then you will find their wives and children coming in higher numbers and with more devotion. Something like so many percentage more of kids from homes where both parents attend church are more likely to continue going to church.

The skeptic in me rises up and wonders . . .
  1. Has anyone surveyed homes where the father is the only parent and the mother has skipped out of town? In these homes, even if the father attends church, are these children JUST as likely to continue in their attendance and devotion with the mother absent? Richard Brown, the AIDS plagued character played by Jim Harris in The Hours comes to mind. Recall his suicide because of his mother's abandonment.
  2. Modeling of a father is key, but I'm afraid we've over-ascribed significance to the father figure, neglecting the faithful, heroic work of mothers who refuse to skip out on their children either emotionally or physically.
  3. Who said church attendance was evidence? My heavens, when will we stop with this love-affair with numbers? Don't we all know church-attenders who know nothing of Jesus, nothing of devotion, nothing of vibrant, intimate, communion with God? Okay, please forgive this rant, but honestly, folks, an increase of numbers of warm bodies in a building doesn't impress me. You can get a group of people to do almost anything (that's why we're called sheep).
  4. And what about the large amounts of women who are not attached to a man? What kind of message does "cater to the heads of household" send to those who've chosen the undistracted life of singleness? or the widows? or the divorced? or the young women? I'll tell you what it tells them, they do not matter quite as much because they can't pull more into the fold.
  5. Does a strategy that builds attendance mean that this strategy is an appropriate motivation for churches to take? I'm entirely disgruntled by how the church culture has lapped up pagan ideas of business growth. It's tantamount to assuming that if we cater to one ethnicity, more people will come to Christ. But awareness of any marketing strategy should never steer money, humans, or interests away from all the other neglected ethnicities. As a woman who speaks for many women's ministries that are grossly underfunded, let me simply say that our church budgets are voting our value of people. This is a blatant shame. Our God is no respecter of persons, he would not cater more to male, female, poor, rich, white, black, slave or free. We need to follow his lead.


Emily Jones said...

Yeah, I'm familiar with a certain pastor of a certain church who ascribes to what you're saying and even takes it a step further to basically say that churches should target young men since they're the key to the church's future. I'm sure you know what I'm referring to. =) I see the logic, but I can't help but think that Jesus didn't strategically target people who might have grown his ministry faster by nature of their influence. It does make sense that many women will probably follow their husbands to church and may be more likely to stay active if the husband is the initiator of attendance, but again, what's attendance? There are countless women bringing their children to church and leaving a sleeping husband at home in this country, let's give kudos to them instead of talking about how much more important their husband's leadership would be. My grandmother was the spiritual matriarch of my father's family when my grandfather was an alcoholic, and through her influence, all four of her children are strong believers today and her husband came back to the Lord. Women like her are what the church needs.

Susy said...

You might find some of the stats you're looking for here:

Also, are you familiar with What Women Wish Pastors Knew? (by Denise George for Zondervan). She surveyed hundreds of women and lets them share in their own words their needs and dreams and wishes for the evangelical church.

Kerri said...

Amen! About a year ago, the pastor of my church said the reason he believe "our church was so blessed, was because of its leadership of men." I could not believe his blatant dismissal of all the things women do for the church. I keep hoping and praying that one of these days this ridiculous attitude will change.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with you, the larger problem in my mind is the fact that the church is marketing at all-- to men or women-- since when is the church in the business of marketing?

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Emily- I know of whom you speak. Yes, Jesus if he ever does speak of targeting seems to have a thing for the week and humble, not the obvious "leader" types. I loved the story of your grandmother--thank you!

Susy- this is the website I was looking for. Thank you very much! It's making it into my article :)
I have heard of this book, have not picked it up, but am glad you are sharing it here. For those who'd like to read more about Denise George see Susy's blog- link listed at right ------>

Keri- That sounds discouraging and yet, sounds like he was so focused on the change he saw in men, he just forgot about the faithfulness of the females, not to mention the children. There seems to be a sort of sigh of relief when the men finally step up and take control, as if people think FINALLY we know we are within God's perfect plan. I used to live like that and do all I could behind the scenes to get my boyfriends and one-time-fiance to lead as I thought he should. Ironic...

Anonymous- yes, a much larger problem, why is the church marketing?? That deserves it's own blog site. And another thing a friend of ours pointed out last night. When we only focus on the menfolk, we lose not just the ways women build a church, but we also lose the fact that children bring their parents as well. This is not something to market towards, but just more proof that God uses any to grow his church. So if God uses children (Mom, I want to go to youth group today) to bring parents, and God uses women to bring husbands, and God uses men to bring families, everyone loses when we just focus on the men.

My prediction is if this men in church movement continues unchecked we will find women leaving churches more than men. Then, we'll find the church doing the reverse trend in 10 years--catering to the women.

Paul F. said...

I think you're concerned with the right things, but do think one could make the case that the 'man-focused church growth' movement, properly understood, isn't all that bad.

First, I think church-marketing strategies are silly (and I've attended my share of churches that use them!). However, I would think those that do use them are (or should be) making actual changes to reflect their new strategies. Just marketing a church as being male-friendly without actually making the church male-friendly is like a fancy restaurant marketing via Facebook and MySpace without lowering prices and relaxing the atmosphere. They may get more initial traffic, but that traffic won't stay.

Second, if a church does actually make changes that are male-friendly (whether or not they also market those changes), that doesn't mean they are doing it to the neglect of women (single or married). I think it is a mistake to characterize the movement as "catering to men." Instead I think most in the movement would say they are instead renewing their focus toward men. Last year I paid a lot of attention to my front yard at the expense of my back yard. Now, I've got weeds and a not-so-lush lawn in the back. If this season I catered to the back yard, the front yard would deteriorate. However, if I increase my energy spent in the back yard, and don't decrease energy on the front, then I will see a great lawn in front and back (though those dang weeds seem awfully stubborn).

It seems you have presented this movement as if church leaders have one big pie of time and energy. If the men get more of the pie, then the women and children must get less. From what I've read about it (which is a very small amount) it seems like leaders are trying to make more pies by getting other men into the leadership roles to help direct the new focus.

I should note that I haven't read any of the books on this subject, so this reading might be more charitable than what is actually warranted. But from what I've read in interviews & blogs, this seems to be what they have in mind.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Oh Paul,
While this conversation deserves a long, relaxing chat over wine on a balcony with Dale and Tina, I'll try to do your comments a little justice here.

1- A nice distinction between the marketing to masculinity (enter deer heads stage right) and being masculinity (now what do you think that is?...a book I'd love for Dale to write!)

2- If the church were just focusing on the men in an attempt to refuse to discount their needs I'd be very happy about this. And if you are correct to assume that they are trying to "manufacture more pies" by hiring more men to minister to men and putting more money toward men's ministry then THREE CHEERS.

However, it doesn't seem to be a both/and men and women it's an either men or women. If you look at movements like the men's fraternity and churches like Mark Driscoll's the leadership focuses primarily on men's needs, on male-dominated spheres, on male mentoring and then guard their positions of male leadership, preventing women holding power in a real sense (voting, visioneering, hiring/firing, preaching,etc). When you think about how men are the ones doing most of the church directing, planning, sermoneering (from pastor to elder) it becomes more obvious that in most church services the men have the power to cater to the men quite easily. So Sunday morning has become a "manly" time (e.g. Mars Hill in Seattle) so the idea of adding to that a men's ministry would be tantamount to (the fictional) Women's Auxiliary for Knitters of Steamboat (a group run by women) designing a separate committee just for cater to women knitters. You'd be like, "wait a second, don't you already do that every time you meet?"

Precisely! This is why I'm frustrated when church services designed by men and for men, pour more money and marketing into men's fraternities, men's BBQ, men's WWF nights, Super Bowl parties, ANY male activity that consistently denies women's participation. It's redundant and it robs slices of the "pie" from other members of the body (at least 3/4 i.e. the women and children).
So when the leadership find men to be the most valuable ones to target a not so subtle message is sent: men are more valuable in church and therefore more valuable to God.
That's what irks me.

Paul- could you send me a few links of the discussions you've read online that seem to be healthily building up men without ignoring women?

Abbie said...

I'm late to this discussion, but I totally agree. My mother took four daughters to church every Sunday, and my dad made us breakfast and told us how pretty we were as we left him at home.
As an unchurched adult, I led my husband back to church so that our young children would have the experience of growing up with a strong spiritual foundation, such as I did. (In defense of my husband, he did not resist.)
We found a church, and a year or two later, came the talk of marketing/demographics, etc, and I began to feel my relationship with that church fail. Isn't God's demographic everyone? And, I think that church leaders have failed to remember the best marketing tool of all....."if I be lifted up".

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Excellent comment! Glad to have your insight, your stories of how females brought children and your husband to church. So good to be reminded of the one who calls all men and women, boys and girls to himself.

Anonymous said...


VERY late to this post. I always have much to say about male/female issues, but this time let me just note that this reminds me of how some youth groups like Young Life tend to operate. They explicitly have leaders target the popular kids (or they did back when I was involved). This is thought to attract all the kids who want to be cool. However, in towns like the one I grew up in, this just continually made me feel left out BY the leaders. It was clear that I was not their target, and I was only going to do so much jumping up and down waving my arms so to speak. Moreover, friends were not inclined to join me, as the divisions in between crowds were too great and too painful for them to feel welcome. So it squelched the evangelistic efforts. Young Life had become something for "that" crowd. I remained faithful for any needs that came up but really stopped even attending as it got so bad.

I thought that might be a useful analogy. I was heartened years later to learn that one couple had come on staff who were physically disabled and so intent on specifically reaching those who otherwise fall through the cracks. Then it could become a place for everyone beside one another at the foot of the cross. Great to hear of the chapter request--what a great opportunity!

I probably won't see any response you offer on such an old post (I don't get e-mail notifications, since google problems force me to be "anonymous).


Jonalyn Fincher said...


I feel the same concern over YL's strategy. It doesn't remind me of the way Jesus did ministry. I'm glad you brought it up, it's a helpful analogy of how any targeting strategy leaves some out.

My biggest concern is with the way most targeting creates rigid guidelines that fail to allow for the flexible realities: different gifts, different situations, different ways the Spirits asks us to work (e.g. the kaleidoscope analogy in Ruby Slippers). This physically disabled couple sound like they're a breath of fresh air to YL.

You might be heartened to know that this blog will be moving soon to a wordpress format on our Soulation website. I'll be sending out several announcements. Perhaps this will make it easier to be notified of the blog conversation?