No, I’m not a sorehead. I’m not mad at anyone. No one is to blame. I am not asking anyone to change to accommodate me and I’m not looking for the as-yet-undefined “perfect church.” But, and I say this cautiously, there is really no comfortable place for single women in a church. In fact, almost all Christian women friends of mine, and many men, no longer attend regular services. The data bears this out.
Women abandon church
According to Pew Research there is a Gender gap in religious service attendance of both men and women but fewer women by more than 4-7 percent since 1972. Pew surmises that the increase of women in the work force is the cause. Pooh! Women have always worked, and worked hard. And they can count on working for the church too – the 4 “Cs” – children, choir, cooking and computers. Oh – and I forgot, cleanup. But what if God has called them to something else?
My two unmarried daughters both graduated from a large Christian university. My middle child is a high earner but when she went house hunting the realtor showed her a primarily gay community, and said flatly that he had assumed she was a lesbian. She got the same story from some church friends. Maybe being nearly 6 feet tall had something to do with it, but really?
She was insulted, not by being thought a lesbian – that is bad enough. If he assumed that about her, might he not have foolish assumptions about the housing market?
My oldest girl said she’d heard it all before, having once attended the mega church in California headed by the popular writer Rick Warren. The true God Message is a positive message, true for all men in all cultures. But it must mature as the members grow. Yes, you can make many compatible friends in church, but that is not the mission of the Gospel.
After returning home following seven years in Texas I found a nice little church with genuinely friendly and down to earth people. Just as many men as women attended the weekly Bible study, a healthy sign of a healthy church so I was prepared to stay. But the pastor snapped at an older gentleman in a Bible study. I made a remark (it was non-controversial) and he snapped at me too.
Leaders should discipline in private
Women have wide experience in being put down in public by both men and women, but I balked at public rebuke of an elder. A trained teacher simply tells the student, “You have a good topic there. Let’s discuss that when the curriculum presents an opening.” There is no reason for me to announce my Ivy League education, that sounds uppity, but neither do I want to be treated as a know-nothing.
Then there are church women casting furtive, hostile glances clutching their husbands when a single woman joins. It is even harder for pretty, young women. Members routinely try to push them into marriage; again, not the mission of the church.
Single older women pose an economic threat because they have far fewer resources. Is the pastor afraid we might be needy and drain church finances? Pastors prefer men in the congregation for a number of good reasons; mortgage commitments are paid by working people. But they need not be influenced by that.
Don’t judge a Christian by his donations
The staff of the Central Church of God in Charlotte never tells the Senior Pastor how much money is contributed by individual members. He requested this so he would not make decisions based on income potential. His church prospers.
My old friend in Huntsville is now asked to speak and sign her newly-published book but she had to abandon her church when the members eliminated the name of the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, from the collect because “it might offend someone.” You can be sure the gospel is offensive. 1 Corinthians 1:23 is just one of many places where preaching a crucified Christ is called a stumbling block. It is offensive because it describes your sin, the ones Christ died for. And the worst truth for Men to face is the fact of personal sin. And yes it is offensive to all the un-redeemed.
Offending God is worse than offending individuals
Believers should know the gospel is offensive to everyone but valuable because it shows the cure, the sacrifice of Jesus. I guess if they throw God out of the church they should not be surprised when members leave.
While in Texas I attended another mega-church with 23,000 members at one campus as large as a community college. This group believes women should not teach. Our brave Sunday School teacher studied hard but he had no call to teach, and barely knew his subject. Fortunately, two former missionaries in the class bailed him out every Sunday by clarifying his words for the rest. Wouldn’t it be better to have someone do God’s work that God, not man had called?
It is also true that when leaders are rigid about one thing, they can become rigid about the rest. In a multi-cultural, multi-economic, multi-ethnic society flexibility in diverse groups functions better than top-down diktats from a denominational high. A choir member wanted to quote a scripture before she sang but was halted – “Shouldn’t we get permission from the pastor first?” the Choir Director asked. This woman has 60 years as a believer, many more years than her Pastor and most of the denominational Poohbahs. Top-down groups have a reputation of becoming irrelevant and out of touch. If members are not valued by the church, they drift away.
How to select the right church for you
How can you, as a woman, or men too, select a good congregation. We all want to know this. The secret is in the scriptures. The symbol of a good church is that the members love and appreciate each other; this also means there should be a good cross section of ages.
Pay no attention to the outside; a rich church may just be a showplace and little else. “Church mice” are still members in good standing. If they care for each other then there is a place for you too. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, that ye love one another.” John 13:34-35
Catholics also have experienced a 10% drop in attendance since 1991. For those interested in moving forward the Bible has a pattern for the church in the epistles. Perhaps when churches return to the pattern so will the members.
Cornelia Scott Cree, retired missionary-teacher, returned to Waynesville, NC to write books, articles and a blog, WouldYouConsider.net. Two upcoming books will be published this winter by Smashwords.