Why women are leaving the church

I am writing my second longest essay to date and looking at the reasons why we do need women's ministries to operate out of our churches.

I have been trying to find online articles by feminist researcher Kristin Aune from the University of Derby. She has been researching the reasons why women appear to be leaving the Church. Depressing as her findings are, we might be able to use the very ideas that are persuading women away to persuade them that something better exists (with help from the Holy Spirit!).

Kristin believes women find more relevance in TV icons who promote a sense of female empowerment. She also thinks that the church conveys itself as an outdated, patriarchal institution with the huge media/ newspaper attention to issues like women’s ordination and female priests' slow progression through the ecclesiastical ranks. She has calculated that 50,000 women are leaving Christian denominations a year. I am not sure of the precise figures for the C of E but hope to find this out. Perhaps in our outreach, we can address some of the misconceptions.

She cites another set of reasons as to why women are leaving the church -

  • they are having fewer children to replace the older generation lost from the church.
  • Feminism challenges traditional Christian views about women’s roles and raised women’s aspirations and even though the church is catching up in this area, it is not perceived to be doing so. 
  • two thirds of women are in the labour market and employment, childcare and housework causes church attendance to drop in value
  • churches are failing to reflect the large number of non-traditional families that women are now living in. Women can not find families like theirs in church. 
  • She also believes that conservative attitudes to sexual desire are causing women to stay away

Her research informs a book called 'Women and Religion in the West' co-authored with Sonya Sharma (Edinburgh University) and Giselle Vincett (University of British Columbia). It suggests activities to suit women to attract them back to the church.

My report will also look touch on the 'feminisation' of the church. I hope to discover what might be happening to these men who stay home once a week whilst their women get together for fellowship and food. I have reason to believe that men's groups are forming and that sense of 'brother-hood' is being recaptured in the particular ministry I am going to focus on in its particular setting. David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church and Leon Podles’ The Church Impotent: The Feminization of the Church have done much to alarm us about the hemorrhaging of men from the church. I wonder what I might glean from these findings too.


Kathryn Rose said...

My return to active involvement with church (I stayed away for about a decade; now I'm an organist) has been very much a result of various interactions with ordained women. Women's priesthood is very important to me and I find it painful that some people within the church cannot recognise this as valid. When others reject the ministry through which I finally felt I was able to return to church, it feels like a rejection of my contributions, an invalidation of my own experiences, a statement that what I have to offer is unwanted or unworthy because of the route by which I happened to travel.

Just my tuppence worth. It will be interesting to see what statistics you can find.

Rachel said...

Thank you Kathryn. Hope to blog as I write up.

Joan_of_Quark said...

I'm generally far from the bell curve of any known demographic, so the last place I'd be looking for role models is TV. Some interesting ideas here but also a few inconsistencies I think...
"She cites another set of reasons as to why women are leaving the church -
they are having fewer children to replace the older generation lost from the church.

-two thirds of women are in the labour market and employment, childcare and housework causes church attendance to drop in value"

If childcare responsibilities make women less likely to attend (seems reasonable) fewer children per woman should on balance reduce any childbearing gaps in women's church attendance. Plus the first point would explain fewer small girls (and boys) coming into a church, not grown women leaving it!

Having said that, nothing would induce me to attend a church with even less equality for women than the one I'm in, and if someone started whining to me about "The Church Impotent" and "feminisation" I think my response would be along the lines of, "It's not me, it's you."

Hannah Mudge said...

I'm really interested to see what else you have to offer on this issue. It's something I'm so interested in and I've also looked into Kristin's work on the subject (i got to meet her last year and enjoyed having a good chat about it all!). I find the way women's ministries operate and the different things they involve fascinating although I do think that they don't always cater to a wide range of women.

Rosemary said...

I hope you’ll forgive me for reminding you, but it’s all about Jesus, not about us, men or women. Where is Jesus mentioned in this article? He’s not. I hope He’s going to be the main focus of your ‘longest essay to date’ .. and not women. As you know, I live in a country where women have had absolutely equal [I would say MORE than equal] rights in the church for longer than almost anywhere else, and the subject of this post is why they’re STILL failing to make any headway. I say again, It’s not about us .. it’s about Jesus. It’s not about women ANYTHING, it’s about Jesus. It’s not about men ANYTHING, it’s about Jesus. It’s not about our culture and how that’s changing, it’s about the Truth, and He is THE Truth. It’s not about what we deserve, we deserve to die without knowing the Truth, but He loves us enough to show us that Truth, and what do we do with it? We get bogged down with our ‘rights’ and our ‘equality’ .. well we HAVE no rights. Nor do we have any right to equality, He has asked us to be servants .. slaves .. and yes, our menfolk have often done a particularly poor job of being servants, doesn’t mean we’ll do better. In fact if you look at our country, you’d come to the conclusion that women have done a poor job too .. it’s sheer arrogance to think that it’s up to us. It’s all about Him!

If men and/or women are leaving the church, then it’s OUR fault. It means we’re not telling them about Jesus. It’s not because we’re not fighting for our/their rights, it’s because we don’t know Him well enough to share His good news .. only our own news. Typically selfish of us isn’t it?

Rachel said...

Hi Rosemary
I do not think I quite see the dichotomies you see. If it's about Jesus, by his grace, he makes it about us, by his very incarnation no less, his death, as you mention, and his resurrection. I can not help but care if people are leaving the church. It seems like a good thing to investigate. We have a lecturer Bob Jackson, whose books The Road to Growth and Hope for the Church look at these issues of retaining, discipling, empowering people to serve and belong etc I hope to look at an outreach programme of a local church which has been effectively discipling and evangelising non-Christians, who are now walking their first steps in the Christian journey.

Long time, no hear. Hope the Lord is blessing the ministries of yourself and your husband and drawing you both more closely into his presence. x


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