Less Women In the Church Pews

At a time when women have more advantages and opportunities in churches than ever, more organizations devoted to women’s equality and liberation within the Church, a recent poll seems quite surprising. In the past 20 years, the percentage of women attending church during a typical week has decreased by 11% and is now 44%, the Barna Group reported August 1 , 2011.

Along with a decrease in attendance, women have stopped volunteering at their churches. The poll also found that only 40% of women read their Bibles each week, whereas two decades ago, 50% of all women did.

The survey also found that women are stepping away from congregations and a 17% increase in the number of women who have become “unchurched.”

“For years, many church leaders have understood that ‘as go women, so goes the American church,'” wrote Barna Group founder George Barna, on his website. “Looking at the trends over the past 20 years, and especially those related to the beliefs and behavior of women, you might conclude that things are not going well for conventional Christian churches.”

They found that the percentage of women who strongly believe the Bible is accurate in all it teaches declined by 7% to 42%. And those who view God as “the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today” dropped to 70% from the previous 80%.

“Women used to put men to shame in terms of their orthodoxy of belief and the breadth and consistency of their religious behavior,” wrote Barna. “No more; the religious gender gap has substantially closed.”

Women are no longer being consistent in their religious commitment or having more depth in their beliefs. Women have been the majority of the devoted and faithful attenders.

In a day and age where women have more leadership opportunities within the Church, more opportunities for theological education, and are more liberated than ever within religious circles, why are there now less women in those churches? Why are they reading their Bibles less, volunteering less frequently, and believing less in the accuracy of Scripture?

Tell why YOU think this is…

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19 thoughts on “Less Women In the Church Pews

  1. This is so distressing. It seems in our area more woman are involved; I truly hope this is not a trend. Women’s ministry must be pro-active in studying, obeying, & teaching the Truth. Ezra 7:10.

  2. I’ll just have to go with my own experiences and observations.

    Life is exponentially much busier and complicated at the present time than it was 20 years+ ago. I could argue that it is moreso for women.

    -Many moms work pt or ft out of necessity so as not to lose their house.

    -Moms (& dads) put in many hours every week in their children’s classes at school — this is due to severe lack of funds for public education, as well as an understanding that parents make all the difference in the education of their children.

    -raising children to be relevant in the workplace in order to be financially independent in their adulthood requires much careful attention and effort on the parents’ part. Moms are generally most in tune with this and carry the burden.

    There is only room in life for activities that are “time well spent”. “Church”, by & large, has ceased to be time well-spent.

    -whatever the message was about, 10 minutes later I can’t recall.

    -however, more often than not I’m working in the kids’ program. I come exhausted. I leave even more exhausted.

    Ironically, Sunday “church” is an event by men, about men, and for men.

    -It is a place where the only time I hear a woman’s voice is if she sings. It is an event that publicly is planned by men, and presented by men from a man’s perspective.

    -When communion is served, many men go up to the front to administer it to everyone.

    -When there is a steering commitee or leadership group, it is all men.

    Whatever the reasons for this (& i’m aware of what they are), the net result is an experience of being invisible — a member of an invisible group. Like eavesdropping on an exclusive men’s club. Where I am irrelevant.

    In summary: church is not time well-spent. I can get nourished and charged up in better ways. I can directly make a positive difference in the lives of others in MUCH better ways.

  3. “In a day and age where women have more leadership opportunities within the Church, more opportunities for theological education, and are more liberated than ever within religious circles, why are there now less women in those churches? ”

    We’ve abandoned our biblical roles as men and women. Women want to have authority over men and men have allowed it. Men have surrendered their role as head of their wife and family and also their roles of authority within the church. Godly husbands need to lead; godly wives need to follow.

    The picture of the church as represented by the poll looks much like the picture of our families. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be educated or allowed to serve in churches. The Bible clearly defines what each of our roles should be in the home and in the church. It appears that wherever women take over the position of leadership, in the home and the church, the institution begins to move away from God’s biblical model.

    Hebrews 10:24-25 still applies today and it applies to both genders and all members of the family! “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

    • hmmmm…… i feel like i’ve read these exact words in a book, and then in articles, in blog posts, in blog comments….

      it would be very nice to have some fresh and original thoughts.

  4. My opinion:
    In some cases, we’ve taken our cue from men. Culture is teaching us: “If it’s good for men, it’s good for women.” So, if men aren’t going to church, women probably aren’t either.

    Women don’t have the time. As gender roles change and more women work full time and have kids, they’re probably exhausted! They probably don’t have time easily available to attend church or volunteer.

    Kid’s activities. The family used to think that kids could be activities like sports or clubs, but not at the expense of the family. Now? Kids, even young ones, have baseball/soccer/football games on Sundays and families are attending the games instead of church. That will reduce the statistics of women being in church, but it also sends a message that church is less important sometimes.

  5. Off the top of my head, I would say that is has something to do with a growing sense of selfhood, the right to identify with the divine feminine (without shame or guilt), and the desire to find God on terms that do not involve distorted ideas of female self-abnegation and self-sacrifice.

    I recommend the book DANCE OF THE DISSIDENT DAUGHTER: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine, by Sue Monk Kidd, a devoted Christian writer who became disenchanted with the church and went on her own quest to “unlock femininity”.

  6. this article grabbed my attention very quickly, i am going to into a ministry that is focused on the local churches across America. this is the first year in 50 years that it finally opened up to women as an opportunity to help/assist women in the local church.
    To be honest, i am not sure why the church is dying down with less and less people, there a variety of reason, but what i am praying for is a revival, and i think it would be great if others that are reading this would pray as well with me. Pray that there would be a revival in the local churches. I am passionate about discipleship and ministry, and i believe that is where is starts, back to the basics of what does discipleship look like in the local church (Titus 2) “Older women teaching the younger women”
    Thank you for your time in reading this article, if you have any insight on what i have shared, please share

    -Lynna

  7. But maybe a new paradigm altogether. Pare everything down to the core, the heart of the matter. What’s the point?

    Perhaps you’ll find that what has become the typical model for “church” is loaded down with all these extra coatings of “necessities” that sounded good and wise but in actual fact make it a sluggish machine that generates enough power to at least blink on when not blinking off (in ridiculous proportion to the huge amounts of money, resources, and numbers of people involved).

  8. ” this is the first year in 50 years that it finally opened up to women as an opportunity to help/assist women in the local church.
    To be honest, i am not sure why the church is dying down with less and less people”

    You answered your own question.

    The church is misogynistic. Why would a smart modern woman join a patriarchal organization that provides absolutely no practical value on a daily basis? She’d sooner take a yoga class or be with her family, not praying to some god who doesn’t consider her man’s equal, in a church that feels the same way.

  9. the reason is that women are more educated and they don’t need to be dominated by religion. they realize they have control over their lives and no one is looking over them. if you don’t feed your kids, god isn’t going to step in with some food. he never does.

    ‘accuracy of the scriptures’

    seriously? its one of the most self-contradictory book you can find. genesis itself has two competing stories about how the universe was created.

    people just aren’t as gullible as they once were.

    and then tie in the fact that the priesthood seems to be just another version of NAMBLA, except far more secretive about its intentions, and you cannot seriously wonder why people stop believing.

    final reason, a woman’s right to choose.

  10. bobby99, you are absolutely correct. No one needs or should be dominated by religion.

    There can come a point in people’s lives, though, when they’ve gone as far as their skills, knowledge, and understanding take them, and circumstance(s) are such that more is needed. But yet the expertise & excellence of their own and of others has been exhausted. Some people call out to God at that point. It is just as possible for God to exist as it is for God not to exist. Seems to me it’s worth giving it a try.

    Yes, by all means sack religion, and where you see dysfunction sack that, too. God is by definition benevolent and just. Not all people who are interested in God and the bible are dysfunctional. It’s possible to find some reasonable ones.

    • “God is by definition benevolent and just”

      Sure, if you’re somewhat healthy and lived to adulthood or a little longer then yeah God is “just”, “good”, “great”, or whatever other positive adjective theists use every day. But the facts are, over 100 billion humans have been born (C. Haub 2004) and at least half of those humans never made it to adulthood (Gregory Paul 2008), and far more conceptions -several hundred billion- failed to make it to term (Nepomnashy et al. 2006). Therefore it seems to be a matter of perspective considering that most humans *suffered* and died before maturity. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say facts like these falsify most of the positive attributes theist use to describe God.

      Sorry, I got a little off topic. I was just here to read the article and saw those 7 words you wrote and couldn’t help but say something.

      • Hi, Jason.

        These are enormous things to explore philosophically. Sure, I’m the 1st to agree that life on earth isn’t fair — which is a ridiculous understatement concerning the many injustices and atrocities suffered by the several hundred billion you mention.

        I’m not skilled or experienced at debating theism versus atheism, so I won’t even attempt. Except to say that it is not unreasonable to state that the existence of God doesn’t negate evil. But this is not a satisfactory response to all these enormous questions. All the things you make reference to are absolutely troubling, for which there are no easy answers (not really, at least — when the pain of injustice, indignity, tragedy, etc. has a face).

    • Scottie,
      Thank you for your reply. I agree with you on a couple of points as well: The existence of a god would not negate evil. Evil is not a physical property of the universe, like gravity. The issue therefore boils down to this: Is God able but unwilling, willing but unable, or unable and unwilling to at least ease the everyday occurrence of what most humans define as “evil”, or “natural evil”.

      I also agree with you about the modern complexities of life contributing to the decline of women in the church. I think that is part of the picture. However I think another, possibly larger, factor which the author, Diane, hinted to above is the shift in how women perceive themselves over the last 50 years or so. Original sin, the cornerstone of western theological tradition, flies in the face of this empowered self perception (and so would Deuteronomy 22 where God says you can stone your new wife to death if she’s not a virgin, and many other equally as bad instructions). You can find churches that don’t subscribe to this tradition but still it’s difficult to fully escape the looming implication of women unless you’re willing to suspend belief in portions of the Old Testament. And if you’re willing to do that it’s not a large step from there to regarding church as a little less important on a Sunday morning.

      • Jason,

        Yes, agreed. There is much anti-woman sentiment in the christian community. Mostly it’s very implicit, and wrapped in sweetness. But it’s very real. And most unattractive.

        As for the problem of evil, very distressing indeed. I have my own thoughts on it all, but it’s far too deep & heavy for now. My conclusion is that God is absolutely real & good and really good — this arrived at working through no small amount of consternation.

  11. At the risk of sounding simplistic, I believe the church is losing women because the church is losing lots and lots of people. Generation X and onward is populated with folks who are largely cynical, agnostic, and “too smart” for religion. Spirituality has been dumbed down to be a nebulous, undefined non-physical experience which can supposedly be attained anywhere from church to a yoga class to a nice hike in the woods. Churches everywhere are losing almost 100% of their young adults–young adults who think that religion is something they have outgrown, and as long as they’re generally good people, then they’re fulfilling the heart of Christianity anyway. They think Christianity is about a moral code, not about dynamic relationship with Christ, so they go about living “moral” lives as if that’s all they really need anyway.

    If anything, I think these statistics show that “feminization” of the church is not what’s killing it (otherwise, wouldn’t women be more attracted to it than ever?). Could it be that the reason so many men have left, and now women are leaving too, is because we are too often leaning on old traditions and power structures rather than earnestly seeking a vibrant life in God as a community? Could it be that there is something fundamentally broken in our overall religious structure that is *distinct* from the gender issue?

    I think feminine “empowerment” has very little to do with diminishing numbers in the church. Our nation’s dire need of revival is at the heart of this problem. I believe we need to see a move of God on par with the Great Awakening to change the trends we are seeing now. We need to worry more about returning to *God* than returning to gender roles. If those need correcting, they will be sorted out as we begin fearing the Lord God as a nation again and living like we believe He’s real.

  12. Whether or not education means that a person doesn’t need to be “dominated by religion”, can’t we all agree the title should be ‘Fewer Women in the Church Pews’?

  13. I think one of the reasons for the decline in women attending church is their presence in other places. Between the pressure on the economy and the many factors pulling the traditional family (mom, dad and grandparents all contributing) apart, women are having to work longer hours, more jobs and fulfill countless other responsibilities by themselves. The unfortunate result, is worship being moved further down on the things to do list.

    Another reason is the advancement of media. Although the growth of churches and their subsequent media ministries (cds, dvds, online/television services) are a blessing, particularly to the sick and shut-in, it is also resulting in non-attend-itis and the shut down of fellowship. I too, am guilty of sometimes letting schedule, sleep and technological substitutes get in the way. Thank you for reminding me how important it is that we, the nurturers of the world get sustenance.

  14. Celeste,

    But I have to ask: generally speaking, is “church” really, truly time well-spent? Is it really all it’s cracked up to be? Is it really this wonderful & important thing that the kingdom of God hinges on (as seems to be the general thought)?

    Is singing a few songs that someone else has decided on (perhaps just chosen at random), listening to someone pray a perfunctory prayer, joining in with someone else as they pray a perfunctory prayer, listening to someone talk about something and only retaining a small fraction of it if anything at all, and then saying “hello, how are you” to the people we know and a few people we don’t….. is this really and truly all that great? is it truly time well-spent? THIS is the all-important thing that that kingdom of God hinges on??? THIS is what the tithe on my hard-earned wages is sustaining??? THIS is deserving of (sometimes high paying) salaries???

    In all honesty, I haven’t been able to reconcile these things and maintain a sense of true integrity.

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