Friday, August 07, 2009

Why are there so few mature young men in the church?

I have been thinking about this since I read the article in Christianity Today about the case for early marriage that I referenced in a prior blog post.

A big culprit of the marrying late syndrome in the church is the general lack of good prospective husbands for young women, good defined as mature young Christian men who understand marriage from a Biblical standpoint and seek marriage out. There just aren’t a lot of young men who understand and desire marriage at an early age and most seem to lack the maturity needed. Getting married young for the sake of getting married young is a recipe for disaster but delaying marriage for the sake of delaying is not much better. This is pretty pronounced in many churches, just a cursory look around will yield a lot more single women of marrying age than single men. Think about the churches you have gone to and try to think how many young, unmarried men were there. Mark Regnerus pointed this out in his article:

Unfortunately, American evangelicals have another demographic concern: The ratio of devoutly Christian young women to men is far from even. Among evangelical churchgoers, there are about three single women for every two single men. This is the elephant in the corner of almost every congregation—a shortage of young Christian men.

I have a hard time even picturing the ratio being that close. Maybe they are in different church circles than I am used to, because I can’t think of too many single men of marrying age in any church settings I am familiar with.

I am assuming that since God has predestined for eternal life His elect, there is not a gender gap there. There is no way to prove that but it certainly seems reasonable. So where are all the elect young men? I think the problem is not a lack of elect men, it is that they seem to come to a mature faith in Christ so much later. Getting married is a key formative event for young people, especially men, but they need to be prepared for marriage to some extent. This is not exclusive to young men, a lot of young Christian women have been conditioned by their parents to seek worldly achievement through education and career before even thinking about marriage.

Here are some of my possible culprits for the lack of mature, young men in the church…

Parents who don’t teach their sons to see marriage as a formative part of adulthood. This is the big one. What are parents teaching their sons about being married? Are they telling them that they should get married “someday”? Do they see their fathers grumble about marriage and their mothers complaining about their fathers? Kids already get fed a steady diet of anti-marriage imagery from popular culture. They certainly should not be hearing the same thing at home. Marriage should not be taught to our children as a someday eventuality after you have had your fun and adventure, but something to cherish. Marriage is not the gateway into middle age and the exit from a life of carefree adventure, it is the preferred state of adulthood.

Church has an image of being feminine. This is an old canard and comes often from men complaining about lace doilies in the church. I think that may be a bit overblown, but I do think that church attendance is seen as something for women to do. That leads to the next issue…

Young men are not expected to have responsibility in the church. The less people contribute to the ministry in a local body, the more disconnected they become. Doubly so for young men. Young men are joiners, they like to be a part of something. Church is something that is passive. Sitting around singing songs and listening to someone else talk for 40 minutes is one thing, being a part of the local gathering and participating is something else entirely. Where we meet, in our open participatory Lord’s Supper meeting, the young men including teens offer prayers and open the Word of God. I am guessing these young men are far more engaged than a young man dragged to church to sit still and be generally silent for an hour. That is not a capitulation to culture, it is a reality that the structured church service as we know it is not only foreign to the New Testament, but it is stifling young men.

Young men are by and large being raised by their peers in a “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere that cherishes everything but embracing mature Biblical manhood. The vast majority of young men from Christian homes are in public schools and thus are not receiving a message that is conducive to getting married at an early age, taking on responsibility for a wife and raising a family. I recall vividly the conversations that young men have in public high schools regarding girls and none of it had anything to do with respecting, cherishing and certainly not marrying women. How can we expect an hour of “church” a week to undo a whole week of coarse and degrading conversation about women? If your kids go to the world’s schools, they are often going to reflect the world’s attitude toward marriage and sexuality.

Buying into the “readiness” argument. Many people put off marriage (and children) until they feel “ready”. Guess what, you will never be ready to be married just like you will never be ready to be a parent. There is no amount of training that completely prepares you for it. I think a lot of parents buy into this and discourage early marriage as an understandable but ultimately misguided response to the catastrophic state of marriage we see in America even within the church.

That is just some thoughts off the top of my head. Maybe they are right and maybe not. It is something we need to figure out. What other reasons can you think of for this phenomena?

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Steve Martin said...

Good post.

I think that there is a lack of mature young men in the society in general.

We have infantilized our society and young people don't mature as they used to...many of them never do.

Arthur Sido said...

That is a valid point Steve. This problem goes beyond the church and into society in general, with a dramatically extended adolescence. The government gets its hooks into kids earlier and kids them in later, lessening the impact of parents. When we let our kids get too inculcated by the culture around them, they become reflective of those values and we end up with Christian young men who won’t get a job or leave home.

Alan Knox said...

Aren't young men by definition less mature? Should we be looking for mature young men, or maturing young men?

If we're looking for maturing young men, then I know several.

I also know many, many immature young men who think they are mature because of their formal education.


Arthur Sido said...


Touche, but where I am going is that young men by and large in society and in the church seem less than interested in the maturing process and are not encourgaed in that maturiung process by their parents or the church. Your view may be a bit different because you are in contact with so many young men (and I bet a lot of them don't recognize the difference between "education" and "wisdom"!)

Steve Scott said...


I'm not saying you're off about your observations at all, and I've heard this numerous times, but my experience is almost the opposite of what you wrote. It has been the men who have had the difficulty in finding women, and the complaints from the softer gender has been that the men always look to other churches or to internet dating to find them.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the cost of living is so high that a higher education and well established career are necessary for providing one's wife with a minimal of life's necessities, thus the marrying late. In church settings and religious groups I'm familiar with, the ratio has been anywhere from about 3:1 to over 10:1 men. It's been my experience that guys have a difficult time finding a woman who will even engage in a theological conversation. Church has an image of being a masculine thing. The preferred method of finding a wife among many of my friends was to go to a fluff lite church and find a girl who is cute, but with half a brain so she can be taught theology.

I know so few families with boys in public schools, and by the time the parents are done homeschooling them through the high school age, they're off to college to get advanced degrees in higher professions.

Yes, there have been immature men, and yes, a heavy theological education doesn't mean maturity. I can see how the thing you mention is "out there" in the general church culture, I'm just saying that it hasn't been my experience and have no reason as to why it might be so.

Arthur Sido said...


That is interesting. I have always attended "church" in the midwest, so I admit to a regional bias in my observation. I assumed it was the same everywhere. I think nationally the ratio is probably still skewed toward women. Perhaps someone from the south or east could give their observation?

Bean said...

We live in a culture where childhood is extended. There are more and more young men who do not leave home until their mid to late twenties.
Children are protected and cossetted at every turn, you are a "bad" parent if you are not actively involved in every activity that your child participates. Parents "save" their children from bad consequences, robbing them of a valuable learning experiences. Encouraging your children to stand up on their own two feet, allowing them to make decisions and learn what was good/bad about their decision allows them to mature. Society peer pressure has made a lot of whimpy parents who prefer to keep up a facade of perfection rather than allow their children to fail once in a while.
Until society starts treating young men like MEN, we will continue to have a bunch of twenty somethings living in a perpetual teenage state.
On a side note, the twenty year old son of a friend, flunked out of his freshman year of college last year and is now back home. His parents spent most of the time editing his papers,and attempting to keep him on task during his year away at college, he still failed. They had the son take an online college course this summer, the Dad did the work, because the son didn't want to. The son had a messy bedroom, the parents cleaned it, the son yelled at them. The parents want the son back in college, the son is procrastinating, they are setting themselves up for another year of failure in my opinion. The parents pay for the car insurance and cell phone, although the son has a full time factory job at the moment. How can this son grow up and mature if the parents continually rescue him and do NOT allow him to grow up? Unfortunately the above story of my friends is repeated in home after home across America, and we wonder why we have immature young men!

Steve Scott said...


The churches I've attended and circles I've hanged in (verb?) have been heavily Reformed doctrine oriented. The guys I've known that have done in-house missionary dating said the churches they fished in were more female populated.

Arthur Sido said...

Steve, that makes sense. Reformed churches, i.e. really reformed not reformed in name only, would tend to attract more men than the normal evangelical church. Together for the Gospel is full of younger guys, the proportion of young men to older men is striking.