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Has the pandemic put men off church?

by
14 May 2021

Survey data suggest that they might be more reluctant to return, say Andrew Village and Leslie Francis

THE observation that women outnumber men in Anglican congregations at a ratio of roughly 2:1 seems well established and well accepted. For example, the Signs of Growth survey that attracted participation from 31,521 churchgoers in the diocese of Southwark found that 65 per cent were female in each of the three somewhat different episcopal areas.

This observation is by no means new. Writing in Volume 3 of The Oxford History of Anglicanism (1829-1914), Susan Munn offers the provocative title for her chapter, “The feminisation of nineteenth-century Anglicanism”, and draws attention to the complex and multi-faceted nature of the notion of feminisation. Feminisation is not just a matter of women outnumbering men in congregations: Munn speaks of feminine modes of thought, practices, and preferences as shaping the Church of England in the 19th century.

So, what may be implied by this notion of feminine modes of thought, practices, and preferences? The broad field of the “psychology of individual differences” helps to address this question. The psychology of individual differences is concerned to map the consistent psychological variations among people within the population, and differentiates between normal behaviour and pathology.

The psychology of individual differences is concerned primarily with normal behaviour, and draws attention to ways in which men and women may tend to evaluate their experience of the world differently. One of the better-known approaches to the psychology of individual differences in church circles is Psychological Type Theory.

Psychological Type Theory distinguishes between two energy orientations (extraversion and introversion), two ways of perceiving (sensing and intuition), and two ways of evaluating (thinking and feeling). It is these two ways of evaluating experience and making judgements about things which are key to shaping the culture and the climate of institutions.

Population studies in psychological-type profiling in the UK show variations in preference for thinking and feeling in both men and women. Overall, however, women are much more likely than men to prefer feeling (70 per cent compared with 35 per cent). As a consequence of this difference, congregations with a ratio of two women to every man inevitably emerge as communities that prefer feeling. As a consequence, it is not just men who tend to feel less at home there, but thinking types as well.

Research on church congregations shows that a higher proportion of men in congregations (42 per cent) prefer feeling than men in the general population (35 per cent). Research on Church of England clergy shows that a much higher proportion of clergymen (54 per cent) prefer feeling than men in the general population (35 per cent). Among clergywomen, the proportion is 74 per cent compared with 70 per cent of women in the general population.

 

SO, HOW do we recognise the difference between the ways in which feeling types and thinking types evaluate what is going on? Feeling types go first for harmony and warmth; thinking types go first for honesty and truth. Feeling types tend to support the way in which institutions evolve; thinking types are more inclined to challenge.

Against this background, our hypothesis was that men in the congregations would have judged the Church’s response to the pandemic more harshly than women. The data provided by 1642 female and 854 male C of E churchgoers supported our hypothesis.

  • While 42 per cent of women agreed that the Church at a national level had responded well to the crisis, the proportion fell to 30 per cent of men.

  • While 43 per cent of women agreed that the Church at a national level had done a good job of leading us in prayer, the proportion fell to 29 per cent of men.

  • While 31 per cent of women considered that the Church went too far in closing church buildings, the proportion rose to 48 per cent of men.

  • While 62 per cent of women agreed that clergy should always be allowed into their churches, the proportion rose to 71 per cent of men.

  • While 27 per cent of women considered that churches should stay open whatever the crisis, the proportion rose to 36 per cent of men.

  • While 72 per cent of women agreed that it had been good to see clergy broadcast services from their homes, the proportion fell to 59 per cent of men.

  • While 63 per cent of women deemed online worship to be a great liturgical tool, the proportion fell to 49 per cent of men.

 

DO THESE differences in responses really matter? We suspect that they do.

Our churches, as we knew them before the pandemic, were running low on men. During the pandemic, the men who were there in our churches have felt more alienated from the Church than the women.

As a consequence, the men might be more reluctant to return than the women. As a consequence, the ratio of those who attend could widen further. We wonder what God might make of that.

 

The Revd Andrew Village is Professor of Practical and Empirical Theology, and Canon Leslie J. Francis is Visiting Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, both at York St John University.

For more details on the Covid-19 and Church-21 survey, visit:

www.yorksj.ac.uk/coronavirus-church-and-you

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