Why men don't sing in church

I’m not sure if you have noticed, but men are not singing during worship. Sure, some men sing, but a vast majority do not. While the vitality of congregational singing often correlates with the spiritual health of a congregation, even at churches one would consider “healthy,” men are not singing. I have seen this as a worship leader and congregant at growing churches.

I recently read the book, Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. Murrow has done extensive research on Christianity’s gender gap. Although most church leaders are men, most Christian men feel like the church is feminized and it’s the last place they want to spend Sunday mornings.

Murrow devotes a whole chapter of his book to how contemporary worship affects men. First, there are some significant benefits to modern worship that men love. The environment is casual so we can wear our Broncos jerseys on game days. There’s a rock band. Rock bands are cool. The lyrics to the songs are projected on large screens in an easy-to-read bold font. No need to get out a hymn book and attempt to read four-part harmony.

Despite these advantages, there are a few barriers for men engaging in contemporary worship. Murrow points out that before contemporary worship came on the scene in the 70’s and 80’s, most worship songs in the church were written about God rather than to God. He writes, “With hymns, God is out there. He’s big. Powerful. Dangerous. He’s a leader. With Praise and Worship, God is at my side. He’s close. Intimate. Safe. He’s a lover.”

I do not think that intimate worship songs are wrong. We need to be aware of how often we sing them and how they may be affecting men’s engagement in worship. Murrow gives us a humorous illustration of how strange this intimate language is for men.

“Picture two male hunters sitting in a duck blind, shotguns resting across their laps. One hunter decides to express his affection for the other, using the words of a popular praise song. He turns to his friend and says, “Hey, buddy…”

Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel I’m moving to the rhythm of your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in this secret place

Those are the lyrics to a worship song. Murrow goes on to write, “I cannot imagine saying these words to another man - especially one carrying a loaded shotgun.”

Worship songs with intimate and feminized language are becoming increasingly common. There’s a reason for this trend. Whether you like it or not, contemporary worship is a business. I love how this industry creates genuinely great worship songs and other resources for our ministry. The downside is that the record labels want to produce music to sell to their target demographic. Murrow writes, “the Christian music industry knows its audience - lonely women who long for a lover, and cautious mothers to protect their children. Meeting their expectations keeps the cash registers ringing.” Maybe Murrow is a bit extreme in his assessment of the music industry, but I think he is onto something. He writes, “men are looking for a male leader - not a male lover.”

While most contemporary Christian worship is intimate and feminized, there are some songs that I find resonate with men. These findings are based on my scientific research of what songs I enjoy singing the most as a member of the male human species. Here are a few of my favorites.

Lion and the Lamb by Bethel Music
What a Beautiful Name by Hillsong Worship
Not Afraid by Red Rocks Worship
Unstoppable God by Elevation Worship

We also need to be more intentional about the keys we are singing songs. Most male-led worship songs are recorded in keys that are way too high for ordinary men to sing. Lowering songs a step or two can drastically increase men’s willingness and ability to participate.

There’s no magic bullet to increasing male participation in worship. Try to plan a balanced diet of songs that resonate with both genders and adjust the keys of songs when necessary. Pick up a copy of Murrow’s book. He has a lot of insight to share on the gender gap in the Church today.