Our Young Men Are Leaving the Church

A prevalent argument has formed that women and girls are leaving the Church in droves. The implication is that more women are leaving than men and in historic numbers. All of this is based on anecdotal observation without much actual evidence. Regardless of the actual situation, other equally valid anecdotal based observations can argue that men are still far more likely to leave or not ever join the Church than women. This is not unique to Mormonism according to studies of religious organizations.

Why are men most likely to drop or reject religion? The studies do not really answer that question any more than why women might. In fact, more women remain a part of religious institutions then men. The doesn’t sound correct if feminists are right in the assumptions that traditional religions are oppressive patriarchies. Islam is one of the only major religions where men are more likely to join and participate, but it is an exception and not the rule.

The suggestions of possible reasons are mine alone. They are also theoretical from lifelong participation. Because of the general nature of the subject, stereotypes are present for a wider discussion. Although I never left the Church or intend to anytime soon to give personal examples, there remains a lifetime of experience as a male member. My friends were male, my religious associates were male, and I was raised with brothers and sisters. Some of the acquaintances I have known continue in the faith. Others drifted away like so many.

Men are not always in control.The saying that “boys will be boys” really does have a basis in fact. Call it cultural or genetic, but boys have a hard time not giving into temptations. Nothing is stronger than raging hormones when faced with a desirable person of the opposite gender. Even the best and obedient boy will more than likely lose if put into a situation where giving in is easy. Yes, boys and men are responsible for their own actions. That doesn’t take away the existence of a strong impulse when certain signals, intended or not, are placed in front of them like bate from a fisherman. I am sorry. I am a man. I grew up around men. I talked with men both in and outside of the Church. Men have a strong libedo and sense of independence. Thankfully, they can learn to control themselves over time and with proper training. Regardless, too many make mistakes and decide leaving the Church is better than living a lie of obedience.

Getting in trouble with women is not the only source of frustration. Peer pressure and a sense of adventure push the envelope. Men and boys do not like to be restricted. They are physical creatures more then women or girls, even if there are exceptions for both sides of gender. Talk to four out of five men and they will gush about a sport either as participant or at least watching. This translates into not letting anything get in their way; and often commandments are seen as an impediment to their competitive get what they want nature. It can be hard to follow the Mosiah 3:19 council:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Giving them a lot of responsibilities is both a help and a hinderance. It can keep men busy so they don’t have idol time to give in to temptations. Focusing on tasks to perform channels the energy into more productive directions. Yet, this can also backfire because ironically men and boys like the path of least resistance. In other words, they are lazy when an immediate reward is not forthcoming and its not their own goal. Expectations of full time job or school, home teaching, a calling in the ward, and fatherhood or housework can be overbearing. For much younger boys the thought of missionary work can be scary enough to drive them away; especially when not going has social stigma.

For more evidence that it is boys and men that are more likely to leave then girls and women, take a look around a ward. Notice how many women come alone with their kids compared to men. Husbands have more of a chance they will lose the faith and stop attending. Women often struggle with a spouse who no longer believes, and eventually there can be a divorce to remain or drifting away themselves. That doesn’t mean that a woman can’t inspire the man to become believing and active. Advice is given in 1 Corinthians 7, to not leave the unbelieving spouse, “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” That means continuing to strive to keep the faith despite marital circumstances. Don’t leave them unless they leave you.

What can be done to retain and interest more men in the Church? No suggestions are given because its hard to tell. At no time in the LDS Church’s history has it been opposite this condition. I have some speculation why Islam and more Eastern religions don’t have the same problems, but I’ll leave that alone. The implications would not be well received or fit into the modern Western culture. Other ideas would need to be examined to fit better into Gospel ideals. Perhaps a large and robust active membership for both men and women is just not built into the faith. It is up to individuals, and not the organization, to decide why, how, and if they will join or participate.

26 thoughts on “Our Young Men Are Leaving the Church

  1. I agree that as many men are leaving the church as women.

    The men I know who’ve left the church this past year are all under 40, and they’ve all left because of their doubts. Doubts regarding certain things that happened in early church history. Doubts about things that are happening now.

    What can we do? We can talk to them about their doubts without simply dismissing them or addressing them with meaningless platitudes. We can embrace the kind of diversity President Uchtdorf talked about in a recent General Conference talk. We can go out of our comfort zones to be friends with those in our ward we might normally not be friends with.

  2. I always think it’s worth remembering that the original suggestion regarding forming an organization for the children of the Church was to form an organization for the male children of the Church. It was these young boys who were seen to be the threatened population.

    Certainly my male ancestors going back several generations testify that it is the men, rather than the women, who have traditionally failed to remain in the Church. As discussed elsewhere, other denominations have seen the flight of men to be even more prevalent than what we see in LDS congregations.

  3. Tim, the answer from my experience is not that we find ways to talk about doubts or embracing diversity. I’ve seen it tried. It doesn’t work because no amount of trying to persuade actually does. What needs to happen more, and I find Meg’s historical comment about Primary instructive, is to teach them how they can find God and become more spiritual. Give them a way to resolve their own doubts and experience the Divine. That is a lot harder, but ultimately much more productive, than history lessons and theological argumentation.

  4. As far as discussing doubt goes, I agree it seems to not work very well over all. But I think when it does work, it is one on one and not part of the public discourse or because we covered areas for possible doubt in Sunday School. I think those pushing to have Sunday discuss doubts (I do not perceive Tim as suggesting this) often do so because they also believe it to be a net negative for the Church.

  5. Hi jettboy, great post. English is my second language and I welcome corrections. I am and will always remain a teacher and learner of languages. You wrote about “idol” time when I think you meant “idle” time. The interesting about living Gospel principles is that more often than not, idle time is a time when idols of all sorts can fill in the spiritual void. Through a twist of the English language you made a great point. We all need time off sometimes, but not idol time… : )

  6. Laurent, you are right with the word choice. One of the weaknesses of the English language is when words are different spellngs and meanings, but are pronounced the same. In this case, idle time often becomes idol time with sports for men. Even the most faithful men in the Church suddenly becomes worshippers of sports over religion when a major event happens. It would be nice to know how such enthusiasm could be translated to spiritual activities.

  7. I think it’s because we convert to the church instead of Christ. It’s easier to turn your back on an organization than Jesus.

  8. I suggest it’s because all “worthy” men receive the authority of the priesthood but unfortunately all too rarely the power thereof.

  9. In my experience challenging boys and young men to the great adventure of the Gospel by focusing on the heroes and prophets is far more effective than trying to tame them to sit still and listen to general stories of nice behavior. Statistics seem to indicate that the Church is better than most other Christian religions at retaining men of superior education as well as men in general. The Book of Mormon, in particular, contains a wealth of righteous warriors but mothers are sometimes prone to avoid the heroic in favor of the ‘nice’. I agree that we need to focus on converting to Christ, but boys cherish stories that contain examples that inspire them or provide realistic examples of the things boys do. President Monson’s story of sneaking matches into a field and starting a fire touched many who recognized themselves in that mischievous boy who grew to be a prophet. My first son was born in a Catholic hospital where a crucifix reminded me that my duty as a mother was to raise men who might be martyred.

  10. “It would be nice to know how such enthusiasm could be translated to spiritual activities.”

    I’d suggest its because we’re not needed (even though we are). In my immediate influence I can think of dozens of situations were meaningful, exalting service is desperately required, the kind of charitable service which not only humbles but also exalts by endowing the participants with real power in the priesthood. And yet this kind of service is not rendered because all too often a mess of pottage is provided by a bureaucratic entity which enables a subsistence existence for those truly in need of help. Or the help is refused out of pride, or the service is never organized and offered because, “why should they be helped when so and so doesn’t even help themselves, etc”

    Might I offer one suggestion to those with means, those who have been clothed with robes as opposed to rags as it were? Look around and see who in your ward can be helped. If you don’t know and think everyone is more or less fine, then you actually need to start at step one and get to know the lives of your brothers and sisters more. Then when it’s determined that she needs the window replaced, he needs the car worked on, the house painted, etc (I’ve randomly chosen blue collar type service…) go to someone with stewardship and propose that you’ll donate the funds to pay for the service, providing some kind of service activity can be organized to do so.

    In this example, the needs would ideally be diagnosed by an HT or VT, but I can speak from experience that seeking out the needs of those around you and organizing your brothers and sisters to help meet them is most certainly part of the work of salvation. Unfortunately, so much of it is handled in perhaps well meaning lifeless fashion from our governments.

  11. One reason other churches are losing men faster is because they have been feminized.

    Feminizing churches destroys them. If KK were a student of history, she’d know this. Or maybe she does know it and that’s her goal.

    Similarly, the leftist/progressive notion of treating different things as equal and the -same- is also destructive of those things and the frame in which those things exist.

    Leftism weakens and eventually destroys all institututons that it has marched through.

    These concepts are discussed in depth by Professor Bruce Charlton, MD, on his blog at http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com

  12. I wonder how much of it is just because of the burden placed on the time of Priesthood holders in ward and stake positions. I’m barely getting by financially, and there’s absolutely no way I would ever 1) want a position in the bishopric or the High Council or the Stake Presidency, or 2) be able to sacrifice the time necessary to do the callings justice. It’s probably ridiculous to compare the sacrifices demanded of the members today as opposed to what the pioneers went through, but I wonder how many just see this endless tunnel of service and demands on their time and talents and abilities, even though we freely agree to make such promises in the temple. How much of it is a knowledge that to whom much is given, much is expected, and they’re not sure they can fulfil those promises any more?

  13. Jettboy,

    Glad to see people like you are addressing this topic. Anyone who served a mission knows that women are more likely than men to join this or any church. Discussions about patriarchy and ordaining women to the priesthood are incomplete without considering that women’s average predilection for church participation exceeds men’s. Joseph Smith’s formative years were characterized by his mother having more interest in organized religion than his father. Forgive my naturalistic interpretation, but Joseph was highly motivated to institute a patriarchal priesthood (he even used the words) to induce participation by his father and other men in the religious organization that he founded. An all male clergy makes men necessary to the organization and helps bring sex ratios into parity. If men and women were interchangeable within the organization, men would no longer be necessary, and slowly but surely, the organization would become predominantly female, which would lead to its eventual decline in overall numbers, like the Shakers.

    An all male clergy is of course not unique to Mormonism. This is partially explainable from the history of early Christianity. We learn in the book “Contra Celsum” that early converts to Christianity tended to be women, slaves, and orphans, the people most oppressed in the patriarchal Greco-Roman society. Christian ethics can be understood as a countercultural rebellion against the Roman patriarchy. In Christianity, male instincts and desires practically define sin, and Christian mothers have found male tastes revolting to one degree or another ever since. This explains why men are less at home in the organization than women.

    Early Christian groups that included women in the clergy certainly existed, but they died out. A Christian male clergy was selected for as a product of religious evolution, because it ensured more equal numbers of men and women, which is more conducive to growth.

  14. Bookslinger says “One reason other churches are losing men faster is because they have been feminized.”

    Rather I think that Mormon religion is naturally feminine. It’s orientation is domestic, turning the hearts of the members to the duties of the home and it’s relationships. Women are often praised for their unselfishness towards their children, but they cannot really take full credit for this, as much of it is a biological gift of Mother Nature. The woman finds herself genetically endowed with a powerful instinctive urge to sacrifice herself for her child, willingly renouncing her freedom for years to come. Even formerly ambitious business women are often surprised to find themselves willingly embracing the SAHM path once the hormones start flowing with the birth of their first child. The woman is instinctually conscientious, nurturing, sacrificial, and enterprising all matters regarding the home. If any person should be elected the head of the household, it should be the woman. The man is a pathetic second class candidate for such a job.

    In religion, we can see that women are more inclined to service and devotion, because they bring their natural domestic gifts to bear. They happen to belong to a religion that values the “feminine” traits of domestic responsibility, conscientiousness, and self-sacrifice. They have a great spiritual advantage to the man in this regard. By all accounts, they should be the spiritual rulers and exemplars for the inferior spirituality of the man. This is evidenced on any given Sunday in any ward, where it is clearly seen that the Relief Society take all their duties much more seriously than the Elders or High Priest’s Quorums.

    With regards to sex, the Man is the opposite of the Woman. After giving into his sexual urges with the Woman, he feels no innate responsibility towards her afterwards. His genetic desires are to have sex with multiple women without regard to consequence. His passions are not focused on the family, but upon the outside world, ambition, success, power, warfare. This is not “evil.” It is rather his nature. Unfortunately, his nature doesn’t correspond very well to the commandments of God, unlike the woman.

    This is more than simply a stereotypical exaggeration. Centuries of civilizing culture have subdued the promiscuous instinct in the Man, but his core nature is clearly evidenced by the pornographic urge which runs rampant among men today, even in LDS culture. And even though culture has dictated that men have a responsibility towards to their wives and children, they are usually not up to the job. Instead of learning to become conscientious, sacrificial and nurturing, they apply their worldly desires for power to their familial duties, becoming unrighteous dominators, ruling their family as they would rule and dominate other men.

    Thus in the religious and domestic realm, men have a clear disadvantage to women. It’s bad luck for men that in our particular religion, God doesn’t value warfare and promiscuity, but rather fidelity and unselfishness.

  15. Nate, I’m afraid you present a rather jaundiced and inaccurate view of true manliness. Your caricature of men above bears no similarity to my own father nor to my father in law, nor to many men I’ve rubbed shoulders with, either in the military or in or out of church.

  16. Also, it bears pointing out that female nature is also fallen and imperfect. I heartily agree with the feminists on pretty much one point: it does little good placing fallen female nature on a pedestal.

  17. Nate, its been studied. There is a big correlation. Some individual congregations have even reversed direction, by toning down the feminine, and gotten more men reinvolved. Even recently former atheists, such as Dr. Bruce Charlton, have said it’s obvious.

    ‘Scuse me for touting him so much, but he’s a modern C.S. Lewis. He should be required reading.

  18. Camille Paglia, lesbian feminist libertarian, has pointed out the extreme irony in all the feminist hand-wringing over “patriarchy” in our culture. Feminists go to work every day using roads that men built, driving in cars that mostly men build, to working in buildings or in homes that men built.

    In short, there would be no civilization at all were it not for tough, burly, masculine, patriarchal men.

    Extrapolating it out, we all go to church in ward buildings that were built by men, using tithing funds that are largely comprised off donations from men. And yet, there are folks who are honestly suggesting that we follow the tack of the Anglican church and castrate our manhood? Pure absurdity.

    And yes, Dr. Bruce Charlton is a genius.

  19. Bookslinger, I have no doubt that is true. I am only pointing out the reason why women start out at an advantage in our particular family oriented religion.

    Michael Towns, manliness as you would describe it, fidelity, responsibility, chivalry, duty, etc. are cultural constructs that have been developed over millennia, but are not genetic endowments. For example, chivalry developed in Europe when Christian missionaries civilized barbarian fighting instincts by orienting them towards the protection of the weak, which in that day meant women.

    But I am talking about the natural man, which is an enemy to God. However, the natural woman is not an enemy to God. It’s not that I put them on a pedestal, it’s just that they are genetically oriented towards family responsibility and conscientiousness, which are highly prized in the church. Men are not. This is clear in numerous animal species as well.

  20. I have a lot of male friends and family that have left the church (Millenial here). They have all left for various reasons. Some have left because of doctrinal differences, I have 3 close male friends that left because they are gay, and some because of the “shame factor”. I’m don’t think we have a good solution for our gay brothers and sisters or good answers for some doctrinal questions, but we can address the “shame factor”.

    There is so much pressure to be perfect in our church and put on a good face. Can’t pass the sacrament? Didn’t go on a mission? –he must not be worthy of a date. We don’t talk about our struggles with each other. How many girls would date a guy if she knew he was struggling with porn? We need to stop the shame and start getting real and supporting each other with our struggles. One of my YSA bishops told our congregation that “90% of the males in our ward struggle with porn”. Yes, porn is evil, but there has to be a different way of addressing the issue. I just wish we could be more open and supportive of each other (not just with the porn issue). Perhaps if we re-focused more on the Atonement and saving grace of our Savior in church? If we stopped focusing on outward appearances?

    I’d love to see more retention of men–it’s a dating NIGHTMARE for women in the church over the age of 30.

  21. “Natural woman” is subsumed under “natural man”. Man = mankind = humanity. Women don’t get a free pass.

  22. I wholeheartedly agree with annegb. This is a conversion issue. Until we stop looking at the church with an accountants eye, we will have this problem. Instead of keeping checklists regarding attendance, temple attendance, home and visiting teaching we should be teaching why we do those things.

    Conversion will compel a person to do the right thing. Any amount of lessons beginning with numbers and percentages will do the opposite.

  23. Conversion issues aside, most research done into this issue with other faiths indicate identity more than conversion. Because of the traditional roles of men and women, men tend to take their identity from their places of employment and the work that they do outside of the home. Women tend to have their identity tied to child-rearing and home and take their identity from the church and it’s community. This trend covers all Judeo-Christian faiths. The LDS faith is no exception.

    The stronger a person, male or female, identifies with a belief structure, the more likely they are to be active in that faith. Churches have many, many things competing with identity now. There are dozens of subgroups and classifications that people identify themselves with now. Gone are the days of large group identification.

    Increased education, a mobile workforce, social media, smaller subgroups all compete with faith for identification….and time.

  24. I can’t really speak to the Mormon experience, but as a Catholic man I have noticed that the older, more traditional forms of worship (i.e. the Latin Mass) feel a lot more masculine to me than the more modern forms. I simply can’t stand modern worship, I get constantly irritated and feel like I’m being treating like a child. Or, frankly, a woman.

    I also find the older morality to be more appealing to my masculine side, I think because it’s more demanding. It’s like, “This is hard. Do it anyway dammit.”

    By referring to the “older morality”, I don’t mean that morality has actually changed, only that conforming to the demands of traditional morality is much less emphasized in the Church nowadays. There is much more emphasis on compassion for people in their weakness. Again, quite a feminine attitude.

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