On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, David Dawkins enjoys a lunchtime gathering of friends in a parking lot near restaurants and shops on East 38th Street.
As he relaxes from his busy schedule, Dawkins also reflects on his spiritual journey.
“I haven’t been to church since my mother died several years ago,” Dawkins stated in a soft tone, as if the fact had just occurred to him.
His reason: The feeling that the church he once attended valued his money more than his salvation.
“During a service I said I could no longer tithe, and they basically told me I couldn’t be a member,” added Dawkins, a man who has reached middle age. “I haven’t set foot in a church since.”
Dawkins is among many men who, despite being raised in the Christian faith, are not involved with a church. The issue of men avoiding churches has attracted national attention in recent years.
John Fountain, a journalism professor at the University of Illinois, published a controversial column in the Washington Post explaining that he still loved God, but saw little value in church participation.
“In the church, where I have at times in my life felt the most uplifted, I have at other times felt greatly diminished, most often by insecure leaders,” Fountain wrote.
Author and social activist Jawanza Kunjufu even wrote a book on the topic entitled, Adam! Where Are You? Why Most Black Men Don’t Go to Church.
The book provided research which indicated that, at the time of its publication, men represented a majority of pastors and senior leaders, but less than 30 percent of regular lay members in most churches.
In addition, many women in congregations across the country have expressed how they and their children attend services regularly, but their husbands will not join them.
Writer Deborrah Cooper, producer of the blog Survivingdating.com, recently asserted that “one of the biggest reasons” why many Black women (42 percent, according to some studies) are single is because of a “relative lack of Black men” in many churches.
So, why do some men refuse to go to church on Sunday? A variety of reasons could be offered: They would rather watch a Sunday football game; they choose to rest or go to work instead; they are simply disenchanted with religion and the church as an institution.
“There’s not enough sin, or drugs and other vices,” said Minister Wayne North, a deacon at Kingdom Assembly Apostolic Church in Indianapolis. “In other words, we have too many brothas’ out there who are stiff-necked and weak. They don’t want to give up their worldly lifestyle and become the strong, stable man God has called them to be.”
Jeff Edwards, a young man in his 30s, attends a non-denominational church regularly, but has a good idea of why some of his friends do not.
“Most men are natural leaders, and many of us simply do not want to submit under, follow or give our money to someone we just see as another man,” Edwards said.
Edwards admits that he has struggled with the issue himself at a previous church, which had a pastor who he believes sometimes misquoted Scripture, presented a faulty doctrine and made personal decisions improper for a spiritual leader.
“My wife would sit for the rest of the service, but I would be ready to leave,” he said. “I understand people make mistakes, but it shouldn’t become a pattern. How can you lead me when you can’t lead yourself?”
Charles Johnson said he has nothing against religion itself, but is not involved in a church because he doesn’t want to give his time, or his tithes and offerings to a “shady operation,” as he described it.
“I know God,” he said. “But why should I give my hard earned money to a place where the pastor is driving a much better car than I have? The Bible said bring resources into the storehouse, but it doesn’t have to be a particular church, it could be any ministry.”
Johnson also noted that some men realize that their wives and girlfriends respect and take comfort from male pastors, and men do not want to compete for their admiration or affection.
Edwards believes men are attracted to churches where church leaders are strong and knowledgeable, but not arrogant and dismissive of suggestions from male laymen.
“The church I attend now is great because we are encouraged not to simply follow every word of the pastor, but to develop our own relationship with Christ,” he said. “The ministers can teach us, but we have to go for our own salvation.”
Johnson thinks churches should have more activities geared toward men and the needs they have as fathers, husbands and leaders.
“We have to be given more to look forward to than songs and preaching,” he said. “How is what you’re talking about going to make a real difference in my life today?”
After some thought, Dawkins stated that he will resume his search for a church home.
“Really, the solution is to find a church that provides what you need, where the people treat you like you want to be treated and the preacher teaches the gospel the way you want it taught,” he said. “There is a church out there for everyone.”
North believes churches should place more of an emphasis on bringing men into the “body of Christ” not just a single church and its doctrine.
“We have to invite people not to church, but to the kingdom,” he said.