Sitting at LAX some weeks ago and waiting for my flight to depart, I was looking through my old briefcase. Unexpectedly, I found an old copy of USA Today I had tucked into a side pocket and forgotten.
What quickly caught my attention was the Life Section article; “Guys are few in the pews… churches change to attract men.”
The article by Cathy Lynn Grossman stated that churches nationwide are worried about attracting men to their services on Sundays. It seems that women outnumber men in attendance in every major Christian denomination and that they are 20 to 25 percent more likely to attend worship at least weekly.
In reaction to what is really not new in Christianity but has now surfaced as a new trend, is what Christianity Today calls the “evolution of the chest- thumping evangelism.”
This trend (yes, we see them come and go), has some churches designing and building their worship facilities with stone floors, hunter-green and amber decor and rustic-beam ceilings to woodsy scenes on church websites. No pastels. No flowers. No sweet music. No sitting with your hands-folded prayer postures in these “guy churches.”
These congregations, especially across the Sun Belt, are even holding “Beast Feasts” as ways to attract and evangelize unchurched men.
The pastor of one of these churches stated: “We wanted it to feel like some guy’s really, really cool home.”
I put the paper down and didn’t know whether I should smile, thinking of the number of Saturday Night Live skits that could be spawned by this “new” phenomenon, or just shake my head in cynical disbelief of the “trendy shenanigans” that pass for Christianity.
No wonder, I thought, that so many unbelievers and critics of contemporary Christianity roll their eyes with mocking gestures when they see religion being marketed as just another product reaching a targeted audience to increase market share.
I don’t want to sound selfrighteous but as a Greek Orthodox priest who comes from a 2,000-year-old unbroken Christian liturgical and sacramental tradition, I cringe when I see what seems to me to be superficial “botoxed theology” lacking in the transcendent feeling and anesthetized to the full message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is a message that is not always comfortable or color coordinated to individual egos who have forgotten our Lord saying; “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!” (Mk. 8:34).
God respects our freedom of choice. That is why Jesus says: “Who- ever desires.” I believe the desire for God in one form or another is in every human being.
Gender has nothing to do with it. I also believe that the search for God and some personal revelation of Him is the only true meaning in the life of humans.
Without this heart search and revelation we live only as animals without comfort and wisdom. Life becomes futile, no matter of our station or power or birth.
Eminent scholar Joseph Campbell, noted for his writings on religion and mythology states: “The problem for and the function of religion in this age is to awaken the heart when the clergy do not or cannot awaken the heart, which tells us that they are unable to interpret the symbols through which they are supposed to enlighten and spiritually nourish their people.”
The psalmist cries out: “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; My heart and flesh cry out for the living God.” (Ps. 84:2)
Trendy pastors, trendy issues, trendy marketing schemes are not new in the Church.
The challenge for the Church is to touch the human heart and let Christ transform it through the inimitable power of the cross.
The heart is the battleground of our search for God. Gender plays a very minor role in our conceits, lusts, intemperance and self-centeredness.
We can be comforted in the Lord’s words: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.” In my Father’s house are many man- sions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (Jn.14:1-3).
Fr. Bakas is dean of St. Sophia Cathedral, Los Angeles and a faculty member of the Loyola Marymount University School of Theology