Fathers, Sons and Pews

When it comes to who fills the pews, every Sunday is Mother's Day in most mainstream American churches.

And what about Father's Day? That can be a touchy subject for pastors in an era in which men who religiously avoid church outnumber active churchmen roughly three to one. Worship just doesn't work for millions of ordinary guys.

"What churches are doing isn't getting the job done. Mom is having to take the kids to church because Dad doesn't want to go," said Marc Carrier, co-author, with his Cynthia, of The Values-Driven Family.

"That leaves Mom in charge of the spiritual upbringing of the children, which means faith is a Mom thing and not a Dad thing. … So why is little Johnny — who is 25 and has his first child on the way, whether he's married or not — never in church? The odds are that his father was never in church."

Church attendance among men had already fallen to 43 percent in 1992, according to the Barna Group, which specializes in researching trends among Evangelicals. Then that number crashed to 28 percent in 1996, the year before the Promise Keepers movement held its "Stand in the Gap" rally that drew a million or more men to the National Mall — one of the largest gatherings of any kind in American history.

No one involved in national men's ministries believes that those stats have improved. That's one reason why a nondenominational coalition wants to hold a "Stand in the Gap 2007" rally on Oct. 6, hoping to gather 250,000 men at the Washington Monument and on the Ellipse, just south of the White House.

 The American numbers are sobering, noted Carrier, but they are nowhere near as stunning as another set of statistics in an essay entitled "The Demographic Characteristics of the Linguistic and Religious Groups in Switzerland," published in 2000 in a volume covering trends in several European nations. The numbers that trouble traditionalists came from a 1994 survey in which the Swiss government tried to determine how religious practices are carried down from generation to generation.

Apparently, if a father and mother were both faithful churchgoers, 33 percent of their children followed their example, with another 41 percent attending on an irregular basis and only a quarter shunning church altogether.

But what happened if the father had little or no faith? If the father was semi-active and the mother was a faithful worshipper, only 3 percent of their children became active church members and 59 percent were irregular in their worship attendance — with the rest lost to the church altogether.

If the father never went to church, while the mother was faithful, only 2 percent of the children became regular churchgoers and 37 percent were semi-active. Thus, more than 60 percent were lost.

This trend continued in other survey results, noted Carrier. The bottom line was clear. If a father didn't go to church, only one child in 50 became a faithful churchgoer — no matter how strong the mother's faith.

"These numbers are old and they are from Switzerland, but they're the only numbers that anyone has," said Carrier. "Someone needs to find a way to do similar research in America to see if the same thing is happening here. This is shocking stuff."

At the height of the Promise Keepers movement, researchers did study one related trend in churches that began emphasizing ministry to men, said the Rev. Rick Kingham, president of the National Coalition of Men's Ministries, a network of 110 regional and national groups.

Surveys found that if a father made a decision to become a Christian, the rest of the family followed his example 93 percent of the time. If a mother made a similar decision, the rest of the family embraced the faith 17 percent of the time, he said.

"It seems that when a man takes that kind of spiritual stand it usually affects everyone else in the whole constellation around him, including his family and even other men that he knows," said Kingham, who is helping organize Stand in the Gap 2007.

No one wants to minimize the importance of faithful mothers, he said, but it's clear that "fathers play a unique and special role in helping their children develop a living faith — especially their sons. … There's no way to deny that."

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  • Guest

    The feminist movement within the Church has finally brought It to It's knees. The Super Women of this movement, who thought, women only is finally come to a close. They even wanted women priest, could it be that they have finally lost their hold on the Church.

    This battle of the sexes has been finally exposed for just what it is, spiritual combat. The my will of these feminist exposed as not, the thy will be done of the Our Father.


    Does this mean that men run the Church. No, Christ does.


    The first Adam and Eve said "my will be done" and started this battle, Saint Joseph and Mary, his spouse ended it, when they said "Thy will be done".


    The Church shows that all marriages are Christ centered. 

  • Guest

    As a 43 year old man who grew up in the Church with a watered down message and lack of "manliness" in the pulpit, I am not suprised to read that it is up to men to bring their families and other men back to the Church.  Much of what I will follow with has been confirmed by  Protestant author John Eldridge in his book "Wild at Heart."  It does a great job of explaining what is wrong with Christianity's approach to men today, and how the message going out needs to change if men are to be called back.  If the Protestant church gets this, then we'd better wake up as Catholics, because they're much more masculine in their approach than we are. 

    It is one of my biggest complaints that the teaching about Jesus that we hear makes Him sound like "Mr. Rogers in a robe."  Jesus was a man's man.  He took 11 of the toughest, roughest characters and turned them into Saints.  He didn't do it by being "nice".  He did it by being GOD!  Being nice doesn't get you crucified, but being DANGEROUS does!  The potrayal of Christ as a weedy, hippy looking wimp just doesn't do it for men.  To borrow heavily from Eldridge's book, Jesus in Revelation is more like William Wallace in "Braveheart" than the wimpy, watered down "be nice, be peaceful" caricature presented in many homilies.  Sure, Jesus was compassionate to the poor and the downtrodden, but ask the money-changers in the temple how "nice" He was!  I'm sure they'd tell that He was nobody to be messing with!  Jesus was not a pacifist!  There is too much Scripture that proves otherwise, yet that is what is taught over and over again in the pulpit during homilies!

    I'll finish my rant with a story.  I'm walking down the street in downtown Chicago to go to confession at St. Peter's Church.  About 15 feet in front of me is a guy about 6'2", 220, long hair, bandana, leather jacket, jeans, biker boots.  This guy is a tough character.  He is NOBODY to be messed with.  Now I'm no small guy.  I'm 6' 3" and 285.  Played defensive end in college.  This guy looked plenty intimidating to me.  Anyway, right up to the door of St. Peter's this guy walks and he genuflects, blesses himself, and proceeds to kneel and pray.  The look on this guy's face appears to me that this guy truly loves the Lord.  He is there to be with Jesus.  It occurred to me at the time that he would've been exactly the type of guy Jesus was looking for.  A tough customer with a heart for God.  It struck me very deeply that this guy would really be a powerful witness, because to this day the rememberance of that moment still affects me deeply. 

    BTW, I'm in mass every Sunday with my wife, 1 daughter and 5 sons.  And I will guarantee you that I take it as my personal charge from Jesus that it is up to me to get my family to Mass EVERY Sunday!

  • Guest

    Wow! Gentlemen, I am impressed with the passion you bring to this important issue.

    Allow me to make a very serious and heartfelt recommendation to any of you men who are interested in a tool to use to bring other men back to church and inspire them with the manliness of devotion to Christ. Please purchase, view, and share with others the Champions of Faith movie. This is exactly what it is made for: to draw men back to the faith, to show them the masculine challenge of living for Christ in the world of competition — which is the world all men live in in some way.

  • Guest

    As a mother I agree wholeheartedly that a father's influence greatly determines the perceived importance  of faithfully attending Mass.


    My dad took all of us to Sunday Mass for as long as I can remember, the only excuse being severe illness or the complete failure of the car to start moving. This is all the more impressive as I was a preteen when he formally entered the church.


    When I met my future husband he wasn't Catholic but before we were married he agreed that when children came along we would all go to Mass as a family. As with all of his promises he has taken this commitment very seriously and so we have attended Mass as a family for several years now. And now history is repeating itself as he has started attending RCIA (our oldest is 8).   

    I know that Daddy's authority has been invaluable when a child has been unhappy about going to mass. He has also been invaluable during Mass helping our children learn proper manners.  What daddy considers important is important .



  • Guest

    My Dad took us to Mass every Sunday when I was growing up.  Though Dad is gone – the tradition continues.  Now that I have my own family, we go to Mass as a family EVERY Sunday unless there's an illness or a hurricane or blizzard!

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    Each human father is of the Father. As the ‘mere man’ represents the image of the Perfect Father to his children, so will he be held accountable by the very God Whose Name he as been privileged to share.

    To most graciously keep holy the Lord’s day is to be forthrightly led by every home’s own holy father.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

    PS: Yes, I wish I had learned this lesson fifty years ago; certainly, in time for when I was a husband and while a practicing father . . .