Hi and welcome back! One of this blog’s central concerns remains the decline of Christianity in America, especially what I’ve come to call its churn rate. For many years, that decline has resulted in a decided gender skew in churches. Nowadays, most of them consist mostly of women! But now, it looks like that tide has turned. Today, let’s look at the flight of single women from Christianity, and what that might mean for the religion moving forward.
(“Churn rate” is the rate at which a business’ established customers leave to do business elsewhere. Businesses want to keep this rate as low as possible. I frequently talk about “evangelical churn,” but the ideas involved apply to all flavors of the religion.)
A Growing Number of Groups.
Of course, it’s not just single women leaving Christianity. It’s women generally, in all demographics:
- Professional and working women (source 1; source 2)
- Black women (source)
- Millennials in general (source 1; source 2)
- Mothers and wives (source)
- Young adults and teens (source)
And this exodus occurs not only in all flavors of Protestantism, but in Catholicism as well.
I think we’ve just about covered, um, everybody here.
But today, we’re focusing on younger women.
By this term we mean younger Millennials, sure, but most especially Gen Z women born after 1996. Gen Z women are less likely to be married than their older sisters. In addition, they’re also the least religious generation so far in our history.
Gosh, Why Oh Why?
The article that got my attention focused on this topic comes to us from Relevant Magazine, a Millennial-aimed Christian news and blogging site. Katie Gaddini titled her April 28 article “Why Are So Many Single Women Leaving the Church?”
A reader sent me this link a while ago, and I’ve been meaning ever since to bring it up. It just wraps up so many topics that we talk about all the time here.
Gaddini, a sociologist interested in how women engage with religion, describes a convention of women seeking to reconcile their faith with their feminism:
Then a clear voice rang out: “I’m so tired of fighting Christian church leaders to be treated equally but I don’t want to leave the church. So, what do I do?” She paused before reformulating her question: “How do I stay?”
The plaintive question grabbed Gaddini’s attention, perhaps especially since she herself is one of the women who’ve left church culture:
That question stuck with me long after the festival ended. At the time, I was just beginning five years of in-depth research with single Christian women in the US and the UK and had no idea just how many of them were asking the very same question.
Outsiders to Christianity might look at all the injustices that women face in this religion and marvel that they don’t simply leave.
As it turns out, increasing numbers of single Christian women are doing exactly that.
Answering the Question.
Katie Gaddini investigated the question that woman asked at the conference. She offers, in her article, three big reasons why she thinks this exodus is happening:
- Single women can’t find good husbands in their church communities. Once they’re ready to get married, they find very few marriageable prospects in their churches. Many eventually look outside the church for mates, which means a high likelihood of ending up with a husband holding different beliefs. (source)
- Their fellow Christians criticize, police, ostracize, exclude, and negate them if they don’t perfectly fit into stereotypically feminine molds.
- Churches’ prurient over-focus on sex and puritanical control-grabs over women’s lives and bodies alienates many women.
Gaddini hints at some other potent pain points for single women, as well:
- Single women feel like they have no place in a religion completely sold on the Cult of Family.
- Married women who feel threatened by their presence can be really unkind to their single sisters.
Strangely, Gaddini very pointedly did not include causes I’ve seen many Christian women cite as their reasons for distancing themselves from church culture:
- Constant streams of scandals involving men abusing their power over women.
- Church leaders blowing off their concerns and making pretty noises about caring but doing nothing whatsoever to alleviate the injustices against them.
- Political agendas that specifically and pointedly seek to destroy women’s access to human rights and civil liberties.
I suppose that in a fundagelical-tilted news site, she wouldn’t be able to talk much about that stuff, though.
Strangely, “Jesus” seems completely disinterested in the plight of the single women in his flocks. The churches devoted to him seem more like high school drama clubs more loving communities of Spirit-filled saints.
I mean, it’s just so weird.
Why This Exodus Should Matter to Church Leaders.
Single women are just one small part of the flight from Christianity, yes, but they’re important to Christian leaders for a few very big reasons:
- Single women tend to be younger than the married gals, which means they have decades of church service and tithing ahead of them. Christianity’s flocks continue to get older and older by the year. (source (p.5))
- Women in general do most of the volunteer work in churches, just like they volunteer more often overall everywhere than men. Just speaking in utilitarian terms, single women tend to have much more time to volunteer than married women do, especially once children get added to the married women’s lives. (source)
- Traditionally, women have always been more religiously-observant than men as well. If they leave, churches find themselves facing more men in the flock — who may not hold fervent beliefs or feel strongly about devotions. (source)
- When those single women marry, they’re going to be the ones dragging their kids and husbands to church. So if they leave before marriage, that’s a whole family the church loses. (source)
- Most importantly: Once Christians in general leave their churches, very few of them ever return. For single women, that principle may apply doubly to them because of the mistreatment they’ve almost certainly suffered while they were involved with church.
As you can see, many of the reasons for church leaders’ possible concern center around what those women do for their churches now, and what they anticipate those women doing for them in the future.
And they should be concerned. Churches may be very poorly-run businesses, but at heart they are, indeed, just Jesus-flavored businesses. Their leaders need their flocks like real shepherds need their sheep, and for the exact same reasons.
That’s what makes their response to this article so interesting to me.
Or rather, their non-response.
Gaddini herself tweeted an announcement of the article, but got next to no engagement there.
However, I spotted a married fundagelical guy addressing it on his blog — way down the list of search results. Indeed, “The Devil’s Advocate” took it upon himself to inform single women that no, they were not allowed to leave their churches. Mostly, his condescending and ignorant post functions as a good illustration of why single women might wish to leave church behind. He’s just one small part of why his religion faces decline — and why women increasingly say goodbye to churches full of authoritarian asshats just like him.
That’s about it for responses.
And that’s a shame, because as I pointed out, single women are absolutely necessary to churches’ future survival.
Maybe They Shoulda Put a Ring On It.
The situation that Christian leaders find themselves in these days reminds me mightily of this 2009 song by Beyoncé, “Single Ladies.”
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”
Church leaders and fervent male congregants spend a lot more time whining about the “feminization” of churches than they do bending over backwards to thank women for all the stuff they do to help those churches survive. They’ll miss those women when they’re gone, but they sure won’t act now to ensure those women want to stick around.
Their ingratitude should speak volumes to the women in their flocks. After all, they tell women constantly and in no uncertain terms that they are happy to accept women’s money and labor and time, but want to make sure women don’t expect anything in return for those expenditures.
They can’t blame women for listening to that message and making some command decisions about where they’ll spend that money, labor, and time in the future.
I mean, sure, yes, they can. In fact, they already do. Y’all, nobody complains quite like a fundagelical man facing privilege distress. But the women walking away from their groups won’t listen — or care. These men will increasingly bellow their disquiet and rage into increasingly-empty rooms.
So… it’s more good news, everybody!
NEXT UP: LSP! We return to Frank Peretti’s totally gripping 1986 fantasy novel. Oh gosh, y’all, who do you think will win when angels fight demons to save a human’s life?!?
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