Next time you're in church, count the number of adult heads and divide by the number of pairs of pantyhose. If the pantyhose contingent makes up more than half the total, there's a word for your church: typical.
"Every sociologist, and indeed every observer, who has looked at the question has found that women are more religious than men," writes Leon Podles in his new book, The Church Impotent. (Ouch; the stentorian title makes me wince. Once inside, however, it's reasonable and well-written.) Podles cites a deluge of statistics: in 1986, church-growth expert Lyle Schaller observed 60 percent female to 40 percent male churchgoers, a split that has widened since. Jesuit theologian Patrick Arnold says he has found a female-to-male ratio ranging from 2:1 to 7:1, and "some liberal Presbyterian or Methodist congregations are practically bereft of men." Even in churches that have an all-male ordained leadership, the inner circle of laity who actually run things is likely to be mostly female. Sociologist Edward H. Thompson states that "throughout all varieties of black religious activity, women represent from 75 to 90 percent of the participants." These are observations based on attendance, but the last time a census of membership by gender took place was 1936. Even back then, women outnumbered men across denominations, with Pentecostals almost 2 to 1.
On the one hand, these figures are good news. The faith that raised the status of women in the ancient world still raises their spirits today, and it's hard for anti-Christian snipers to claim that Christianity is antiwomen when women fill pews so enthusiastically. As John Updike wrote in a recent issue of the New Yorker: "It is not Christianity that in parts of Africa promotes clitoridectomy ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more