We know that about three of every five church attenders in Australia are female, which was about the same as America during the mid 2000's. But, according to recent research from the Barna Group, the balance is shifting to less women attending churches in America. In 2003, 60% of attenders were women, but in 2015 this has reduced to 54%.
So why the shift? Are American churches successful in attracting more men than women? No. The figures show that women are leaving churches at a greater rate than men.
Barna sees five key factors affecting women's declining church attendance, which are "competing priorities, busyness, lack of emotional engagement and support, changing family structures and changes in belief".
Like all research, it's sometimes difficult to separate cause from effect, however there is no doubt that cultural changes affecting traditional roles is impacting and will continue to impact on the shape of organisational church life. Citing this research, Barna Group Vice President, Roxanne Stone, recently wrote in Christianity Today, what she thought were the implications for churches – "Aside for delaying marriage and children, young adults are eschewing other forms of settling down as well. They are more prone to switching jobs (and with that where they live). In other words, there are very few institutions - either social or economic - binding Millennials."
She goes on, "Many women - particularly those still identifying as Christian - may want to believe that they can hold onto their faith even if they find less and less time in their life for church."
Reflecting on this, we do well to consider how we are geared to meet the challenges of competing priorities and transitional changes during people's lives, especially at the very beginnings of people's working careers, for both women and men. It would also be helpful to consider how seriously we are engaging the younger women in our congregations, especially those whose expectations are being shaped by the culture to take greater charge and to exercise more influence than was previously experienced in some of our churches.
It will be interesting to see what changes in church affiliation and church going will show up from the 2016 Census and NCLS survey.