I like to call it “The Mother’s Day Effect.” Perhaps you noticed it.
Across American Christianity, Mother’s Day is always one of the three best-attended worship services of the year. The other two, of course, are Christmas and Easter. But in any given year, in any given church or denomination, the Mother’s Day worship service is always in the top three . . . occasionally taking the top spot in overall attendance.
The Mother’s Day effect is fascinating for a couple of reasons. First, why does it happen? If your mother was a faithful Christian, you probably know why. (Now, this guess may get into more sociology than I was trained in, but I think it makes sense.)
Imagine the children who grow up in a somewhat-religious home, where mom goes to church faithfully and dad attends every now & then - but more to keep the peace than out of any sense of personal commitment.
The kids grow up and move out - but every year, in early May, they ask mom: “What would you like to do for mother’s day?” And kindhearted, loving mother suggests what she always says: “Let’s go to church and then go out for brunch.”
The dutiful children and husband troop in to the church they know quite well – a church that, at the same time, is oddly unfamiliar. On mom’s day, everyone smiles and sings and enjoys the atmosphere of a happy church community.
But that’s not the most fascinating aspect of the mother’s day effect. The most fascinating aspect is that, in American Christianity, there is no such thing as the Father’s Day Effect.
Why not? Why is attendance not noticeably altered when it’s dad’s day, but church is busting at the seams because the family honors mom’s wishes?
Granted, this is a generalization. But perhaps - just perhaps - the family also asks Dad what he wants to do on Father’s Day, the same way everyone asks mom on her special day. And, generally, how might Dad respond? “Let’s spend a day on the lake, toss back a few beverages, grill out, and maybe have a fire in the evening.”
Putting the best construction on this hypothetical scenario, one might think how Dad is a faithful almost-every-Sunday churchgoer, an active participant in his church and a man of God who understands the serious nature of being the spiritual leader for his family.
But at its worst, this mindset might be summarized in a bumper sticker-worthy statement such as: “Everyone has to believe something. I believe I’ll go fishing.”
Family time is a wonderful thing, especially when the kids have moved out or moved away. The Lord does a wonderful job of placing babies into families; and God’s intent is that the family unit is the place where children are taught and brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
But assuming the aforementioned scenarios prove themselves true . . . why might the hypothetical mother treasure time in the pew together, while the father prefers a day at the lake with his kids?
One potential explanation has been proffered in books and articles, and the explanation goes like this: In our country and culture, a masculine man is characterized (or caricatured?) as a hard-working, hard living, hard drinking sports fanatic who catches huge fish, shoots enormous deer, and/or argues sports history better than any TV personality. (Camo, flannel, beard, and smoldering stogie are optional, at least in some circles.)
And Jesus is portrayed as the gentle Savior who cradles lambs in his arms, calling out in a timid and tepid voice: “Let the little children come to me.” This image of timid Jesus is reinforced by an assumption that Christ has more in common with the plain and unadventurous Caspar Milquetoast than with any strong male character on the planet today. (Bear in mind that this image of a timid Jesus does not match the Christ portrayed in the Gospels.)
The mother’s day effect isn’t the problem. The lack of a father’s day effect isn’t the problem either. These effects are symptoms that our culture has influenced and informed our Christianity, rather than the other way around. The only cure is to find a fresh, un-Americanized Christianity in the pages of Scripture.