3 Reasons people over 60 leave church


Some of our seasoned saints still live in an analog age that seems strangely out of place…

By Joe LaGuardia

In the last few decades, churches have been scrambling to attract young adults.  Reaching this age group is a momentous task that requires changes in worship, leadership, preaching, and outreach.

Much of this change has been for the better — an ever fluid and reforming church is usually one with an eye towards the Holy Spirit.

Change comes with a cost, however–one that few pastors weigh.

In my own community, just east of Atlanta, I meet many young people who attend church on a regular basis.  The church market is flooded with young adult-friendly options.

It is the over-60 crowd that worries me, and I am not the only one who is concerned.

It seems that whenever I meet people of older generations–Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, as they are called– I find out that they don’t go to church.  Many claim that they no longer feel at home in places of worship once familiar.

When I dig deeper, themes emerge and people usually give me one of three reasons why they stopped going to church.

One reason is that churches have changed worship to the point that older generations now feel out of place and ill-prepared to keep up.  Complaints focus on music and preaching.

Most of the large churches in my area have changed to contemporary worship.  Although contemporary music is good, it tends to be too loud, according to many people I’ve polled.

And sermons are getting too long.  Pastors, worried about the rise of biblical illiteracy in their congregations, have shifted from preaching sermons to teaching sermons.  This has led to longer sermons of a particular style with which older folks fail to connect.

Keep in mind that very few people are offended or opposed to different styles of worship, but many do not appreciate what appears to be a growing disregard for choirs, tradition, and a fundamental honoring of the church hour (and, only one hour is needed!) as a sacred time with God.

Everyone wants a church filled with energetic, enthusiastic young people; but, they don’t want to attend a service that feels like a youth group for adults.

A second reason why the over-60 crowd is dropping out of church is because our culture has changed so rapidly, and churches are reactive rather than proactive in negotiating these changes.

Church, they argue, is supposed to be a safe place that helps families transition into a future-looking faith, but not force it.

The prevailing feeling is that an encroaching culture of change in the digital age has dumbed down faith.  Add to that narrative the perception that preaching now focuses on self-help gimmickry rather than “Bible-based preaching” (not my words), then it seems the church has lost its way.

A third reason our seasoned saints no longer attend church is that they are busy like everyone else.  This has to do with the changing landscape of family life and split families.

Whereas families used to live in the same neighborhoods and attend the same churches, many families are spread across the state or the nation.

Grandparents have to travel in order to visit adult children and grandchildren.

The effects of cultural shifts, anxious churches trying to attract younger churchgoers, and a transient family landscape has led to the decline of older generation attendance.

Frankly, we have not balanced the need to change with the honoring of traditions that have brought stability over the years.  In reaching for one generation, we’ve left another behind by taking people for granted.

Perhaps it’s time for us to right the ship, take a hard look at the cost of change, and be the presence of Christ for every generation that values joining God at work in the world rather than simply meeting God within the walls of a church.

When it comes to worship and Christ’s mission, no one should be left behind.



Traditional religion or inspiring rituals?

It seems that a church’s worship style determines congregational attendance these days.  I thought it was a fad, but I’m now convinced that people primarily choose a church based on music and liturgy.  Gone are the days in which people went to church according to denomination or upbringing.

It was only a few years ago at Trinity that folks had many conversations about worship.  We had trouble attracting–and keeping–the “under 35 years of age” crowd, so the worship committee and the pastor at the time were discerning how best to blend music old and new.

Although we do include new music every now and then, we still like to call ourselves a “traditional” church.  That’s my fault.  I can very well tell inquiring minds that our church is “blended” or postmodern or emerging or whatever other labels are hip right now, but I really like traditional.

Some people think that “traditional” is a bad word, but I think it has some gravitas.  It communicates that we adhere to an intentional, spirit-led trajectory and are anchored in a history formed by God and our church’s founders.  That’s not such a bad thing after all.

Yet, even in a place like Trinity in which liturgy and an “order of worship” determine our tempo, movement, and experience every Sunday, tradition can get in the way of the Spirit.  We like our order of worship, thank you very much, but sometimes it seems that we try to control the process rather than let the Spirit move and have a say in how we worship on a typical Sunday.

Jesus confronted this in his own ministry.  In Mark 7:1-14, the Pharisees, (a traditional bunch if there ever was one), complained that Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating.  This was a tradition, albeit an important one, but Jesus responded with a challenge, in effect, saying that tradition, no matter how well-intentioned, can replace a relationship with God.

“This people honors me with their lips,” Jesus quoted Isaiah as saying, “But their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6).

So much for tradition: God always gets to the heart of the matter (no pun intended).  You know, I think washing hands is a good thing.  I tell my children to do it before every meal, and I do the same ritual myself frequently.  What I think Jesus was getting at here was that the Pharisees let their traditions determine their attitude towards others.  Traditions have their place, but when a tradition is elevated to become a thermometer for piety, it loses its value and meaning.

Whenever I hear people scoff about tradition or liturgy, I always snicker to myself.  Even in the most contemporary of churches, the most out-of-the-box churches, traditions arise unknowingly.  There may not be a printed bulletin that lets you know of the order of worship, but there is always an order, I assure you.
Even a protest against “traditional” worship can replace a relationship with God!

Jesus quotes Isaiah again to the Pharisees when he stated that they, the Pharisees, were “teaching human precepts as doctrines” (Mark 7:7).  That reminds me of something Harry Emerson Fosdick once wrote: We humans sometimes get too swept away with our emotions that our emotions threaten to become doctrines.  In turn, those doctrines become divisive within the Body of Christ.

If you don’t believe me, then just ask yourself why some traditions are meaningful to you.  Most likely, they are meaningful because they evoke an emotional experience of some kind.  Our worship preferences replace inclusive ministry because we start to discriminate against others based on their traditions!

Traditions are not meant to determine how holy a person is before God; rather, healthy traditions are rightly born out of the inner awakening and movement of God’s Spirit.  “Nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile” (Mark 7:15).

If we have a relationship with God, if our hearts are near to Him, then our worship, no matter the style or preference, will be pure, holy, and accomplished “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).