3 Reasons people over 60 leave church

analog

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.

 

 

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Young adults: Engines of today’s Church

youngpplYoung adults have gotten a bad wrap.  My generation–18 to 35 years old–goes by a variety of labels: Generation X, Generation Y, Millennials, the Entitlement Generation.  This is the generation that politicians and churches try to recruit, but often fail to reach.

Yet, these generations are also reviled.  “Kids these days,” people say, “don’t take responsibility, and they don’t know how to work hard.”

People tend to forget that times have changed.  In days gone by, you can work at an after-school  or part-time job  and earn a little money for savings.  Now, a minimum wage job pays below the poverty level; high education costs and debt stifle investments.

With a growing economy and more affordable healthcare, however, it looks like things are finally turning around for the better.

In a recent article in USA Today titled “Young Adults May Spark Economy“, Paul Davidson reported that young people–about 44% of the generation I just described–will be purchasing or renting homes in the next year.

This is great news: People are moving out of their parents’ house; employment is rising; debt and student loans are getting paid off.

The increase in young adult independence means an increase in the economy as a whole.  As Davidson noted, a growing young adults consumer market could “turbocharge [economic] growth” and send a “ripple across the economy.”

What does this mean for the church?  For one, if young adults are becoming economically empowered in the marketplace and taking ownership of an independent future, they have the potential to take more ownership in Christ’s Church.

It is said that the people who pay for and run the church are from older generations.  That is true based on my own experience: people from previous generations provide most of the leadership in church and clams in the coffers.

So let me speak boldly to my generation: It is time to grow up!  Without us, many of our churches–the very sacred places that nurtured us and raised us in the faith we hold dear–need our investments of time, money, and creative leadership.

Now that we have some money to spend and independence from debt, it is the time to get serious about church.  When jobs are prevalent, housing is stable, and debts are few, a budget that includes tithes and offerings–and a time-management plan that includes God–must be a priority.

Now let me be bold with Christ’s Church: You need to let young adults lead committees, craft liturgies and ministries that meet a diverse set of needs, and take ownership of a few things we’ve been afraid to surrender.

I’ve seen this work very effectively at Haven Fellowship Church here in Conyers.  The attendance of their young adults ministry has increased almost four-fold over the last several years, and their church found renewed vigor in crafting a vision that includes their participation.

But this only happened because the church took brave, strategic steps in getting young adults involved: They asked young adults to head committees, create new ministries, and participate in fellowship opportunities that widened the church’s welcome to other young families.

That Haven has not moved to contemporary worship with fancy technology or marketing should be noted.  Many churches think they need to become song- and tech-savvy to attract young adults; that’s not the case–young adults want to take ownership and have input; they want to feel connected without having to sacrifice what they value most: a voice in church leadership.

Of course, this assumes young adults have a voice worth listening to.  It is true that our generation needs to step up and pay their dues, work hard, and prove that churches can count on us.

We can no longer expect the church to be there for us when we’re not there for the church.

The church–and our generation–is at a pivotal place in history.  We need to stand up for the Body of Christ and keep it going; we need to lead it into a future in which creative entrepreneurship will be the church’s greatest ministry engines to meet the needs of tomorrow and the day after that.