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.



The death of revivalism in Baptist life? (Part 1)

Revivalism as a movement is on the verge of death.  So argue Baptist historians Bill Leonard and Loyd Allen in a recent issue of “Baptist History and Heritage,” as reported in the Associate Baptist Press.

Revivalism, which inspired growth in Protestant denominations throughout America, may not be dead yet; but, in the words of Loyd Allen, it is definitely “on life support.”

Over the next few columns, just in time for the New Year, I will be exploring some recent shifts in revivalism so that we might better connect with our community and introduce the Gospel more effectively.

Revivalism is a unique movement resulting from the First and Second Great Awakenings in British and American history.  Although it initially emphasized fire-and-brimstone sermons and emotional conversions, revivalism became a mainstay in modern church life.

We recognize some remnants of revivalism to this day: Many churches give “invitations” at the end of Sunday services, while others host revivals throughout the year.

Overall, this type of revivalism is waning in influence.  Church attendance has not increased; baptisms and first-time conversions are down.

There are many theories as to why revivalism is suffering.  For one, revivals have become archaic in a technological and consumerist-saturated culture.  Revivals rely largely on a preacher giving a sermon to a passive audience.  Many times, the music that accompanies the sermon conforms to one of two styles: “traditional” (hymnody) or “praise and worship” (soft/easy listening/pop rock).

Our cultural milieu has moved past this platform for “information-gathering.”  People now consume information, and they no longer passively receive it.  People engage ideas and concepts–even religious ones–interactively, by way of relational connectivity.  Sometimes this interaction takes place in a coffee shop (noisy, dynamic, active) or on a digital interface (interactive, busy, fast).

Music has also become interactive and diverse.  Many people do not listen to one particular genre of music, let alone the two that are found in today’s churches.  People may love country music AND hip-hop; they may dance to the beat of an Afro-Caribbean tune while looking up Casting Crown’s latest video on YouTube.  They may be watching “Modern Family” on Hulu while chatting with friends on Facebook, streaming music from an independent artist’s website, editing a film on Xtranormal.com, and whistling the tune to “Be Thou My Vision.”  All at once.

It is difficult for people to hear someone speak for forty minutes and then listen to one genre of music.  It’s hard to pull the chord, so to speak, and help people enter an ancient mode of faith.

Keep this in mind: This does not declare the end of revivalism entirely; it only spells the death of just one aspect of revivalism.  The spirit of revivalism will never die, and it survives in more subtle, nuanced ways.

The spirit of revivalism exists, for instance, in those culture-savvy churches that diversify musical and preaching styles.   At Trinity Baptist, we have thrown out worship labels in exchange for more organic and (what we staff like to call) “fresh” sounds.  Sure, we still use piano and hymnody (this is intentional), but we try to incorporate inter-generational and natural rhythms in the liturgy as well as new motifs, words, and instruments (some original songs) to familiar tunes.

Another local church incorporated a preaching model that created an interactive worship experience.  The pastor had his congregation submit questions–tough questions–for him to preach on.  He did not know beforehand what his parishioners were going to ask, so he had to answer them according to his understanding of the Bible without any prepared notes.

I agree with Baptist historians that some aspects of revivalism are dying, but that is not the end of the story.  And, so, I invite you back next week for our next installment in this series.