Friday, January 3, 2014

Where Have All Of The Old People Gone?

I had a conversation last week with an older gentleman I deeply respect about an issue that was troubling my heart. A personal issue that I couldn't seem to find the answer to, no matter how hard I searched or prayed. He was able to lay the wisdom on me and give me a very detailed answer to how to best handle the issue and he did it without pause. This is a man who is a mature Christian (married to a mature Christian woman) and was active in every kind of church leadership for most of his adult life. The key word is WAS. I am blessed to have access to such wisdom. However, that kind of wisdom is hard to find in today's church. I will explain why (from my point of view and in a circle as is my way) and end with some questions I hope you will help me answer.

Disclaimer: I grew up in the Southern Baptist Convention so it's all I can speak to. The following is likely not applicable to other denominations and certainly not all SBC churches or seminaries. Just a generalization from my point of view. Double Disclaimer: If you're a fan of the Church Growth Movement, you should probably not read the rest of this post or you'll want to pummel me. I really don't have time to get pummeled right now.

It seems to me that we, the Church, have hung out a "not welcome" sign for the people of my parents generation and older. We've told them we don't need their "wisdom." The same people who raised us, discipled us and who led the church for many, many years have been programmed out of churches. Or at least in some places they have. They are very uncomfortable in a modern worship service. Where I live, I can't find them. There is an Assemblies of God church here that is "marketed" specifically to those over 55. I can't get behind that either. Why lock all of that wisdom up in one place?

 In a way, it's kind of their own fault, I suppose. They created the "Church Growth Movement" of the 60's which planted the seeds for the "seeker-sensitive model" and other "models" which led the church to decide to be more "cool" and "relevant" and "relational" and less discipleship oriented. The "growth" in the CGM was numerical (butts in seats and cool new buildings)  instead of spiritual maturity. The church began to grow in number but not in the Great Commission way...interestingly enough, while calling it a move of the Great Commission. Obviously this is a vast simplification of one part of the whole story.

As my generation rose up to leadership we decided we knew better. We didn't like the "fuddy-duddiness" our parents passed down to us in a church service or even church programs. We liked youth camp and conferences and the like. So we set out to re-create that experience in our worship services. (Again, an oversimplification.) We kicked hymns to the curb. They're theology, but no fun. We adopted a contemporary Christian guitar and drums rock band style and sometimes even played secular music in "worship." We changed the unofficial-but you better not break it- dress code, even for pastors. We even changed pastors. Gone are the old men teaching Bible. In are young men who are personalities and can draw a crowd. We changed the exegetical and expository preaching and brought in life application preaching that is entertaining and useful to anyone, not just Christians. We made church mostly about non-Christians and made sure they were comfortable. Seminaries began to teach a non-literal Bible. We hated business meetings so we became pastor led leaving all of the church's decisions to one man and probably a young man at that. We focused more on programs, especially for young children because the Church Growth Movement says you must have mostly young families to "grow" your church. People became less vested in their local body because if one church doesn't meet their need, they can shop for a new one that better meets their family's needs. So leadership got in to the marketing game.

Today, churches now have demographics and visions and branding and marketing and consultants telling them how to reach the people they've decided to reach and how to raise giving and all sorts of useful things. We've become a consumer driven Church just as the society has become a consumer driven society. We have kept up with the times. The church now mirrors society. Even our divorce rate is the same as the world's. Not all of this is good nor bad. I do believe it's led to the issue at hand for the purposes of this post.

Where have all of the old people gone? In my adult life I've only attended one local church that had more than a handful of old people. And by old people, I mean people in their 60's and up. Not necessarily OLD people. In every other church where they had the handful, they were not in leadership. One church had a few in leadership left when I was there but ushered them out pretty quickly by deciding to rotate deacons off and let them stay off. They were told they'd earned their rest that they didn't ask for. Change can be good no doubt but we still need wisdom in leadership and sometimes that comes through the grey hairs. One church had a retired pastor in the congregation who wasn't even allowed to be a deacon. He would have like it, as far as I remember from the long ago conversation. But all of that experience was never made available to that local body by their own choice.

My heart grieves for the man I conversed with last week. He and many of his ilk are no longer in church. After a lifetime of service to his Lord and his church, he can no longer attend a worship service or even Sunday School. He taught Sunday School for many years, has the most biblical knowledge of any man I know, yet I bet his Sunday School class is taught by a thirty year old. The music in a modern worship service is an affront to his senses. The preaching is confusing. He already knows how to live and doesn't need to be taught to be a better parent from the pulpit...if there were still pulpits. He loves scripture. The dress code of today is offensive. Who comes to church in their pajamas? People really do these days.

So here are my questions and I hope you can help me.

  1.  If you are over 60, are you still in church? If so, are you still growing there? 
  2. Does your church emphasis discipleship? If so, is it also growing numerically?
  3. What is the style of your worship service? (ex: contemporary, traditonal, blended?) 
  4. What is the model of your discipleship? (ex: Sunday School, small groups, home groups, cell groups, mix)
  5. What are the specific things that your church does to value the folks your age? Regardless of your age.
  6. Do you have old people in your church? Do they/ you participate in leadership? Is it their/ your choice, either way?
  7. Do you know the old people in your church or do they keep to themselves?
  8. Do you know the youth (students in middle school -college age)in your church? Do you know the children in your church? 
  9. Do all age groups manage to blend together into one church or do you feel that everyone does their own thing?
  10. Do you feel welcome in your church? If you bring a guest, will your guest be welcome?
  11. If you've been to seminary, how to they address this issue...or do they address it at all?
  12. What sorts of sermons does your Pastor preach? (ex: Expository, Life Application, Motivational, mix?)
  13. What else would you like me to know about your church that applies to the concerns at hand? Elaborate
I'm in no way endorsing a consumer church for old people. I'm not saying change everything to please them. I'm obviously not going to solve this one. I'm just trying to gain understanding about something that bothers me. I personally need children, youth and old people in my local body. I was in a church once with no youth and it was sad. They had old people and the old people "legislated" the youth right out of the church. So I understand it's complicated. But I'd love to hear from you. People generally don't leave comment but I'm hoping that you will choose to leave me feedback. You don't have to answer every question, just the ones you find relevant. Even if my views differ from yours. I'd love to be wrong! Educate me.

I'll end with some irony and scripture. The SBC is dying. Literally. Quite a while ago they decided to mold themselves to look like everyone else. So young people are deciding to not stay in SBC churches because they likely never knew they grew up in one. For that reason (and others) statistically the SBC members are dying off and not being replaced. What was once the largest is now shrinking in a big hurry. Because all they have is old people. Yet I still can't find them. Figure that out. I can't. 

"Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days."  Job 12:22

"Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone."   Psalm 71:9

"The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair."  Proverbs 20:29

1 comment:

Clay W. Ginn said...

I'll dive in with my answers.

1. I'm not over 60.
2. Yes, our church does emphasize discipleship in a number of ways. We are also growing numerically.
3. I would say that it's blended, but leans more traditional on Sunday mornings. Saturday nights lean back to the contemporary.
4. Our church has a mix of small groups, Sunday school classes, and home groups.
5. I'm kind of right in the sweet spot for church members. Mid/late 30s with young kids. They do a lot. There is also a ministry specifically for older adults as well.
6. Yes, we have a number of older people in our church. Some of the men are elders, some of the women are in the choir or greet, most of them participate in some way. I believe they do that because they were raised to be involved, not simply be consumers.
7. Having only been there a few months (and the church is 1600 and growing) I don't know all of them, but I do know several through our small group.
8. I know some of the youth, mainly through my daughter. I'm becoming friends with the youth minister as well. I know several of the children through our work with Awana.
9. I think that all age groups blend together quite well. One Sunday a month we have family church where all of the children are in the service as well, with the exception of the 4yo and under crowd.
10. I do feel welcome and the guests that we've brought have said they feel the same.
11. Yes, I've been to seminary, and I don't remember them doing much to cover this issue. I took a class on Church Growth and Development and while it did emphasize some of the church growth ideas that you've brought up, it also pushed to include everyone in the church. It was not seeker oriented, but instead encouraged us to build relationships with all members of the church and treat Sundays as a time for exposition, not life coaching.
12. Our pastor does mostly exposition, though some application. Actually, our student minister is more expositional with the youth on Wednesday night than anyone I've ever heard. Our kids are eating it up.
13. We're a large-ish (1600 members) church in a diverse area. We have two campuses, though whoever is preaching that weekend (senior, campus, or student pastors) will typically preach live at both campuses. At one campus there is a long established group of older people who have been at the church for a long time, while the other campus seems to reach more of the younger families. This doesn't seem to separate age groups though, as there is still a good mix of ages at both campuses.