Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Old-Time Religion: The Aging Local Church

The local church is getting grayer.

I remember during my time in Germany how the neighborhood churches seemed to be filled with seniors (especially compared with our abnormally young military chapels). At the time, I attributed this to Europe's modern, secular culture--young Europeans were increasingly rejecting their parents' religion. Now that my family has moved back to a "normal" suburban American neighborhood, however, it's clear that this isn't merely a European phenomenon.

Why is the local church aging, and what are the implications?

First, populations across the developed world have steadily aged over the past several decades. Moreover, we are clearly becoming a more secular society, and increasingly anti-institutional in terms of our spirituality. We are also more mobile than ever before, so that young people grow up and move out of their parents' neighborhoods. When we do move away, we tend to look for churches that match our demographic station in life, so that our young churches stay young, and our old churches age further.

The effect of this on the neighborhood church is really rather discouraging: large buildings sparsely populated with a dwindling number of senior saints. While these elders ought to be passing along their years of accumulated wisdom to the next generations, instead they are often left to keep one another company through their twilight years. They look fondly backwards, remembering glory days gone by, and unable to recreate the effect moving forward.

The younger people who remain in these churches are often overworked, as they supply much of the physical energy on which the church depends. I recently had a conversation with a couple of such members. Their frustration bubbled to the surface as they observed how some of their seniors seemed detached from the need to reach out, but instead attached a creepy fascination with maintaining memorial rooms, commemorative plaques, and portraits of departed members. As they put it, "This is a church, not a mausoleum!"

My first church was a neighborhood church after a similar mold. I was one of the group of teen-agers who came of age at about the same time, and the church enjoyed a brief surge of energy before we all moved away. The church folded shortly thereafter, while those who remained--including many wise, spiritually mature elders with much to teach--were left to talk wistfully about the by-gone "time of the young people".

Is the local church an endangered species?


  1. AMEN TO THAT ..too much too comment ..it's all here



    I wonder if the new church is The Desert Church

  2. I agree 100%. I'm disturbed with the current trend toward "mega-churches" that offer almost no accountability, and where getting one-on-one time with the pastor or church elders is almost an impossibility.

  3. Interesting article. I attribute some of the decline in "old time religion" to the younger generation's desire to be entertained, rather than taught. A colleague told me he saw a flyer from a local church that invited people for food, drink, friends, music and belief. He pointed out that the preaching was listed last. Whatever the reasons, I miss being able to hear the old hymns like "Blessed Be the Name" and "Everlasting Arms" at modern day churches.

  4. Maybe it should be as it now exists...

  5. I am extremely uncomfortable with any explanation for this that blames the youth culture. If the Lord's work was effective in 1st century Rome, it can be effective anywhere. Unfortunately, we judge everyone but ourselves. Why are these older people not seeking out younger people to mentor? Where is the new evangelism (those recently born of the Spirit care much less about demographics than those who have turned the faith into a lifestyle)? Where is the faith?

  6. I don't think the article "blamed" it on the youth culture. If God wants
    a church to survive, it WILL survive but unfortunately many do church
    according to man's ways and traditions. If we just kept the main thing
    the main thing we would see fruit and the Lord's blessing. Many churches
    have departed from teaching the Word of God in-depth much less follow
    it in how they "do" church. Why is God obligated to bless a church that
    doesn't do things His way? I think many churches should fold. There are
    many men in pulpits who should not be there; no gifting, no ability to
    teach the scriptures. Let those churches fold and make way for churches God is blessing. Now that is not to say churches with older saints should fold just those of any age who are doing things their own way apart from God.


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