It is one of the top three requests for help we get at Church Answers: “Our church membership continues to get older. What do we do?”
The members and leadership see the handwriting on the wall. One church leader with whom I spoke just two days ago summarized their challenge. Ten years ago the church’s median age of church members was 42. Today it is 74. One-half of the church members are 74 years old and older.
Many of the younger members left for a variety of reasons. They have not been replaced with similar age members. The congregation is getting older rapidly. The leader with whom I spoke said his church would not be able to sustain itself financially within three or four years.
Is there a solution to this challenge? Based upon some great insights from church leaders, I do indeed see how God is working to move the aging church forward. Here are the five most common responses we have gotten at Church Answers:
1. Don’t default to hiring someone to make the church younger. Some aging churches have the financial ability to add staff. And some of those churches think the solution is hiring a family minister, a youth minister, a children’s minister, or some combination of the three. It never works. It is a clear indicator the laity have given up doing the work of ministry and have resorted to “hired hands.” It’s ineffective. Even more, it’s unbiblical.
2. Look to the strengths and the gifts of the older congregants. One pastor with whom I spoke said he gathered together about 25 of the older adults in his church. He asked a simple question: What abilities and gifts do you have to connect with younger people? He was amazed at the results and the energy in the room. That one meeting became a launching point for many efforts by these older adults to reach beyond the walls of the church.
3. Find places where older adults can connect naturally with younger people. One senior adult became involved in an ESL (English as a Second Language) ministry. Another older adult became a math tutor. One senior adult in the church owned three local fast-food restaurants. He became highly intentional about connecting with the teenagers and young adults he hired.
4. Pray for opportunities to reach younger people and families. Another pastor shared his church’s initial success at getting younger. They simply prayed for opportunities to connect with younger people. As they prayed, the opportunities came. As they prayed their eyes opened to those opportunities.
5. Get outside eyes to make your church aware of opportunities. One of the elements I value most in church consultation is the fresh set of eyes it offers. Sometimes, a new perspective can be paradigmatic in moving the church toward reaching more young people. Let us know if we can help by contacting us at [email protected].
Hear me clearly. An older church is not an inferior church. Older Christians have much to offer in both wisdom and experience. But if a church’s membership ages rapidly, the congregation is indeed in danger of losing its effectiveness, and potentially seeing its doors close.
Can an older congregation become younger? Absolutely.
And it’s an incredible story of God’s grace and power when we see it take place.
Originally published at Church Answers
Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Rainer has written over 30 books, including three that reached number one bestseller: I Am a Church Member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, and Simple Church. His new book, The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation, is available now.