At the risk of sounding like a politician or a spokesperson for a politician, “Let me make this perfectly clear.”
I’ve been writing about frustrated seniors and how you can help them.
But I’m not doing this because I feel sorry for seniors.
I’m doing this because I eat, sleep, think and breathe church revitalization.
In my work as a church health consultant, I seek to help many churches in which the senior saints – most of them really good people – are resisting their church leader’s desperately needed efforts at revitalization.
Some of them resist quietly and politely. Others are neither quiet nor polite.
In most churches which are being held down and held back by the older generations, it is simply not possible for the congregation’s younger generations to outvote them; the seniors hold the reins of power, officially or unofficially.
I’m not suggesting that we simply give up and allow our churches – led by the followers instead of the leaders – to die slow deaths.
Nor am I suggesting that we can somehow multiply large numbers of younger, more change-oriented believers in churches which are being kept forty years out of date by the seniors. Unless the revitalization-oriented pastor is an incredible evangelist, this isn’t likely to happen.
But I’ve learned that by understanding the frustrations of our Christ-loving seniors, and communicating empathy and respect for them, we can persuade many of them to cooperate with efforts to make their churches effective at reaching lost people for Christ.
Yes, some of our seniors are hopeless, or very close to it, because they are unregenerated or so captured by comfort and selfishness that they act unregenerated. These folks really do need to be overpowered, outvoted, and in some cases, rebuked or disciplined.
But others can be persuaded and they are worth our patient efforts.
So with that said – and I hope clarified – here are two more statements I’ve heard from frustrated seniors:
What They Are Saying:
What Has Happened Here?
- There is some truth to this. My parents grew up on small farms. Unless I’ve been misinformed, I think they really did accept the way things were to a greater extent than we do today. As members of the Builder Generation (parents of the Baby Boomers) they were too focused on trying to struggle through the Great Depression and World War II to concern themselves with changing the world. They were trying to preservethe world they had known and loved.
- It’s also true that churches used to change very little from one year to the next or even one decade to the next. But that doesn’t mean that they were meaningful, powerful or transformational. “Staying the same,” except for when we’re discussing our core beliefs, is not really a value in a book (the Bible) which values the continual, supernatural transformation of individuals (see Romans 12:1-2 and II Corinthians 3:18) and the constant adaptation of evangelistic methods in order to win “as many as possible” (I Corinthians 9:15-23).
- The New Testament is clear that disrespect for elders and rebellion against authority will increasingly mark the world in which we are all living. Bible-believing seniors should not be surprised that things are going from bad to worse: it was all predicted in Scripture and seniors have had many years to read these passages over and over again (I Timothy 4, II Timothy 3, II Peter 3).
How You Can Help:
- Two books come to mind – and yes, some seniors are willing to read books or join classes or groups in which books are read together: Gordon MacDonald’s Who Stole My Church? (Thomas Nelson Publishers), helps seniors to understand the need for congregational adaptation, and Haydn Shaw’s, Generational IQ(Tyndale Publishers) outlines the reasons behind the big differences in American generations.
- Patient Bible teaching can help sentimental seniors to understand that unchanging churches populated by unchanging church members and led by unchanging church leaders were never God’s ideal. As I’ve written earlier, careful teaching of the Acts of the Apostles will reveal a very old version of the Church (2,000 years) which was undergoing constant adaptation.
- Challenge seniors to join you in lovingly seeking to win today’s rebellious, increasingly sinful generation. Jesus sees the people around us as blind, deceived, spiritually dead, victims of the Devil, not as devils themselves (Matthew 9:36, John 8:31-36, Ephesians 2:1-3).
What They Are Saying:
What They Are Thinking And Feeling:
- The “music thing” is tough for seniors to accept. “Since we’re paying the bills and doing the work, things should be done to please us, not a bunch of kids.”
What Has Happened Here?
- While it’s true that in the churches of their childhood, their wishes, as young people, were given scarce attention, it was also true that in that day parents demanded their children’s church attendance, and the broader culture approved of this. In today’s world, few parents are willing to make church attendance “a hill to die on,” and the culture sees this as abusive. In the 2020’s, many parents, in fact, will choose to attend the church which their teens or children are willing or excited to attend.
- Like it or not, today’s congregations are strongly influenced by studies such as that cited by Tony Morgan1(The Unstuck Church), which explain why advertisers target younger consumers: in a word, the younger the “market” which is targeted, the larger the number of persons who are included in the market share.
We can illustrate that like this: Grandma and grandpa will watch their grandchildren’s favorite movies with them even though their grandchildren will not watch grandma and grandpa’s favorite movies with them. When grandma and grandpa get to have their grandchildren at their home, the eager older folks adjust: when they go to bed at night, what they do during the day, the music flooding the house, the games played after dinner, and, especially, what is eaten. Nobody makes sushi and salad for their grandkids. When the little darlings are in town, we stick to the main food groups: pizza, cheeseburgers, tacos and hamburger helper.
And we are glad to do all this adaptation because we love our grandchildren. The strongest pro-change argument I’ve ever used is simply: “Wouldn’t you like to have a church that your children and grandchildren want to attend?”
How You Can Help:
- As above, talk to your seniors about their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Their eyes will light up and their priorities will change.
- Challenge seniors to find other times and places to enjoy “their” favorite music. The truth is that simply throwing “traditional music” at seniors doesn’t make them happy anyway. There are many, many varieties of “traditional” Christian music. Many seniors who love their particular variety of “traditional” music strongly dislike every other variety of traditional music.
I once created an “Old Fashioned Sunday” which I thought would please the seniors. We worked hard at it, only to find that we didn’t seem to please anyone. It was all the wrong music or the right music done in the wrong way!
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
(1) What decade of guests – 20 somethings, 30 somethings, 40 somethings, etc. – feel most “at home” in your Sunday worship service(s)? What is the average or mean age of the community in which you are located?
(2) Do you see your church’s seniors as being teachable or adaptable or do you think they are hopelessly set in their ways? Are there some in your church who are teachable?
(3) Are there opportunities in your church to get seniors talking, reading, thinking and praying about adapting to reach the young?
(4) Are there ways in which the adaptable seniors can teach/persuade other seniors in your congregation?
1 Yuyu Chen, “Nielsen: Younger Consumers Are Easier To Reach Online,” ClickZ, September 30, 2013. Cited on page 23 of The Unstuck Church by Tony Morgan (Thomas Nelso