It sounds like everybody’s frustrated.
Last week I started writing about actual statements and questions I’ve heard over the past few years from seniors who are frustrated about the prospect of change in their churches.
Believe me, I’ve gotten an earful.
This week I’ve been getting another earful from pastors and others who are frustrated with their senior citizen friends and fellow church members.
I do get it. Churches must change. They must – to a certain extent – adapt to the times they are living in, in order to be effective at their God-given mission of making disciples.
But my underlying belief is that we don’t have to make enemies out of our senior saints and then eventually overpower or outlive them; they can be taught, they can change, they can adapt.
And I do not accept the philosophy that says that we should start new churches while allowing aging churches to find aging pastors with whom they grow old and die. I simply can’t imagine Jesus or the Apostle Paul telling a group of senior disciples that that’s acceptable.
Paul: “Let me get this straight. You want to focus on yourselves and your interests, with no attempt to reach lost people with the gospel, until most of you are dead and the survivors close the church?”
Church Members: “You’ve got it! How’s about helping us find a suitable pastor?”
For God’s glory, let’s try to understand our oldest church members and help them to change, or at least to tolerate change (without bad attitudes).
Because I want to be helpful and winsome with these posts, I’m deliberately not addressing slightly exaggerated outbursts such as:
“Change it? Whaddayamean, change it? My father donated that light bulb in 1937!”
Okay. That one slipped out. But I have heard things almost that bad. Like the church members who felt sentimental about the tire tracks in the carpeting, left over from the days when the church’s building was an ATV and motorcycle dealership.
Here are two things that real seniors have told me that we addressed last week.
- “Seniors used to be respected; now we’re despised.”
- “Change is occurring so fast. Most of it is bad. Churches shouldn’t change.”
Here’s one more…
What They Are Saying:
“Our church is shrinking because our children are growing up and moving away. They don’t stay in the area like they used to.”
What They Are Thinking And Feeling:
Some of our seniors think that this is an adequate explanation for the decline of their churches. The implication is: “We don’t need to change our church; we need to somehow stop our children from moving away.”
What Has Happened Here?
There is some truth to this. Especially in more rural areas, younger generations used to be much more apt to remain in the area of their birth than they are today. At least some of the farmer’s kids took over the farm. Sometimes they lived in a trailer or built a second home on mom and dad’s property until the older generation died. Along with the farm, they often inherited their parent’s roles in their churches and communities. Today, the norm is having our children and grandchildren scattered all over the world.
Except for agricultural areas where the population actually is decreasing significantly, this is not an adequate excuse for the demise of our churches. Everybody else’s kids are leaving their home areas as well. The problem is not simply that our kids are moving away; the problem is that we’re not attracting other people’s kids who’ve moved into our areas.
This is complicated. In too many cases our grown children have not made our faith into their faith. “Church” was something they had to do while living with their parents, but now that they are far from home, churches have no attraction for them. Nor do they feel the sense of obligation that their parents had to be “where they belonged” on Sunday morning.
There’s no getting around the need for the followers of Jesus to become incarnational, devoted followers of Jesus out in “the world,” because the average American feels no compulsion to attend a church.
To the extent that the attractional method – trying to get new people to walk into and enjoy our congregations on Sunday mornings – still matters at all, many of the churches I seek to help have services which are perfectly suited to please and reach eighty-somethings. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not.
How You Can Help:
When the seniors you love voice the sentiments I’ve described above, you can patiently explain that younger generations everywhere are straying from their home areas, and can only be replaced by other people’s children and grandchildren, whom we have adapted ourselves to reaching, and made to feel “right at home” in their new church families which have welcomed them with open arms.
1See Lost In America, Tom Clegg and Warren Bird, Group Publishing
2See Lee Eclov’s great little book, Feels Like Home (How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything), Moody Press
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
- Does our church have frustrated seniors? If so, what are they frustrated about?
- Does our church have leaders who are frustrated with the frustrated seniors? How is this frustration showing?
- How might we – as church leaders – be able to help our frustrated seniors?
- How might we be able to make our church a warm, welcoming, intergenerational family?