There was a conversation the other day. It was about the “church” as we (mainliners) know it is aging. It was about the people in the pews being older, grayer, and fewer than it used to be. Once the church was known for being the Rock of Ages, and now it is known as the “age of rocks”. We are now AARP-approved!
On a Sunday morning a member of the church was sharing how wonderful it was that her grandson was able to spend a week with her and even come to church. As wonderful as that experience was, the young man—twelve years of age, was ready to get back to home. His reason? Too many old people. After the member had shared this, I looked out on the congregation and remarked, “I don’t know what he is talking about!” But, the fact is, even the congregation I serve is getting old.
I image that there is a lot of debate as to why the “church” is getting old and aged . . . shifts in theology . . . the usual hypocrisy . . . wanting more entertainment . . . differences in generational needs and wants . . . money . . . time. All the usual arguments. I doubt if I have anything to add to the debate. Everyone seems to have an opinion, but the bottom line is that we are not the “church” of our grandparents . . . we are our grandparents! The average age in the denomination that I serve of the people sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning is 61 years old!
Yeppers, we are getting old. Yet, we fight like hell to hang onto what we know and feel comfortable with. We don’t like change. We don’t like evolution of faith. We don’t like reformation. We don’t like anything that is going to make us have to change . . . we cling tightly to those famous seven last words of the “church”: “We never done it that way before!” In the meantime we grow older and fewer between. There has been a fifty percent decline in major denominations (mainline, again) in the past few decades. Among the denominations of the mainline the average age is a little better than my denomination . . . the average is 60 years old. Membership is granted to those who reach the age of 50 into the American Association of Retired Persons . . . it is a badge of oldness . . . of being old. With such criteria, the “church” is viewed as being old in our society today.
So, what is the solution? How do we get the “church” to be younger . . . especially on Sunday morning?
One suggestion is that the “church” needs a youth movement . . . that the “church” needs to get more young people to come and be the “church”. Seems logical . . . the more young people added into the congregation of the aged, the younger the average becomes. Simple mathematics . . . but, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because the aged “church” is not inviting the young people to come as they are; no, they are being sneaky and hoping to convert them into themselves. The aged “church” will not change to fit the youth, but will work to change the youth to fit them . . . to shape them into their image. Always have, always will. A push for youth will never work . . . even if the “church” is willing to change a few things—like adding a band, singing lots or praise hymns, and throwing in a coffee bar . . . no, just as fast as the young people come in the front door, the old people head out the back door.
I’m not sure a push for a youth movement will work. That baloney about the children of the “church” are the future of the “church” is all wrong . . . the children and youth and young adults are the “church” today. Today is the only place we can begin.
We begin with dialogue. We sit, listen, and know. Seems like a pretty ancient spiritual practice, but it is still true today. We have to be willing to sit with others—no matter what their age might be . . . listen to one another . . . listen to ourselves . . . listen to God and God’s Spirit . . . and, really get to know one another. Discover what we believe, what moves us, what our likes and dislikes are, what we dream about, what we wish for others, what we think the call of God is upon each of our lives. This is where we must begin. Even God told us to “be still and know me.” We have to do that with others if we are ever going to discover what it really means to be “church” . . . sit, listen, and know.
Of course, we have never done that before in the “church”. It sounds a little new-fangled and leaning towards the liberal side. Means that we might have to actually change the way that things are done. All of which is pretty scary. None of us likes to do scary stuff. Yet, the solution of “sit, listen, and know” is as old as faith . . . is very biblical . . . and, is what Jesus told us to do in the first place. We cannot allow fear to hold us hostage where we are at. If we do . . . well, if we do, we will find out what the end result of getting old is all about—we die.
I might be getting old (at least that is the impression the AARP wants to sell), but I do not relish the end result—death. Not in life, and not in the “church”. The solution to creating the “church” as the family of God—a diverse mix of everyone—is not to keep creating new-fangled programs; it is in being still, talking to one another, and allowing God’s Spirit to move us to be one. Yeah, I might be getting old . . . but don’t let my looks deceive you. Jesus is alive, well, and willing to show us the way . . . but, first he asks us to sit, listen, and know. If we do this, the old will become new.