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The Graying of the Church


There's something happening in churches across the country. Visit enough churches and you'll soon notice a trend. The church in America is getting grayer.

This is not a blanket statement. There are exceptions. There are churches that are reaching Millennials. But overall, the church is struggling to keep the next generation involved. Young adults, ages 18 to 39, are less likely than older generations to say religion is important to them. And they are showing it with their feet. Young adults as a whole, are attending church less frequently than their parents.

Think about this.

Just like a healthy family is made up of all generations, a healthy church is made up of all generations as well. A church made up of great grandparents, grandparents, parents, young single adults, teenagers and children and babies. This is the kind of church that will continue to thrive in the years ahead.

In many graying churches, the nursery is not used, because it is not needed. And when the nursery is not needed, a church is headed for its demise. As those with gray hair pass away, the church will pass away with them.

This is not an attack on the precious senior citizens who are the backbone for so many churches. Our older church members should be honored and respected. There is much the next generation can learn from them about serving God faithfully.

But somewhere along the way, many older congregations haven't been intentional about looking behind them and realizing they have a responsibility to pass the faith baton to the next generation.

Or they tried to pass the baton, but they weren't willing to let the next generation redecorate so it would be relevant to their lives.

They felt hanging onto their songs that were written in 1921 was more important than engaging the next generation in worship.

They weren't willing to invest in children's ministry, which could have attracted young families.

They didn't give the next generation the opportunity to lead and give input into the future of the church.

They didn't have a vision that was compelling enough to engage the next generation.

What will happen? Eventually they will have to close the church doors and put a for sale sign out front.

I have driven by several churches recently that have for sale signs out front. It always makes me wonder, "What caused this church to die?" 9 times out of 10, I can guarantee you it was a lack of intentionally about passing on the faith baton to their children and grandchildren.

In some cases, it's economics that causes churches to go grey. As children grow up, they realize there are not a lot of work options available in the rural community they grew up in. And so they go off to college and then choose to live in a larger city where better paying jobs are available.

This decline can be seen in the research that's been done in the last few years. When you see the word "none" I am referring to people who would mark "none" when asked what religion they are affiliated with.

78% of nones grew up in church.

14% of Boomers are nones.

19% of Gen Xer's are nones.

35% of Millennials are nones.

13% of Gen Z say they are atheists.

You can see in these stats, the reason many churches are headed for permanent retirement. They've failed to pass on the faith baton effectively.

Do you see your church reflected in these stats? Don't lose hope. There are many churches that are filled with young adults and their children. You can turn things around.

Invest in children's ministry. I know it doesn't make sense on paper. Kids' offerings tend to come in coins, not bills. But I believe that God will send resources and His blessings to a church that makes the next generation a priority.

Ask the people in your church who have gray hair to turn and invest in those coming behind them. Show them that they have the faith baton in their hands and there's someone behind them waiting to receive it. Help them see it's not just about them. It's about those coming behind them. What an opportunity senior adults have to leave a legacy with the next generation.

Be willing to change what's not working. Are there any programs that are tired? Any updates that need to happen? Any strategies that need to be adjusted? Are you willing to move out of your comfort zone? Most growth happens outside our comfort zone.

Actively involve young adults in serving and leadership roles in the church. They are looking for an opportunity to make a difference. Invite them into it.

A few months ago, I went to a service at the church I attended as a child. In an auditorium that seated 200 people, there were maybe, 40 people there. Eventually, they will have to close the doors if there is not a turnaround.

Does your church need a turnaround? Is your church struggling to reach the next generation? If so, maybe God is stirring in you and preparing you to be a change agent that infuses new life into the ministry.

Your turn. The floor is yours. What are churches doing that are attracting young adults, while keeping their senior adults engaged as well? What have you seen churches do to effectively engage the next generation? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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