Church for those 40+

Church for those 40+ May 9, 2013

Michelle van Loon has done a survey of why 40+ leave local churches or diminish their participation, and in her study she wonders if maybe churches have focused so much on -40 that those 40+ are outside the framework.

What do you think? Do churches neglect the spiritual formative needs of the 40+?

However, the larger theme among those who took the survey appears to be that those over 40 do seek to maintain a connection with a local church. At the same time, they are less inclined to let that church’s menu of study and service opportunities define them or be the main source of their personal spiritual growth. As I mentionedhere, many churches function as spiritual destinations (“Come to church”) rather than spiritual launching pads (“Go be the church”), though precious few would use that language of themselves. Those at midlife seem to recognize the church is meant to be a launch pad, even when church leaders don’t.

Many churches focus on the spiritual tasks of the first half of life, which syncs remarkably well with the focus many have on programs and projects for growing families. It takes a different kind of commitment from a church leader to nurture and cheerlead growth in those in the second half of their lives than it does to put together a whiz-bang children’s program. This commitment may mean leaders need to acquaint themselves with helpful models of spiritual growth and development in order to affirm that those in their second adulthood people are in search of a spiritual life that can sustain them to the end – less crisis/decision/rule-based faith, more valuing of process.

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  • Bob3

    I’m in a community that is geared for those who are unchurched and in their 20’s and 30’s. There is a scant acknowledgement of those of us 40 and over. We ended up developing a group for 40 and above, which miraculously, we have a fair number of in attendance on Sunday. We find ourselves primarily to be the greeters and encouragers in general. If you are here and over 40, you are involved by ministering at some level. If you are here to be entertained our simply acknowledged, you won’t stay. We all realize this is not about us; not for our benefit.

  • Pat68

    I just don’t think many churches are responsive to people period unless it’s their core group of big givers and loud complainers. Some churches lose out with the young for not being relevant or being able to explain their doctrine and they lose out on the 40+ crowd for many of the same reasons. The Church, like most bureaucracies, has got to work at being a little more nimble in its response to the surrounding culture, much of which affects their congregants who are looking for answers, not empty platitudes.

  • As a younger pastor (35), I think that those 45 and up are actually adverse to community. If I depositivize Michelle Van Loon’s quote, she is pretty much saying that the age group doesn’t want the things the church provides. They want to do things on their own. I’m not a sociologist, so I can’t explain why. Maybe they want community in a different way, but that isn’t how it is expressed. Maybe we don’t offer what they want and need, but they are the church too. They can work together and create the programming they want. Most pastors would encourage someone wanting to do such.

    Our church has been very effective at reaching those my age and younger. But the older crowd was resistant to make the changes to reach people, fought them every step of the way, and the church before they hired me to make the changes was dying. And they did hire me to make changes.

    When I teach on making changes in one’s life, they are the most outspokenly resistant. When I talk about idols in one’s life, they are the most hostile to admitting they have any. Maybe it is just the group I am in, my inability to lead that age group, or just my youthfulness in their eyes, but the resistance of that age group to change is frustrating.

    True, we don’t hire senior ministers or “45-65” ministers as the first pastors in a church. I guess that says something. But I long for the day I can hire someone just to help in those ministries.

  • The 40+ crowd is typically the big givers, so when churches lose that crowd, they lose a lot of the offerings.

  • Pat68

    Right, but then a church has to decide who and what are they going to be faithful to–the call of Christ, which may mean rejecting some of the things that the money-givers want–or the bullies who want things their way or else.

  • T.S.Gay

    There are realities that need to be talked about in stages.
    I think Pilgrimboy has hit on a characteristic of people who have reached Fowler’s 4th stage…..Individual/reflective. Alan Jameson in “Chrysalis” compared this to a dark night( those at this stage are still attached to the community of their earlier development, but in his analogy, their disidentification is as Pilgrimboy describes.
    As getting to a paradoxical stage(conjunctive), it wouldn’t hurt to read Chesterton’s chapter on the paradoxes of Christianity in “Orthodoxy”. I believe he is correct that in Christianity the virtues(beatitudes) are conflicting postulates held simultaneously( Christian examples= One can hardly think too little of oneself: One can hardly think too highly of one’s soul……The law is holy: Don’t be a judge……Love the sinner: Hate the sin……Respect for others: Disrespect for totalitarians……Love one’s life: Be willing to lose one’s life……One can’t step in the same river twice: One’s commitments are forever……Be still: Do what is right). These parallels don’t intersect, where as Pagans see the virtues as an amalgam or compromise.
    As to getting to a more universal stage( fully integrated, abiding, perfection, so many other names). This is especially interesting if you look into it. Many a person reaching this stage have been assassinated( Brother Roger of Taize, Martin Luther King). I only mention this because Fowler has said these people are seen as subversive to many in their communities.
    One final comment….many see stages as a ladder type of growth or perhaps a step up phenomenon. This can be unhealthy. It is more the hidden transformation in the journey of faith( if anything, humbling).

  • Bob3

    Perhaps you don’t have to hire a ” senior pastor” to help with those who are older. Perhaps, you can get one or two from the 45-65 age range to lead the effort. Having someone from the flock is an easier sell than a hired gun coming in to spread the vision. But first, you have to be humble enough to acknowledge you at 35 don’t have all the tools / gifts to deal with everyone by yourself. While you may be the future, you have to get there first. Just a perspective.

  • candeux

    Perhaps it depends on the history of the church. My church was planted 25 years ago by and for 20-somethings. Now we are a bunch of 40- and 50-somethings and the church is still run by and for our age group. What we have forgotten how to do is to minister to 20-somethings. Perhaps our children will take up the mantle….

    –Joe Canner

  • Rob Henderson

    Perhaps the 40+ are the new “Tweeners”? We are crunched in between the older boomers and builders, and the new bridgers and busters with their family function needs. The boomers and builders are in more need of attention due to diminishing health and life. The bridgers and busters are in more need of attention due to increasing stress of family life and finances.

    The answer? I’m not sure. As a lead pastor I find my time being more focused on those older than my wife and I, and those younger than us but not on those in their 40’s and 50’s unless there is a tragedy like a death or threat of divorce.

    This is a nice wake up call. Definitely something to think and pray about.

  • It’s good to see spiritual stages being addressed by the author in her full post (linked), as per Richard Rohr, and by Scott in the comments. Stage theory is vital and too little explored. We have notions of maturity, spiritual growth and such but well-researched descriptions and how “levels” are generally attained, not so much. This is unfortunate.

    One reason, from my own research and personal observation, is that the “center of gravity” of most churches and their leaders is at a traditional level, “tradition” being key in both practices and in theology. Thus, Fowler’s or Wilber’s (or others’) higher stages are inherently “foreign” and often threatening. Heresy or perhaps lawlessness is thought to abide there. In actuality, hints about the higher stages are frequent in the sayings of Jesus and sprinkled throughout the Bible. But the higher stages don’t tend to fit well with the idea of orthodoxy… the practice of love and compassion, yes, but not rationalism and literalism.

  • RJS4DQ


    As one in your 45-65 crowd I would second Bob3. I don’t think we don’t need to hire more staff to serve consumers.

    We need to encourage and allow Christians to “grow up”.

    After many years in a couple of churches (two different cities) where lay members were involved in everything from teaching to decisions to vision to planning worship and participating in worship, I am now part of a church where staff is responsible for more or less everything.

    Today I find church to be the least relevant and useful part of my Christian life. It didn’t used to be that way and I don’t think it should be that way.

  • AHH

    I wonder if a part of this is the big “family” focus of many churches. Most of the 40- (or 50-) have kids in church programs or are looking forward to that, so they naturally get involved in the church through their kids. But then the kids are gone, and their point of connection is lost. Maybe some of these people never really learned to (or got the chance to) be a part of the church body in their own right because their churches only dealt with them as parents.

    I’m speculating — but partly based on the experience of my wife and I who, having never had kids, find it difficult to be a part of our church community.

  • Keith Schooley

    I find myself at 48 with older teenage children in a church that is very “hip” and “relevant,” focused on outreach and service to the community. Meanwhile, my wife and I are stressed out by difficult jobs, and just holding life together is a struggle. Absorbing the message that you always have to be doing more in order to be like Jesus gets tough when you love Jesus and are doing all you can, but you’re just exhausted all the time.

    So I don’t know what our commitment will be to our church once our children are out of the house. I find myself thinking that this is a “gospel” for twentysomethings with time and energy on their hands, that it’s not a full picture of the biblical gospel, and that God might just be interested in me developing interests and passions other than jumping on the next church bandwagon.