A Survey: 40+ and the Church

A Survey: 40+ and the Church April 29, 2013

Michelle van Loon did a 10-question survey; she’s not a social scientist. Here’s her survey. Here are two summaries: one and two. These are her conclusions, and I ask:

What do you think?

  1. I’ve already noted that I’m not a social scientist or a statistician. But the number of the responses, and the fact that so many people took the time to add thoughtful comments (127 so far) has led me to a few conclusions:
  2. The volume of response I’m receiving to this little survey tells me that people want to talk about these issues. Church leaders, are you listening?
  3. A downshift in church attendance and program involvement by those who’ve moved second adulthood does not equal an abandonment of faith.Unfortunately, many churches only have two categories for attenders: “the committed” and “the not-so-committed”, and the sorting mechanism is based on affirming those who show up consistently and participate in church programming. That’s certainly understandable, but it doesn’t affirm the lifestyle realities that those in the second half face, such as caring for aging parents, grandchildren or a spouse; and increased travel or work responsibilities. Those at midlife and beyond long for community, and it will take creativity and energy to find new models to facilitate this.
  4.  Many who no longer attend church have been scarred by toxic church politics. In order to save their faith and sanity, they’ve left the institutional church. There is a need for gracious, healing ministry to these beloved brothers and sisters. It may not happen in the four walls of the church, but reaching out to some of the leavers with a goal of honor their battle scars (instead of shaming them for leaving!) is kingdom work 101.
  5. Because about two-thirds of my respondents were female, I received a number of comments noting that some women did not feel welcomed or valued in their churches. While other women found a place of meaningful ministry in mentoring younger women, planning teas or giving younger women a break from nursery duty, these comments demonstrate that there are precious few other growth and serving options for gifted older women in many churches.
  6. I was quite surprised by the number of respondents who told me that they do not believe their local church is their primary place of spiritual nurture. They’ve found other venues and groups where they can “get fed” and serve others. On one hand, this is a positive thing, as the church wasn’t meant to be a destination, but a launch pad. On the other hand, it is worth noting that the local church may not be doing such a hot job at cultivating community.
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  • T.S.Gay

    What do you think?
    Very thoughtful conclusions. Each one should be amplified. I’m curious as to church leaders continuing to talk about it. I must continue to add to conversations about church, the Anabaptist Eleanor Kreider’s observations about multi-voiced worship( I know this isn’t a part of Michelle van Loon’s survey, not on anybody’s radar. But it is so key to worshipers being valued and nurtured). I’m suggesting the way to change that is scriptural, but we have gotten away from.

  • Susan

    Interestingly, our church’s biggest ‘growth spot’ is in midlife single women who felt left out of their prior church (either because it was too ‘family-friendly’ or because it restricted the roles of women, and women without children had no place to serve). I’m the (female) pastor and I suppose that fact helped them give us a try. This is *almost* a problem, however, because we want our church to reflect a broad variety of the community, and we’re working hard to grow with families and young singles as well. This survey helps me understand why we are attracting so many women like this.

  • Well, speaking from my own experience as an early 40+ guy, a lot of them resonate with me.

  • T

    This is interesting. One of the things that jumped out to me is the categories of “committed” and “not-so-committed” to the church and/or its programming. So many questions I have here. I think the idea of being committed to the church’s programming needs more serious thought and discussion. Does commitment to a church mean commitment to certain programming? Which ones? Or does it mean tithing? Or some mix of both? What about relational ties and (non-programmed) mutual service to one another–where does that fit into the “committed” evaluation?

    My other question was similar: how many folks would say that their church was committed to them? And is that also measured by programming or by non-programmed mutual service? Just some thoughts in my head.

    Very interesting poll. Hope she keeps it up.

  • Paul

    It would be helpful to see/understand the ecclesiology of those taking the survey and see how that may be reflected in their answers. How we view/understand the role of the church has to be part of this conversation/ and a healthy response to issues like this.

  • dopderbeck

    Very interesting. So, the admission that there is no statistical rigor here means the results can’t be used to demonstrate anything. But — “scarred by toxic church politics” — in my experience as a 40+ person who is just now in a “I need to withdraw from active church work for a while” phase — amen! Yup. Happens all. the. time.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    I am 45, and I resonate with quite a few of these responses regarding the church at large. I believe though, that our congregation is doing better at many of these things. Women are certainly greatly valued, and the second adulthood folks are the core of our congregation’s activities. Do we find our congregation to be the center of our spiritual nurture: Yes, aside from some struggles with it regarding engaging brothers and sisters of color.


  • Andy

    “I was quite surprised by the number of respondents who told me that they do not believe their local church is their primary place of spiritual nurture. They’ve found other venues and groups where they can “get fed” and serve others.”

    This may be a side issue, but I hear people say frequently “I’m not getting fed” at this or that church, and this seems important in the response to these questions. But I am compelled to ask where do they go to worship God, if church is mostly about “being fed”?

  • “This may be a side issue, but I hear people say frequently “I’m not getting fed” at this or that church, and this seems important in the response to these questions. But I am compelled to ask where do they go to worship God, if church is mostly about “being fed”?”

    Depending on your definition of worship, some people I know go to the local arboretum to worship God and have a much more meaningful deep experience expressing their joy, appreciation, and value for God there than they do singing a song while standing in a row (which is what many churches equate to worship).

  • Okay, I took the survey, but it made things look better than they are at my church. You see, I hit tough sledding in my mid 40s between hormonal changes, elementary age children, and a sudden need to throw in care for my aging mother in the mix. My haven was our women’s bible study, a class that many of us found healing when going through any number of life changes. As a result, I see our church as a healing place. But that seems not to be a priority with the current pastoral staff, which has made a turn toward evangelical/conservative ideas. I thought we had a nice mix of ages and programs, but they want to “grow the church” by bringing in more younger people. All of a sudden, I feel like these older programs, which kept going even when we had a disastrous pastoral change some years ago, are no longer wanted. Instead they want us to style ourselves after Saddleback. Lord, have mercy! We are mainline (UMC) not independent evangelical and if the place started looking like a mega church, I’d stop coming!

  • T.S.Gay

    Have I said this here before….forgive me, I’ve been there done that 40+a while ago…..when you hear people talking about “not being fed”, it’s easy to take it as self-serving. Please listen or encourage a deeper understanding. If you go to a worship gathering, and the entire event is led from a stage, including by a “worship group”, can you really say that this is a spiritual congregation? There is an anonymous Anabaptist tract written in the 1530’s in both defensive and aggressive tones that answers why they don’t attend the reformed and state churches. It says” they don’t observe the Christian order as taught in 1Cor14″. It says preachers ” presume they need yield to no one….and especially (yield) not to us”. “Everyone of you has a psalm, a doctrine, a revelation, an interpretation”.
    This post is just to make us think that there are ways to open up to other models. It is an avenue to opening up to the Spirit within the congregation. I follow a daily devotional that is modeled first with praise, then discipleship, then intercession. It is scripted for those following to actively participate. It’s not a narcissistic exercise in the least. It is true fuel. I haven’t been to a church service that compares lately. In fact, after praising, being encouraged as a disciple, and actively interceding day and night for awhile now, Sunday service is dry, quite a let down actually. My best interaction with other believers is on Wednesday bible study, which is really more of a class meeting in the Wesleyan sense.

  • P.

    Susan @ 8:30 – I’m glad your chuch is getting a lot of single women, but if you were getting a lot of families, would you term that almost a problem? I left my large UMC church because singles in general were considered a problem (one minister implied that) and had a singles ministry that exemplified every problem with singles ministries. So, if you’re getting a lot of women, please welcome them because they’re definitely treated as problems in other churches.

  • JD

    TS Gay, would love to know what your devotional is.

  • Chad

    My experience, and this survey seems to validate this at least in part, is that many 40+ folks are, 1) Finding more of their nurturing in small groups and, 2) Finding less need for corporate worship, especially in those churches where worship gatherings have come to look like staged, spectator events.