Sidelined by loss. Pushed out by politics. Tired of doing, doing, doing. Invisible. Irrelevant.
More time = greater availability to serve. Anxious to contribute. Longing to transmit the faith to the next generation.
Mutually exclusive sentiments?
Not when it comes to the relationship those of us over 40 have with the local church.
A week ago, I posted a survey on the topic here. I wasn’t sure if I’d get much of a response. I was hoping to hear from maybe 50 of you. As of this writing, nearly 200 people have responded, and I plan to leave the survey active for another week or so. (If you haven’t taken it yet, please do. I’m listening!) Earlier this week, I posted summaries of the responses I’ve been receiving here and here.
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:
(1) 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?
(2) 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.
(3) 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.(4) 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.
(5) 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.
So where can this conversation go from here?
For those of you attending a church, why not share this series of posts with your church leaders – and gather a handful of others in your congregation to talk about how your church is caring for those at midlife and beyond?
For those of you who aren’t attending a church regularly, I’d love to hear from you about what you need most from the body of Christ at this stage in your life (click here to use my contact form)
If you’re looking for some additional food for discussion on the subject, here are a few links you might find helpful:
- I blogged through Fr. Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality For The Two Halves Of Life last year. Lots of provocative and encouraging info in the book.
- At Internet Monk, a post about a search for an adult faith.
- Dan Edelen’s prophetic words about going to church to find Jesus but getting something else instead.