40+ And The Church / Beyond Sunday Morning Church Attendance

40+ And The Church / Beyond Sunday Morning Church Attendance May 4, 2013

Church is where you go on Sunday morning, right?

Over 70% of those who’ve taken my informal survey reported that they attended corporate worship services weekly. At the same time, 42% of those who took the survey noted that they were less involved in the life of their local congregation than they were a decade earlier. Those who attend church aren’t tied to the programming of the church as the focus for their spiritual lives like they once were.

Those who have maintained or increased their involvement cited reasons you’d most expect: “I’m on staff”, “I’m a pastor”, “I’m on board with what they’re doing at my church”, “Church is a huge part of who I am. I enjoy connecting with God’s people on a regular basis. I would much rather be in church than not” and “More free time”.

What are those who’ve moved toward less church involvement doing instead? A representation of some of the answers I received on my survey:

  • I watch a service online.
  • Gathering with other believers anywhere and anytime.
  • Meet for Bible study apart from any church.
  • Less involved in a local church, much more involved in a local ministry.
  • (I took) personal steps outside of church to grow in my faith…bible studies, book clubs, service projects etc…there is growth in “community”…no better place to find community than a community of believers.
  • I went through a legal matters, divorce, and remarriage in the last decade that have made my former level of church involvement difficult.
  • I don’t feel the obligation that I felt ten years ago.
  • Part of it is the busyness of having 3 children and family commitments. part of it is being disenfranchised from the whole “church” experience. 
  • 10 years ago we attended a larger congregation. We now worship in a home church and meet with other friends on Wednesday night for bible study. We are “less involved” since we no longer participate in programs that institutional church offers.
  • Corporate worship fills a desire I believe God created in us. But my Bible study, fellowship groups, etc. are more parachurch or independent than a program of our local church.
  • It is very difficult to connect as a passionate single for Christ.
  • The two ministries I poured my heart into fizzled because of lack of pastoral/administrative support.
  • There was no place for me. A wounded person, I found I was always expected to give, and an already empty vessel was depleted. The nuclear family-centric box excluded me.
  • (Tired of) serving burnout. Directing my efforts to ministries outside of the church.
  • Other things have higher priority right now.
  • I have found more joy in connecting with the hurting in the “real world” in my own “real life.” I think I often relied on “the church” to produce opportunities for service, etc. I’ve discovered that opportunities abound in my actual day to day living. I’m surrounded by the hurting and lost who have great needs for love, compassion, understanding and Jesus. I’ve found that I can meet my own needs for study and spiritual development. I also find great joy in studying those things that are immediate relevant to my life situations, etc. Community needs are met via a wonderful network of believers with whom I do live openly and it also provides accountability. I sometimes long for corporate worship, yet honestly don’t want to “play the rest of the game.”

A few noted that their beliefs about God or the church had changed dramatically, and they’d chosen to exit the church in response.

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 mentioned here, 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.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – 1 Cor. 13:11-12

What would a church that honors second-half spiritual formation issues look like? Would it differ from what you see/experience at your church? If so, how?  
Upcoming posts in this series:
  • The question of time
  • A look at those who are flourishing in their local church
  • What does maturing faith look like?

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