40+ And The Church: What Pastors & Leaders Have To Say (Part 1)

40+ And The Church: What Pastors & Leaders Have To Say (Part 1) February 18, 2014

Two weeks ago, I invited pastors and leaders to weigh in on the topic of older adults in their congregations. (Click here if you’d like to take this brief survey. I’ll be keeping the survey active for at least 2 more weeks.)

I’ve heard from nearly 60 leaders to date. While I received a fair amount of feedback from pastors and other congregational leaders in the survey I did last summer querying those over 40 to share about their relationship with the local church, my questions focused on church attenders. (And, as it turned out, plenty of church non-attenders as well.) 53% of the 461 people who took that survey told me that they were either just as involved or more involved in the life of their local church as they were a decade ago. The remaining 47% had either downshifted their involvement or had stopped attending entirely.

I appreciate the thoughtful feedback I received from this group of pastors and church leaders about their experience ministering to those in their second adulthood. Please allow me to introduce these leaders to you in the form of some data. (Thank you, Survey Monkey.)

Age and role of respondents

I was curious about what church leaders might have to say about those over 40 who are still involved in the life of the church. Two-thirds of those who responded to date were between 30 and 60 years of age; 48% of all respondents were male. Nearly half were head/lead pastors and an additional 20% were in an assistant pastor role. Nearly 20% were in other pastoral roles (campus pastor, worship pastor, children’s or youth leader) and the remaining 12% were in other staff positions.

Time in role, denominational affiliation of respondents

42% had been in their role at their current congregation between 1-5 years. 14% had been in their current role less than a year, and 8% had been in their position with the same congregation more than 20 years. Denominational affiliations of these leaders were pretty evenly distributed among almost all 18 denominations I’d listed as choices as well as other denominations including Churches of Christ, Foursquare, Vineyard, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Evangelical Church of America, Fellowship Baptist, and Alliance. 14% clicked the nondenominational button.

Average number and age of adults attending Sunday morning services 

Nearly 25% of respondents said their congregation had less than 75 adults attending Sunday morning services. 35% told me there were between 75-149 adults at a Sunday morning worship gathering. An additional 18% said there were between 150-300 in attendance on a Sunday morning, and the remaining 25% reported their congregation was larger than 300 adults on a typical Sunday.

53% said that between 50-75% of their Sunday morning crowd was over age 40. An additional 16% reported that more than 75% of their Sunday morning worship gathering was comprised of people over age 40. The remaining 30% told me that less than half of Sunday worshippers were over 40 in their church.

Most important vehicles to nurture spiritual growth in congregation; how growth is assessed

26 pastors and leaders responded to this open-ended question. The most important vehicles for spiritual growth in congregations tended to be grouped around categories like attendance at Sunday morning worship services, participation in small groups or Sunday School classes, mentoring/discipleship relationships, committee work, and corporate prayer gatherings. While a few noted that they measured church health by attendance, or, in the case of smaller churches, by pastoral or elder involvement in the lives of those in their care, many noted that they didn’t have any sort of spiritual growth assessment protocol in place. One leader noted, “We assess by hunch.”

Involvement beyond Sunday mornings

I asked respondents to tell me what percentage of those over 40 and those under 40 were actively involved in the ministry of the church beyond Sunday morning worship attendance. I defined active involvement as regular participation in a ministry such as sound, worship team, choir, nursery or ushering; attending or leading a small group, Bible study or Sunday School class; or serving in a church-related justice/mercy ministry, such as a food pantry.

The breakdown for those over 40 who were involved beyond Sunday mornings: 26% said less than 25% of those over 40 were involved beyond Sunday morning attendance; 41% said 25–49% of those over 40 were involved beyond Sunday mornings; 25% said their congregation had between 50-74% of those over 40 involved beyond Sunday worship services, and an additional 7% said more than 75% of their over-40’s were invested beyond Sundays.

The numbers for adults under 40: 33% said less than 25% of those under 40 were involved beyond Sunday morning attendance, 33% said 25–49% of those under 40 were involved beyond Sunday mornings; 23% said their congregation had between 50-74% of those under 40 involved beyond Sunday worship services, and an additional 10% said more than 75% of their under-40’s were invested beyond Sundays.

Though the breakdown differed slightly between the older group and the younger group, my sampling (so far) shows that the involvement percentages are fairly consistent between older and younger adult members.

* * * * * * *

In my next installment in this series, I’ll offer a look at what some of these leaders had to say about attitudes toward intergenerational relationships in their congregations. The following post will offer you a peek into what I’ve heard about the joys and challenges of working with and ministering to those over 40.

If you’re a church leader, it’s not too late to add your voice to the survey! Click here 


Is there anything that surprised you in this snapshot of the survey’s respondents? If so, what? 


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