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40+ And The Church/What Pastors & Leaders Have To Say (Part 4)

40+ And The Church/What Pastors & Leaders Have To Say (Part 4) February 27, 2014

Though Barna’s 2011 survey and my own less-scientific one last spring showed that those over 40 were leaving or greatly decreasing their involvement in their local churches in large numbers, I wondered what pastors of all ages observed about church involvement, attitudes and spiritual needs of the congregants in their second adulthoods, so I asked them. (Click here to see earlier posts about the results of this survey.)  Today, I’ll be sharing what some of these pastors had to say in response to the questions “Do you believe those over 40 may have spiritual/emotional concerns or needs that are not being adequately addressed within your church? If so, why might this be?”

Some respondents either didn’t have much contact with this age group, couldn’t see any demographically-specific issues, or hadn’t seen a driving reason to pursue the question:

“Probably. I am not near that age group and so I don’t know, but our leadership is and I am unaware of anything jumping out.”

“We haven’t even gotten there. We’re dealing with a very wounded and broken generation in their 20-30’s. We could use some older people with more wisdom to help this age group.”

“No aware of glaring concerns specific to that age group.”

“I am sure they do, but we are a tiny church with a mostly part-time staff and it is hard to meet everyone’s needs.”

“No, the (white, male) pastors are over 40 and design worship and study that reflects their particular generational ideals and concerns. They are typical Boomers (“It’s all about me”). They are not meeting the needs of the GI/Silent generation nor the GenXers or millenials.”

“No. The gospel presented as free of human traditions, transcends age groups, social-economic divisions. But it must be presented in a practical, readily assimilated form.”

A few respondents suggested that their 40+ congregants had “left the building” even if they were still present by checking out of their own spiritual lives or the life of the church:

“Of course they do, but they probably aren’t aware they do and don’t show up in very big numbers for anything that isn’t on Sunday mornings.”

“Likely. I feel like there are two issues. There are a huge number of hurting, shame-ridden individuals in this demographic. It’s a lot of work to convince them that they are needed, have something to offer, and they aren’t who they believer or who they have been told they are. There are also a number in our context who have served for a long time, take a long deserved break, and just don’t seem to re-engage. They seem to not just take breaks from serving, but breaks from their faith.”

“Many of these people are part of the rote, institutional life of the church. They do daily devotionals but much seems mechanical.”

“Most believe that they are OK and not worried about growing spiritually.”

Others noted that the questions were areas of genuine pastoral concern:

“Not enough conversation about these needs. Assumptions made based on observable habits.”

 “We are particularly considering the attendance at our children and youth programming on Wednesday nights (well over 100 families represented) versus what we offer parents at the same time (one small group gets fewer than 6 families represented). We want to engage particularly the intersection of faith and daily life by tackling issues like: raising children in faith; mental health stigma; faith after the kids are raised; etc.”

“Especially our older adults are craving small group experience. They are seeking places to belong.”

“Likely. I feel like there are two issues. There are a huge number of hurting, shame-ridden individuals in this demographic. It’s a lot of work to convince them that they are needed, have something to offer, and they aren’t who they believer or who they have been told they are. There are also a number in our context who have served for a long time, take a long deserved break, and just don’t seem to re-engage. They seem to not just take breaks from serving, but breaks from their faith.”

“Embracing the aging process, recognizing and lamenting fully what must be left behind while reorienting and marshalling remaining capabilities is the biggest challenge for many.”

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the questions, some leaders either didn’t believe there was a problem or had chosen to put their energies elsewhere, perhaps as a result of frustration with the “but we’ve always done it this way” traditionalists represented by the older crew. Other leaders were grappling with these issues.

If you could ask one of the groups of leaders above a question in response to their answers, what would it be?

In my next post, I’ll be doing a bit of thinking about how the responses of these pastors and leaders intersects with what I heard from congregants in my earlier survey.

 

Leaders, it’s not too late to take the survey! And if you do so before tomorrow at midnight Central time, you have an (optional) opportunity to toss your metaphorical hat into the ring to win an Amazon gift card.

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