I missed posting last weekend because I was in Idaho at the state Women’s Spiritual Retreat. It was a blessed time.
There were women and girls attending aged from 3 months to the late 80’s and there was something to enrich the life of each of one. The baby was the object of love and cuddles that will help in some small way to shape her perception of herself, while the young girls had the fresh air and interaction with dozens of surrogate aunts and grandmothers. The adult women were there hoping to grow closer to one another and to God. From personal experience and the many comments I heard I think most of us achieved that goal.
During the weekend there were conversations among women representing different church congregations telling of how the current emphasis on youth outreach discourages them. Some, just because so much catering to the 18-28 demographic makes them feel less valuable and unappreciated, while for others it was just because there aren’t many young people left in their community to reach.
Flying home from the retreat I thought about those conversations and other, very similar ones, I’ve been having all around the western states.
I understand the pressure our church leaders feel in this new anti-church culture. They must bring in new members to grow the church and conduct a ministry. The common wisdom has always been that children and young families are our future. A graying congregation is perceived as an omen of decline for the church.
I think that idea comes partially from nostalgia for the golden age of the church in the 50’s when our sanctuaries were filled every Sunday and many midweek evenings, as well. It was before fragmented families, two career couples, and the plethora of entertainment distractions pulled people away from the church. However, even if successful, targeting 18-28 year-olds by providing them with the trappings of a modern social club will never bring back the culture of fifty years ago.
Like it or not, times have changed. I have a strong feeling that the answer is not going to be found in the sort of youth-tailored campaigns that are becoming so popular. More and more I think that what we need is for our churches to take a good look at their neighborhoods and communities and the needs that are there. Then we need to look hard at our churches, both facilities and people…especially the people … and determine which of those needs we are best suited to meet.
Suppose, as with many of our small town churches, your community is made up largely of retired people … and so is your congregation. Discouraging if you are trying to attract youth, right? So, do you alienate the people you already have, those who have faithfully served your church for many years, by throwing out the traditions they hold dear on the off chance that you can attract the few young people in your community? How likely is that to succeed?
The missional model of the church, which is sometimes cited as justification for just that sort of thing, does not support it, at all. The missional church takes the resources you have out into the community for the building up of God’s kingdom, not the church membership roll.
So, in the example above, the church made up of retired folks goes out and serves the other retired folks in their community. They do what they can where they are with what God has provided. I believe God honors that.
Unless you truly believe that God puts a premium on young souls and discounts the elderly ones, I can’t think of a reason why a congregation of motivated senior citizens like the older women that planned and pulled off that Idaho Retreat couldn’t be a worthy goal for any pastor.
And remember…old people are a renewable resource. There’s always another crop ripening for harvest.