On twitter last night I saw a tweet from @edthornton, a writer for the Church Times who flagged up this article by Nelson Jones for the New Statesman:
In it Jones says that the church should ‘stop trying to be trendy and embrace its older generation’. Which came out of a Synod report that the average age of the churches congregation is 61. Not a good sign… He makes several points, including about children within the church but it this that really got me:
Far be it from me to make suggestions to the C of E, but perhaps they should stop trying to attract the youth market – a declining demographic in any case – and instead specialise in serving the ever-expanding numbers of older people. Church has much to offer senior citizens – not just religious consolation but socialisation with like-minded folk, participation in parish committees and voluntary work, the opportunity to develop hobbies such as flower-arranging and singing, even a discreet dating service for the recently widowed.
I really hope that this was written with sarcasm and with tongue firmly in cheek. Otherwise it shows a ridiculous disreagrd for the future of the church and is incredible short-sighted and narrow minded.
I am not sure that the ’61’ statistic is all that helpful but it is true that many areas of the church are or will be facing a dire shortage in the coming years. Whilst in many churches the over 61s are the largest part of the congregation and should be catered for accordingly, can we please start looking forward… someone? anyone? The church is here primarily to help people encounter Jesus: in worship, in prayer, in teaching. How can we be failing so miserably? Another stat said this:
Not only have congregations halved over the past forty years, the number of children attending regular worship has declined by 80 per cent.
Is the CofE flogging a dead horse? Is the end really in sight or can it be revamped for today and for the future? I want to see a CofE that is respected and valued within all of society not just those that believe. I want a CofE that meets peoples needs, whatever their age, that really helps them to encounter the unfailing love of our amazing God. I want to see a CofE that is not ridiculed by the press, but held up as a paragon of virtue…
Am I in cloud-cuckoo land?
HarrietJuly 14, 2011 at 3:17 pm
You are not in cloud-cuckoo land, I agree with what you are saying but I think we shouldn't ask 'Why don't young people come to church?'- We need to ask 'Why would they come to church?'. The Church has got to get out of its buildings and be seen a group of enthusiastic people who love life and they love God. The world has become a very self centred place.
AnonymousJuly 14, 2011 at 5:09 pm
But the C of E isn't being self-centered when it clings to Establishment and tax breaks and public funding for its own schools…
Then it's being-what?
So long as people want "someplace nice" for weddings and funerals, you're not going to die out. You've become the anglo-saxon version of Shinto and nobody can take that away from you. Adorable.
JulesJuly 14, 2011 at 9:38 pm
@Harriet couldn't agree more 🙂
@anonymous Hi. It would be helpful if you identified yourself, but thanks for the comment. I am not sure quite what point you are making here. Firstly Church schools are actually not that different to other schools and for the most part they work in the same way as other state schools so why shouldn't they be publically funded? Secondly, for many the local church school is also their local village school or their catchment school so whether it is or isn't a church school is irrelevant.
In my very limited knowledge of shinto, yes you may be right, that some areas of the Anglican church of today are exactly that, a set of varying rules, practices and even shrines, but that is not what it is about. If people only want churches as somewhere nice to get married or buried then I'd rather they were shut to be honest. Church is a by-product of faith. And that is the key – faith in who we believe in. This article looks at the numbers of people in church, which is what I was posting on, but the key is not numbers of people in church, but people encountering Jesus.
MadPriestJuly 15, 2011 at 10:24 am
I think he is basically right and I have done for a long time. The Church is so obsessed with youth that it not only neglects its duty to its main demographic but also makes older people feel like they are worthless and not part of the future of the church. If we put all that energy into caring for our existing congregations we would attract more mature people. Young people just use the church at best. Older people commit.
JulesJuly 15, 2011 at 10:59 am
MP, sorry to say but I totally disagree with you! (there's a surprise..) IMHO in the churches I have experienced the older people are embraced totally. In the more traditional church often they are the ones keeping the church going and as such are the backbone. they are the ones putting in the time and effort and are rewarded for it. I do agree that we should care for our existing congregations but at the same time should we not be reaching out to those who don't know Jesus? That is my gripe with our local church that it is too inward focussed – it does exactly what you said, cares for the existing congregation without looking out into the community (to old and young alike..)
I also totally disagree that young people just use the church. How are they doing that? In our church we have very committed young people and very uncommitted older people (as well as the other way round…). And it srtill doesnt answer the statistic that suggests by 2020 the church will be non-existant and not viable unless we address the younger population…
MadPriestJuly 15, 2011 at 11:11 am
The Church has been concentrating its mission on young people for as long as I can remember and has got absolutely nowhere. My suggestion is that we concentrate our mission on older people. And the best way to attract older people into the church is to be a caring church.
JulesJuly 15, 2011 at 11:33 am
the best way to attract *any* people into the church is to be a caring church…
I don't think its not getting 'anywhere' but its not always getting it right that's for sure…
any anyway what happens when the older people are dead?
MadPriestJuly 15, 2011 at 11:39 am
Well, hopefully are mission to the mature is more successful than our mission to youth has been, so we continually attract the over 40s to the church.
JulesJuly 15, 2011 at 11:45 am
but surely that is partly circumstance not necessarily the churches success? Often people grown up, have kids, and having kids makes them re-address 'life'. and focuses them on what life is all about – hence coming to church…
MadPriestJuly 15, 2011 at 11:53 am
Exactly. That is why it would be common sense to prioritise that age group in respect of our mission. I'm not saying we ignore the youth. I just don't think they are the answer to the Church's need for more bums on pews. I think the over 40s are for the reason you have stated.
PerpetuaJuly 17, 2011 at 5:00 pm
I'm afraid I'm entirely with MadPriest here, Red. The over-40s aren't over the hill by any means nowadays – indeed many of them have young children. The average age of producing a first child has been going up for ages. Our son had his only child at 35 and his wife was 38 and they aren't unusual. In many ways they are your target audience, even though they aren't what you would categorise as young.
The young are, on the whole, far too busy trying to get a job, form relationships and have a good time to be interested in church. Ten or twenty years down the line they are likely to be rather more receptive to the the church's message, or so I have found in my years of ministry.
JulesJuly 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm
great post here:
from Lay Anglicana looking at similar issues…
JulesJuly 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm
@Perpetua thanks for the comment. I wasn't suggesting the over 40s are over the hill! As I am nearly at 40 I would be worried! I agree the average age of having kids has gone up but it would be a shame if we ignore that generation because they are busy with other stuff. It's also a prime age, when we are open to more things, questioning more and also moving in lots of different circles. These are the kind of people who can share the Gospel in so many areas of their lives, and also with their own kids right from birth. Do have a look at Lay Anglicana's post (link above) she makes some interesting points..
catcairdJuly 18, 2011 at 10:42 am
Out of interest – what age is youth? I see youth as between 12 and 18, but it seems you mean everyone under 40? You probably don't, but i would be interested in what age range is youth?
MadPriestJuly 18, 2011 at 10:43 am
The upper limit is 27 in the UK.
JulesJuly 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm
I guess I would call youth anything under 25ish too, but actually I wasn't specifically referring to youth anyway! Jones, in the article I cited, talks about he CofE trying to 'attract the youth market'. I was simply making the point that if it doesn't address some of the younger contingent that it will be dead as predicted in 20 years time. So in that case yes I guess I was thinking 40 and under (younger than the 61 stat anyway!)…
gospelsunshineJuly 20, 2011 at 11:12 am
Ok that is really helpful, thanks! I have been thinking about this a bit too and I think its a bit sad what @perpetua says about the youth being too busy for church or God, because from my experience of working with students from the ages of 18 to 25 in University is that they are hungry for truth and for God – the non Christians have so many questions and some are seeking! And the christian students see how unsatisfying the things of this world are compared to what Christ offers us.
I wonder whether its not so much that they are busy and have no time for God and are not interested, but that as a church we don't offer these hungry, thirsty people with the Gospel. We offer them nice buildings, nice people, tea and coffee but what they want and need is to hear about Christ. And that includes the over 40s too…
Perhaps to change a dying church is not to change the focus of who they reach, but realise that we need to warm hearts to Christ, show them the loveliness of Christ, the life changing Gospel, the Christ who died for their sins and now they can have a relationship with him which will change their lives forever. We need passion and love for Christ back in the churches who will overflow into the city and share Christ with others! Then the church will grow, just like in Acts – they preached the Gospel and numbers were added to them… 🙂