Does Your Church Have Too Many Old People?

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Many folks in their 20s and 30s would walk into a church featuring a lot of people in their 40s and upward, and would be concerned.

Preaching through Titus was eye-opening and encouraging for me in a number of ways. One of those ways was in reflecting on the brute force of the text in 2:1-8 (opened up hereherehere and here). In that passage, Paul casts a net that takes in the whole age-range of the congregation.

Pride of place goes to seniors, to older men and older women, who then have a ministry embracing younger women and men.

If we let it, this has real impact on how we will view our local assembly. Think it through with me.

Many folks in their 20s and 30s would walk into a church featuring a lot of people in their 40s and upward, and would be concerned.

I understand that, and I don’t entirely blame anyone for the reaction. That is, if they see a church predominantly tilted to the senior years, they will wonder if it has lost vision. They’ll wonder if it’s dying.

They will be concerned that this may be a church “married” to a single point on the calendar, rather than to the word of God—as if the 1950s (or, for that matter, the 1850s, 1750s or 1650s) constituted an especially sacrosanct dot on a timeline, and everything coming after that dot is suspect, or probably even evil. Not sharing that timebound devotion, they’ll wonder whether they’d find a home in this family, or whether instead they’d find themselves also suspect and marginalized.

Those are legitimate concerns, in themselves. I’m not writing to challenge anyone for merely having those thoughts. In fact, I would agree that there’s no excuse for a congregation to wed itself indissolubly to some imagined Post-Biblical Golden Age in any given culture. Paul reflected no such concern or fancy, nor did he encourage it; nor should we.

What’s worse, I know what it is when a congregation has the smell of death about it.

It’s just very, very sad. It is as if you’ve stepped into a time machine, in a way. In another, it’s as if you’ve stepped into a funeral parlor. There’s a feel of sad resignation and frustration; all is ingrown and cliquish; arms are already closed, not open. What you’re seeing is a slow death. They’re huddled together waiting for the end … and it’s on its way.

So I’m not writing to say that anyone should feel wicked and guilty if he feels a concern at the initial sight of a senior-weighted congregation. But I am writing to urge you not to stop with those first impressions.

I am writing to suggest other thoughts you should also have, other questions you should also ask yourself, in forming a decision.

Dan Phillips Dan Phillips pastors Copperfield Bible Church in Houston, Texas. He has authored The World-Tilting Gospel (Kregel: 2011) and God’s Wisdom in Proverbs (Kress: 2011). Dan also blogs at Pyromaniacs. Dan’s spoken and print ministries are both noted for his ability to take complex doctrinal concepts and truths of the Bible’s original Greek and Hebrew texts, and express them simply, passionately, and practically.

More from Dan Phillips or visit Dan at http://teampyro.blogspot.com

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  • cn

    Great article! I am one of those gray hairs who loves the influence of multi cultural multi aged congregations.

  • gerbrand

    Very well written. We should go one step further. Who are my friends. How many of my friends are grey haired wisdom boms who can educate me.
    how many of my friends are calling me old and respect me enough to come and ask for advice. How balanced is my circle of friends, or did i get stuck in the school setup where everybody was my age.
    Let us all learn from the elders and pass that wisdom to the new Christians or those less advance in years than i am. This way we can really build the Kingdom
    Beautiful article

  • Guest

    Thanks so much for this well thought out article. In my church, the young seem to be “pitted” against the older or “more mature”. They want their music and their concerns to be front and center and the older folks “have had their chance” as one youth told me. I am the Praise and Worship Leader because the last pastor and his family did everything in the church and others were not trained. It left a huge vacuum when they left. The new pastor has struggled to put people in place who are willing to learn and lead. The youth do not feel any responsibility and do not want to invest the time necessary to have an excellent ministry. As leader of the worship, I incorporate new music as well as older hymns in order to minister to the entire congregation. I get complaints sometimes and some of the youth still communicate with the former pastor and family to complain. I am thankful for the writers who are “modernizing” the hymns, adding a chorus, etc. My husband and I are new members and we are praying fervently for God to send workers who will help us in the harvest. We believe God is working! Thanks again!

  • Brian

    First, i want to say i agree with all of the author’s points. The older generation is VITAL to the church family. However, I also have a few thoughts for the older generation in dealing with the younger.
    1) Please don’t assume just because you are older and more mature in the faith, that every young person needs to hear ever bit of “wisdom” you have. Don’t assume youger means they are a babe in their faith. I’m sure you have TONS of experience to share that will impact young people’s lives, but please, FIRST talk to the young people and find out where they are at in their journey. Find out what areas they are strong in (they may be stronger than you in some areas!), and where they could benefit from your years of wisdom. THEN share.
    2) I truly believe EVERY church that wants to continue to grow and retain the younger generation needs the older generation to grow from being “takers” to being givers. If you are more mature, you need to realize it isn’t about you anymore. The older generation needs to be more about GIVING and SERVING the younger generation in church. That means setting aside their wants. Music choice, Bible version, technology….EVERYTHING…should be slanted toward the younger generation. Churches should never alienate the older generation though…don’t go ALL young and hip! But the Sunday service especially should favor the younger generation. I’d say a 75/25 split is about right. Sure…throw in a hymn or even two! The younger saints NEED that! But don’t make it a focus….

  • Craig Piefer

    But seriously, my church has too many old people.

    • Thomas C Dietz

      That sounds like you have challenged yourself to bring some younger people into the fold, eh?

  • Daryl Little

    To feed off of Brian’s comment I would say this:

    If you’re younger than…well younger than dead, and there is anyone in the church older than you, do, absolutely do assume that you can and need to learn from them.

    It may turn out that you don’t need to learn from that particular individual or that they need to learn from you, it happens. But always begin by assuming that the older guy knows more.

    He, as Dan has said, has been there before.

  • Thomas C Dietz

    Getting the sermons out on video, podcast, mp3, or using lifechurch bible app to simulcast your sermon complete with your notes (for free) can bring you right into the place where the younger crowd “lives” and bring them to where you are. The message is just as relevant to younger and older, but serve it to the younger in a way that they are already getting the rest of their info. Digitally.