On Age and Relevance in the Church

“Our church is shrinking,” they’d whine
Average age, seventy-one, a bad sign
To avert a disaster
A millennial pastor!
The average is now sixty-nine

The email from the pastor made me chuckle.

“We have a mostly older congregation, no children, but we do have one millennial couple!”

“One millennial couple” and it was almost as if it was a badge of honor.

But I understood. The church has changed drastically in the years that I have been involved in ministry. My friend, Pastor Jon, likes to remind me that “no one has been in more churches than Chuck Neighbors.”  I don’t know if that is exactly true, but I have been in a different church almost every weekend for the last 45 years. I have seen a lot of change over the years.

My generation of Baby Boomers, who once strived so hard to be “relevant” and “contemporary” in church now find themselves on the outside of church culture. To the younger church culture we are now, it seems, irrelevant and too traditional by their standards.

Indeed it is rare to find a church that appeals to all ages. Churches that promote a “contemporary” worship style seem locked into a new tradition they have created that is no longer contemporary. In striving to be relevant, contemporary has become tradition.

I recently did a series of performances for a church in Sun City, Arizona. Sun City is well known as a retirement community. There was a good turnout every night. People enjoyed the performances. I have a statement that is read when I am introduced, that “if babies get too noisy to please take them out of the room so as not to distract from the performance.”

The pastor read this and received a big laugh.

Babies? There was not even one millennial couple in the audience.

The Church – A Turtle in a Marathon

turtle-runningI contact a lot of pastors in my “day job,” managing my touring ministry. I often send out an inquiry to churches in a geographical area as I plan my itinerary.  Often these emails are ignored or end up in a spam box; most go unanswered or are returned with a reply “not at this time.” But never in all my years of doing this, do I recall a response quite like this one:

“I am retired as of June 1st, but the worst news is that the “box” that most elderly (denomination withheld) live in here in (state withheld) is about as progressive as a turtle in a marathon.  I would recommend that you concentrate on the larger towns, cities where there are concentrations of the few young people who remain in our denomination as we are chasing them away by the thousands, concentrating on coffee pots being removed from the foyer instead of removing pride and selfishness and spiritual arrogance; seeking humility and surrender at the foot of the cross.  The mistake of most in our faith is the need to stop bashing other faiths and understand that “being right” doesn’t make us righteous, only Jesus makes us righteous. Exterior righteousness is like the veneer of a collapsing house being white-washed.  So, blessings to you, Jesus only can changed the hearts, mine, yours, and turn us to Him.”

Name Withheld, Pastor Emeritus
(used by permission)

This has to be one of the shortest and yet more powerful sermons I have heard in a long time! I found the honesty and candor refreshing. I find myself saying both a hearty “AMEN” and at the same time taking a good look at my own heart.  “Being right doesn’t make us righteous, only Jesus makes us righteous.” What a powerful reminder!

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