Churches have been scrambling to attract young adults for the last few decades.
Reaching this age group is a momentous task that requires changes in worship, leadership, preaching and outreach.
Much of this change has been for the better – an ever fluid and reforming church is usually one with an eye toward the Holy Spirit. Change comes with a cost, however; one that few pastors weigh.
In my own community, just east of Atlanta, Georgia, I meet many young people who attend church on a regular basis. The church market is flooded with young adult-friendly options.
It is the over-60 crowd that worries me.
It seems that whenever I meet people of older generations – Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, as they are called – I find out that they don’t go to church. Many claim that they no longer feel at home in places of worship once familiar.
When I dig deeper, themes emerge and people usually give me one of three reasons why they stopped going to church:
1. Churches have changed worship to the point that older generations now feel out of place and ill-prepared to keep up.
Complaints focus on music and preaching.
Most of the large churches in my area have changed to contemporary worship. Although contemporary music is good, it tends to be too loud, according to many people I’ve polled.
And sermons are getting too long.
Worried about the rise of biblical illiteracy in their congregations, pastors have shifted from preaching sermons to teaching sermons. This has led to longer sermons of a particular style with which older folks fail to connect.
Keep in mind that very few people are offended or opposed to different styles of worship, but many do not appreciate what appears to be a growing disregard for choirs, tradition and a fundamental honoring of the church hour (and, only one hour is needed!) as a sacred time with God.
Everyone wants a church filled with energetic, enthusiastic young people, but they don’t want to attend a service that feels like a youth group for adults.
2. Our culture has changed so rapidly, and churches are reactive rather than proactive in negotiating these changes.
Church, the over-60 crowd argues, is supposed to be a safe place that helps families transition into a future-looking faith, but not force it.
The prevailing feeling is that an encroaching culture of change in the digital age has dumbed down faith.
Add to that narrative the perception that preaching now focuses on self-help gimmickry rather than “Bible-based preaching” (not my words), then it seems the church has lost its way.
3. Seasoned saints no longer attend church because they are busy like everyone else.
This has to do with the changing landscape of family life and split families.
Whereas families used to live in the same neighborhoods and attend the same churches, many families are spread across the state or the nation. Grandparents have to travel in order to visit adult children and grandchildren.
The effects of cultural shifts, anxious churches trying to attract younger churchgoers, and a transient family landscape have led to the decline of church attendance in the older generations.
Frankly, we have not balanced the need to change with the honoring of traditions that have brought stability over the years.
In reaching for one generation, we’ve left another behind by taking people for granted.
Perhaps it’s time for us to right the ship, take a hard look at the cost of change, and be the presence of Christ for every generation that values joining God at work in the world rather than simply meeting God within the walls of a church.
When it comes to worship and Christ’s mission, no one should be left behind.
Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers, Georgia. He is the author of “Awe and Trembling: Reflections for the Christian Journey,” a book of articles and homilies. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Baptist Spirituality, and is used with permission.