Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Church Growth Epiphany

In our country, there seems to be a preoccupation with youth, in most every area.  Marketers and marketing organizations hone in on the under 40 age group like a bee on pollen.  If you doubt it look at all the magazine ads and the age of the actors in the commercials on television.  However, it seems there has been a recent epiphany in the marketing world as they have discovered that older people buy stuff too, and there seems to be the start of a paradigm shift in the focus of marketers.

Well, the church culture has not been much different either.  So much pub (publicity) has been directed at many of the young guns in evangelicalism, and the numbers and ministry growth that some have achieved.  Many of the Christian conferences will highlight these younger men, and I have read some articles that said if you don't get these younger guys as speakers at your conference,  you won't have any drawing power.  Now this is not to detract from them, or to denigrate them in any way, as I think what many of them are doing is great; not only great for the kingdom in expanding its reach, but also in the area of encouraging many other younger pastors; and there are several whom I enjoy listening to and benefit from.  But before we get too far into the exaltation of all things younger, hipper, with skinny jeans, casual attire, funky hair and cooler flair, and overuse of the words relevant, authentic, and missional, we need to take a look at some statistics that have come to light.

 In this link, Who Pastor's Growing Churches? , Cynthia Woolever provides statistics that show the largest number of growing churches have pastors that are ages 51-60 (46%) and the second largest group of growing churches have pastors 61+ (24%).  The two age groups under age 50 only account for 30% of the growing churches.  I know one pastor in his 70s who has stated that the majority of the people joining his church are age 35 and under.  Now obviously there are several factors that play into these statistics, but even with other variables, there seems to be an overwhelming disparity between churches pastored by those over 50 versus those under 50.

Maybe this should be an epiphany for us in evangelicalism.  Maybe it should shift our paradigm a little...or a lot.  There has also been recent research done in which non-church goers were surveyed, and the response from them indicated that if they were to consider going to church, they wanted the church to look like a church and feel like a church.  This might be a reach, but maybe these same people want the pastor to look  and act like a pastor as well.

I think that those in the world expect the church to be different, and, in fact, know that it should be different.  So to attract more people, maybe we should stop trying to look and act and sound like the world.  Maybe when coming to church, the unchurched don't need it to be a seamless experience, but need to experience the difference.  Maybe being overwhelmed with the Biblical vernacular is good.  Maybe having an atmosphere that says they are coming before a transcendant Being is good.  Maybe a service that leaves them with a sense of accountability to that Being is even better.  Maybe being around a group of people that enjoy and celebrate and make no apologies for that difference would add to its legitimacy.  Maybe this is what the churches pastored by these older guys are offering, as the churches they pastor are not typically into the latest and greatest.   Maybe what the church needs to be is what it has always been....a different place, a safe haven, a place of mutual accountability and mutual encouragement, a place that knows its place before both God and men.

Just some food for thought as we move into the new year.


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