“Church is dying. The congregation is aging, a bad winter and they’ll all be dead.”
It’s easy to understand why people say this as they look around some churches, particularly those where children are a rarity, and teenagers non-existant. But there are churches which have been like this for the last forty years, and yet they stubbornly refuse to die. Why?
I have a theory. As people retire, they are still hale and hearty. They often move to a new place, they have time on their hands, and a wealth of skills. They want to make friends, and if they have moved to a small community, they want to get involved. And one obvious way is through church. But I think there is a little more to it than that. People lead busy lives. They focus on jobs, family, houses, cars, hobbies of all sorts. But as they get a little older, they realise they have lost the immortality of the teenager or the ambitious twenty something. Life has been more complicated than expected, bad things have happened among the good (or indeed the other way round), and suddenly there is time to wonder what it all means. I think that’s why people turn to church later in life.
It means that congregations are indeed self renewing. And it also means (unfashionable viewpoint alert) that there is a place for some churches, or some services which aren’t child focussed, but aim squarely at the people who are in the pews, or lurking in the doorway, or have been invited by friends. What suits a family with young children doesn’t appeal to every sixty-something. (I’ve heard of a few who actively seek churches with fewer children because they need the peace after being childcare all week).
This isn’t me suggesting that children’s work and youth work should cease. Far from it. We are ALL children of God, and we all need ways to articulate our experience of God. But it is a suggestion that maybe, just maybe, there are some congregations that we don’t need to beat ourselves up about.