Saturday, September 8, 2007

Churches Are Getting Older

Churches are getting older. I am not commenting on the age of the physical structures we have built as our meeting places, but I am speaking of the growing percentage of gray-heads that make up the membership rolls of congregations throughout this country. I am not criticizing the great number of elder citizens among us, indeed I applaud them for their faithfulness. My criticism, in part, is directed at those of younger generations, those who are leaving the church in ever-growing numbers. If the trends continue, where will the church be in thirty years? Fifty years? One hundred years?

The trends toward an aging church membership can be explained in a number of ways. For one, it can be reasoned that the attrition of younger members is natural, people are more apt to stray in their youth, but many will return as they mature. For another, it can be reasoned that modern culture presents too many enticing alternatives to church participation. For yet another, it can be reasoned that the perceived hypocrisy and legalism of many Christians and churches is responsible for driving away large numbers of young people. I am certain that each of these factors has had an affect. However, when I consider the experiences of my life I know that there are resources to combat these and other factors of attrition.

Many of my closest childhood friends and I have remained faithful members of Christ's church. Yes, for the most part we grew up in Christian homes and had parents who insisted on placing a priority on things spiritual. (Unquestionably, the role of parents in the spiritual development of children, and the retention of those values into adulthood, is very important.) Yet, I belive we were exposed to a resource that was equally as effective at instilling in us a love for God that has carried on itno adulthood. We had the opportunity to belong to a large, active, and (above all) cpiritually-centered youth group.

In essence a youth group is a type of support group, a peer base that encourages proper behavior and spiritual development. Peer pressure, I belive, can be the single greatest hindrance to the spiritual development of a child, but it also can be the single greatest asset. Children, adolescents and young adults (those from the "Buster generation" and younger), particularly in our modern culture, possesses a pack mentality--they desire, indeed demand and need, social interaction and acceptance. Today's youth must have interaction with others who are of the same generation and possess similar values, interests, and abilities. A peer base that values and participates int he corrupt mores of modern culture will greatly hinder, if not destroy, the spiritual development of a young person, but a peer base that is Christ-focused will be invaluable in the maturation of an adult Christian.