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A while ago, my husband and I went to a newcomers’ luncheon at a church we were considering attending. We watched as church staff, almost all in their early- to mid-30s, schmoozed with the young families. While I recognize the demands at these types of events, only one staff member connected with the newcomers who were obviously the oldest people in the room. We left the gathering feeling like we’d become an anachronistic punch line.
I’ve had one too many conversations with empty-nester peers about what it’s like to go to church once our kids are grown and gone. Our midlife crisis of faith came from questioning not our beliefs, but our role in the body of Christ.
When the bulletin is filled with announcements for mothers of preschoolers’ gatherings, family camping weekends, and Vacation Bible School, I know I’m welcome to lend a hand by baking muffins or doing crafts. I’ve gotten the message that, now that my own children have grown, my role is to support the real focus of the church: families.
Decades ago, baby boomers and older Gen Xers pushed to create churches centered on the young, nuclear family. Sadly, this ministry model now excludes many of us. Having outgrown the local church’s core programs, we’re left to usher, teach fourth-grade Sunday school, or attend committee meetings. At times, I can’t help thinking: Been there, done that. Got the Christian T-shirt to prove it.
While local churches work to reach a younger generation, some of their graying members are stepping away. In our 50s, 60s, and beyond, we face a new set of challenges: relationship shifts, loneliness, health risks, divorce, and death. Boomers have begun attending church less frequently, according to Barna Research, while Gen Xers registered a significant uptick in those with no church affiliation.
I recently took an informal survey on my blog, and heard from nearly 500 believers about their church experiences as they’ve ...