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Aged Out of Church


Apr 1 2014
Even in our congregations, midlife has become a joke.

Ask anyone who's hit midlife, and they'll tell you: this stage is no joke for us.

The emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational shifts that occur at midlife can lead to disconnection from old social networks and a profound sense of loneliness, which brings with it serious health risks. At this point, many also feel drained by the increasingly common occurrence of death, disease, divorce, and the changes that redefine old friendships.

And yet, rather than engage these important but uncomfortable issues that come with aging, our culture—including, at times, the church—would rather laugh it off. We see midlife as a caricature: the man with a bad comb over buying a red convertible or a thick-waisted woman drenched with sweat after her internal thermostat cranks itself up to the "temporary inferno" setting. We make the middle-aged into a punchline:

  • Midlife crisis is that moment you realize your children and your clothes are about the same age. (Insert rimshot here.)
  • The good news about midlife is that the glass is still half-full. The bad news is that it won't be long before your teeth are floating in it.
  • Don't think of them as hot flashes. Think of it as your inner child playing with matches.

Sure, the jokes are funny in a late-night TV monologue kind of way, but for Christians, midlife needs to be more than merely a punchline.

Church should be a place of meaningful connection with God and others at every stage of our lives, but nearly half of more than 450 people who participated in an informal and completely unscientific survey I hosted on my blog last year told me that their local church had in some painful ways exacerbated the challenges they faced at midlife. As a result, they'd downshifted their involvement in the local church from what it had been a decade ago.

George Barna's far more precise 2011 State Of The Church survey highlighted that Boomers are leaving the church in numbers that we usually think of when we talk about the exodus of the Millennial generation: "…during the past 20 years the percentage of unchurched Boomers has risen dramatically, jumping up 18 points! At 41 percent, they are now the generation most likely to be unchurched, surpassing the 39 percent level among Busters."

Some "downshifters" who took my survey told me they felt they'd spiritually outgrown their churches. Others who'd become less involved explained that time factored into their commitment level. Launching adult kids, caring for aging parents, dealing with personal or spousal health issues, or increased work responsibilities cut into time they had to commit to church activities.

Related Topics:Aging; Humor

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