Saturday, March 26, 2011

An Age Comparison Table

I came across a table comparing the age of attendees at ELCA congregations with the general US population and it showed that the ELCA has significantly more attendees in the age groups beginning with age 45-90 than it does from age 0-40.  According to this table, the ELCA has about twice the proportion of people in the 70-74 age group as the general population and about half the attendees as there are people in the general population in the teenage years and young adults.  While I am only guessing here, I would suspect that the LCMS would not look radically different.  On Sunday morning, we have more gray haired people than the general population and fewer youth than the US population.

Now the truth is, I am neither shocked by these numbers nor particularly vexed by them.  I would suspect that folks age 45 and up are represented in higher proportion than younger folks.  When I look back on my own youth (would misspent be too strong a word?), I sure would not want someone to judge the whole of my maturity of faith and practice on the basis of a snapshot of my life from age 18-22.  It might be true that due to my experience with church colleges and seminary, I was more strongly motivated to worship attendance than others my age.  There would be something very wrong if that were not true.  But in total I would not want the whole of the Church judged by the numbers of teens and early twenty-somethings sitting in the pews -- not now and not in previous or future generations.

That said, it is clear that we have our work cut out for us.  Worship attendance is a habit and one that, if learned early, will encourage life long participation in the worship life of the Church.  It is a habit much more difficult to learn later in life -- especially in the teens and early twenty-something years.  With marriage being postponed to a later age or not at all and with children more and more optional to married couples, we find ourselves with fewer divinely appointed means to urge and call young folks back to the Church (or to seek it out for the first time).  But you have read things like this here on this blog before and I am not going to repeat myself.

What concerns me most of all about these statistics is that it means we are not doing a great job as parents -- modeling this behavior and imparting it to our children.  I was at a meeting of Lutheran Pastors when the question came up asking how many of our children (PKs) are still active in church.  As we went around the room, the news was nothing if not somber.  Only a small percentage of the children of Pastors were still actively attending ANY church.  Now I will admit to being very, very far from an exemplary parent and I know that as time goes on my parents look more and more like saints to me and I look less and less like one....BUT, I am happy to say all three of my children are regular Lutheran communicants in the communities where they are now located.  Even with a less than stellar father figure and the struggles and pressures of growing up as PKs, they are active communicants.  Now I do not say this to toot my own horn but to illustrate my own personal struggle in this regard and to suggest that if I can do it, I know that you as parents should not give up on your children.

Children do not decide if they will attend or not.  (Lord knows, if they are the ones making the decisions in the home, then there are other big problems looming on the horizon as well as worship issues.)  They follow the lead of their parents.  They learn the value of being together in the Lord's House from the practice of their parents and extended families.  That does not mean that kids who grow up without great role models are doomed or that kids who grow up in the right homes will automatically be faithful and active Christians.  All I am saying is that the place where the question of worship attendance is raised is at home and the parents are the ones who answer it.  So parents -- even if you do not think YOU need to be in church every Sunday, do it for the sake of your kids and grand-kids.  Give them a model to follow and show them the path to walk for themselves.

This statistical problem will not be solved by a book from Concordia or a program from the Synod or District Office or even by the Pastor preaching a stellar sermon on the subject.  The answer lies in the sermon preached in the home by parents who do what is right and salutary for themselves and for their children.  Their kids may depart from it but the foundation will always be with them.  Books from CPH and reminders from the Church at large and your Pastor are good, but you parents are the ones who set the pace for the home.  So set it.  Set it high.  Make it regular.

One other small point.  If you are a member or pew sitter and you see another member who has not sat in the pews for a while, approach them with this in a fraternal and loving way.  The best way that those who are missing are recalled is when the folks who sit next to them miss them, seek them out, and remind them of where they belong.  Pastors can and should do some of this and elders, too.  But the folks who make the biggest difference in this regard are their fellow pew sitters.  So speak up and seek out the lost from among us.  You are your brother's keeper.  And your sister's, too!


Anonymous said...

Christian fathers and mothers see
their children as a gift from God.
Children are precious souls who have
been entrusted to our parental care.
Christian parents understand that
their children are only under their
roof for a short time.

As a result we will want to nurture
and guide them into a meaningful
relationship with the Lord. We will
want to love and equip them with a
strong spiritual life that gathers
around the Word and Sacrament.

Fathers are the spiritual head of
their family and must take the lead
as Joshua did. He said as for me
and my household we will serve the

Lee said...

While the numbers are a concern, I do wonder how much of this has to do with changing demographics of America. I am on the old end of Generation X, the Generation which I believe had view few children compared to the Baby Boomers. I know this cannot account for all of the church membership shrinkage; however, it would be interesting to see how much impact it does have.