Thursday, December 7, 2017

Do people become more religious as they age?

It is often said that people become more religious as they age.  I was often told that it did not matter if we lost them in the teens or early 20s.  They would be back to marry.  After marriage, they would be back to bring their children to baptism and raise them in the faith through confirmation.  And then when they became empty nesters and were looking for something to fill their days, they would be back.  It turns out that this conventional wisdom, perhaps applicable in another age, is not pertinent to the moment.

According to this table, worship attendance by religion and generation shows that Roman Catholics have actually kept their mass attendance relatively consistent.  In other words, if they did attend mass regularly when they were young, it would continue.  If they did not, they would not begin the new habit.

Among Christians, non-Roman Catholics, it shows a slight increase among some generations and a bit more among others but not a wholesale reversal of past habits.  One wonders how these statistics might break down among the mainline Protestants, the Evangelicals, and people like the Missouri Synod Lutherans who do not fit those categories all that well.  The older generation did show some increase, perhaps most dramatically among the Silent Generation.  Boomers, less so.   Gen-X about the same.  Millenials, even less.

The old thinking that marriage, responsibility, children, and the changing seasons of life were windows of opportunity to reclaim the lost is not entirely discredited for out time but it certainly shows that our people have found it easy to close those windows and keep on with what had been their practice.  In other words, the Church cannot just sit and wait for people to return.  We need to engage them where they are.  This does not mean making church less like church to win them over.  Deception is always a lie and taking on a persona at odds with our creed and confession is doomed to fail.  This does not mean diluting the faith until there is nothing left to believe.  People will not be drawn to one dimensional caricatures of the faith that are not deeply rooted and grounded in Scripture and history.  This does not mean the old way of standing before front doors ready to ask where they would be if they died tonight.  Fear of hell is not the motivator it once was.  It does mean having confidence that the Word of the Lord will not return to Him empty handed and speaking this Word boldly and compassionately to a world waiting for real hope.

We have a powerful Word, a living voice with which to address all manner and conditions of people and their lives.  Why have we so little confidence in that Word?  We presume that mirroring good business practices is more powerful than the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace.  We act as if gimmicks will substitute for real, authentic, faithful Biblical preaching and teaching.  We are looking for quick fixes in a world which marches to the click of the clock but lives to the fullness of God's ripe and fruitful fullness.  We judge with our eyes instead of by faith, ready to surrender our creed and confession in order to pack the pews and presume we are doing the right things by judging the results.

At home and in the neighborhoods where we live, we speak and live out the Gospel.  That is our witness.  There is no supplement needed to the voice of God spoken with lips or shown in life.  We come together in the Lord's House to hear His Word and receive His food and this proclaims the Lord's death until He comes as well.  We love not because it gets us anything or because it is easy but because He first loved us.  We are not timid but we are humble and draw attention not to ourselves and always to Jesus.  We stand as light posts in the darkness pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world -- knowing that no clear conscience is created by excusing, dismissing, or normalizing sin.  And where we do this, faithful to the Lord in confession and vocation, God will bring the fruit He desires.  The elect will be awakened unto faith and those who refuse the cover of the blood of Christ will know what they are rejecting.  It never was "if you build it, they will come" but neither was it ever supposed to be "this is your church and your mission, make it work."  The sooner we realize this the more energy and time we will have for the real work of the Kingdom.


getintopc said...

He believed the extraordinary promises of the Lord and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness
God bless you all, have a nice day xoxo
Cathy Williams

John Joseph Flanagan said...

The decline of Christianity in America and Europe echoes the pattern we saw in Old Testament Israel. In times of relative prosperity and success, the people strayed from the truth, believing instead that it was their own independent abilities and efforts, apart from God, which assured them of continued progress. They became less dependent on the Lord of glory and more vain, being puffed up with pride and self reliance. Idol worship followed, often absorbing the false heathen beliefs of their neighboring tribes and cultures. Than calamity would come, famines, brutal warfare, captivity and the people would come back to God, pleading for His grace. More often than not, they willfully ignored the warnings of the prophets, even persecuting and killing those whom the Lord had sent. And this cycle continued....even the Lord Jesus, as prophesied by the prophets, was crucified by the Romans at the insistence of the Jewish leaders. Today, America and Europe are in a largely post Christian time, characterized by moral and spiritual decay. It is not necessary to know all about the demographic groups and their relative religious leanings here and abroad. The problem remains. Rejection of God is the essential reason why people stop going to church, stop reading their Bibles, stop praying, stop loving the words of the Lord. It is the old malady...spiritual adultery and self reliance. We must pray for the lost, remembering that many of them were once Christians.

Ted Badje said...

Liturgical churches can be welcoming churches as well. Announcements for welcoming new people and shaking hands are important. I don't think we need gimmicks to bring in people.

Anonymous said...

Response Part 1

Pastor Peters wrote:

"We need to engage them where they are. This does not mean making church less like church to win them over. Deception is always a lie and taking on a persona at odds with our creed and confession is doomed to fail. This does not mean diluting the faith until there is nothing left to believe. People will not be drawn to one dimensional caricatures of the faith that are not deeply rooted and grounded in Scripture and history."

I counter:

How does the LCMS plan on engaging people "where they are?"

My wife and kids have been LCMS church members since 2007. We have been members of at least four small groups. Some observations:

The majority of the questions in the small group study guides ask (always worded differently, of course): Read some bible verses out of context. How did those bible verses make you feel? Describe an embarrassing moment in your life when you made a stupid decision. Please share all of your personal "dirty laundry" with the group. Note that the focus was always turned on me and on my efforts instead of on Jesus and what He has done. Typical Evangelical "Theology of Glory" garbage. Evangelical theology, full of errors - even if correct in some places, is too shallow for us.

On a regular basis, some of the small group members (and not just one or two) liked to engage in deeply personal and insulting gossip about some of the other members. They were too stupid to realize that we might eventually find out we were being talked about when we weren't around. The women group members in the 30-45 year old age range are the worst.....extremely arrogant and judgemental. We got tired of several of them hinting that we were bad parents just because we both work full time. It is no secret that we prefer talking to 60+ year old people, as they are more humble, have suffered a lot in life, and are more likely to have intelligent things to talk about other than sports.

We do not let small group members shape our obligation nor weaken our dedication to God. We are not natives in the small town we live in now, which makes it 1000x harder to make friends and "fit in" - a problem experienced at all the churches in town and not just at our congregation. Most native-born people in this town are extremely unfriendly and toxic. We go to church for Jesus and not for them. You have to admit, most of the LCMS Sunday sermons are pretty good. Law/Gospel sermons are almost impossible to find outside of the LCMS.

Anonymous said...

Response Part 2

Pastor Peters wrote:

"We need to engage them where they are. This does not mean making church less like church to win them over. Deception is always a lie and taking on a persona at odds with our creed and confession is doomed to fail. This does not mean diluting the faith until there is nothing left to believe. People will not be drawn to one dimensional caricatures of the faith that are not deeply rooted and grounded in Scripture and history."

I counter:

My wife likes Contemporary Worship, while I like the traditional stuff. The blended service is not perfect, but "ok" with me. My wife loves fellowship with the 60+ year olds in her Sunday morning bible study class. With most people, fellowship seems to be more important than the theology. I think this is true of all churches in general, regardless of the church denomination in town. Why else are non-denominational mega-churches growing so much all over the country? Lutherans suck at fellowship. Lutherans quietly go to the service, and then they quietly and quickly bolt out the door until next Sunday. Visitors say we are cold and unfriendly, that Lutherans are the "frozen chosen." It is a weakness that needs to be addressed if the Church is to survive.

Contemporary Worship and small groups in LCMS congregations are never going away. Too many people like it too much for that to happen. I don't like either of them, but as they will never disappear, they should simply be reformed. Most books in the church library are Evangelical and resemble grocery store best-sellers Confronting the pastors and certain elders will yield nothing. They will roll their eyes, shun you, tell you that "hymnals are for old people," and they will not budge. If you live in our small town and don't have the "right" last name, then forget about having any influence in the church - or at any church in our town. Double whammy!

The non-denominational churches are theologically too shallow and are 100% based the small group Evangelical curricula 24 hours, 7 days a week, so we might as well stay in the LCMS. We seriously thought about leaving the LCMS, but have decided to quit the small groups. The best we can do is to supplement Sunday worship with theological study materials of our own choice *outside of the congregation* and to study them on our own time. People may accuse us of having a micro-church within a church, but so be it. I would take KFUO, Pirate Christian, Issues, Etc. and their recommended books over Rick Warren or Bil Hybels any day.

Carl Vehse said...

OTOH, the "frozen chosen"approach really appeals to people who are put off by the happy-clappy Schwärmerei approach.

James Kellerman said...

Actually, your statistics don't back up what you are saying: "The older generation did show some increase, perhaps most dramatically among the Silent Generation. Boomers, less so. Gen-X about the same. Millennials, even less."

First, you are considering the matter simply in terms of raw numbers, looking at the percentage increase of weekly attendance among the total population:
G.I: up 9% (from 32% to 41%)
Silent: up 17% (from 29% to 46%)
Boomer: up 13% (from 23% to 36%)
Gen-X: up 10% (from 26% to 36%)
Millennials: up 4% (from 25% to 29%)

But a fairer approach would be to analyze the percentage of increase in attendance, that is, comparing the final percentage to the original percentage, as well as considering the time period over which the change was made. After all, we are looking to find how much attendance improved as opposed to attendance in absolute numbers. In those terms we see a different picture:

G.I: up 28% over 4 decades
Silent: up 59% over 5 decades
Boomer: up 57% over 5 decades
Gen-X: up 38% over 4 decades
Millennials: up 16% over 2 decades

But even that doesn't paint the whole picture. Gen-Xers didn't improve in their first decade, but Millennials did. And to make fair comparisons we would have to know church attendance for boomers in the 1960's (which presumably was lower than the 23% they had in the 1970's) and for the Silents in the 1940's (again, presumably substantially lower than the 29% they had when they were well into their 30's and 40's) and the G.I.'s in the 1920's.

The more I look at the stats, the more grounds for encouragement I see. Millennials in their second decade of adulthood are more religious (29%) than Gen-X or Boomers were at a similar age (26% and 27%, respectively), and were as religious as the Silents (29%) when the Silents were a decade older. So maybe the old saw is correct, after all: people do become more religious as they age. The Millennials and Gen-Xers are on par with at least the Boomers and possibly the Silents when they were that age. Presumably their numbers will grow accordingly over time, too; the problem is that we just don't have too many statistics yet on the behavior of 60-year old Millennials.

James Kellerman said...

In my previous comment I should have made it clear that I (like Pr Peters) was speaking only about those who identify as non-Roman Catholic Christians. It appears that Roman Catholics don't get more religious (defined as attending mass weekly or more frequently) over time, unlike Protestants. Since I'm not Roman Catholic, it doesn't directly affect me, but I do find it rather curious. And given that Roman Catholics don't make up the difference later in life, the drop in weekly mass attendance from generation to generation ought to be quite scary for the Church of Rome. It does represent a real, permanent falling away from active life in the church.

Furthermore, all the statistics in the chart in the original post apply only to self-identified Christians, which includes unchurched people as well as church members. But given that the percentage of "Nones" is approaching double digits now--and a significant number of them are Millennials--we should expect to find a generational decline of church attendance among the total population of Millennials. So, self-identified Protestant Millennials are attending in numbers similar to their older peers at the same stage of life and will probably imitate their growth over time. But they make up a smaller percentage of the total population than among the Boomers or Silents.

Anonymous said...

"I am a Roman Catholic!" proudly declared my 50 year old coworker at a previous job.

She later admitted that she has not been to mass in over 20 years.

Catechized, but too proud to consider joining a different church: The RC has millions of them!

Ted Badje said...

Judging from the comments on small groups shows the need for pastors, teachers, or DCEs to review them, and exhort people not to gossip. This thing ruins congregations. I am not a fan of Beth Moore's teachings on how Bible verses make you feel.

Anonymous said...


To be clear, if the comments about the unfriendliness of the small town natives were removed, my assertions remain valid.

I am convinced the pastor does not care what I think. He wants to make sure that the church does not become a typical LCMS Lutheran congregation....aging and shrinking. He will do anything and everything he can to prevent that. And just what small group materials for laymen would he use to replace Beth Moore? Forward, Comrade!

Chris Rosebrough once stated that the LCMS will tear itself apart from the rabid infighting. I have seen nothing in the LCMS to prove him wrong. Will the LCMS still be around 50 years from now?