Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Greying and Declining Church

Yesterday I basically wrote a blogpost that was part rant, part reality. I guess I either struck a nerve, or a lot of pastors and elders are thinking about the apathy of many people in the pews.

Both Bill Crawford over at Bayou Christian, and Mike McCarty over at Around the Scuttlebutt have posts about what to do about once vibrant churches that are now in decline.

In the case of Stodgy Presbyterian, the church's heyday was in the 50's just after the new sanctuary was built by members who helped grow the church after WWII, went to college and/or returned to the local industry. These members were well-to-do, and bestowed much largess on the church, creating many of the current endowments that help to supplement yearly tithes and offerings.

As I mentioned in a comment over at Mac's blog, Dr. Craig Barnes defines three groups of generations, each with their own world views in most older churches: settlers, exiles and nomads. Stodgy has a few settlers (less than 10, and all shut-ins), many 1st generation exiles (who are dying off), a lot 2nd generation exiles (baby boomers), and a few 1st generation nomads.

Settlers - these are people who helped start the church; usually settled in ethnic pockets, the church was a central part of their lives, usually blue collar. You put down roots with what you know; people who's beliefs were much like yours. Settlers are not common anymore, you find pockets in the older cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Not many of these left around.

exiles - these are the kids of the settlers, fought in WWII, took advantage of the GI Bill. They left the settlements for the suburbs, but romanticized what they remember as "home". These are the ones who helped grow Stodgy Presbyterian, help pay for the sanctuary, and funded much of the work of the church. They wanted a church as home, sermons about heaven, and needed order; they needed rules on what to do. They were also very service oriented, and did not have to be asked to volunteer.

Also part of the exiles, and classified as 2nd generation exiles, are the Baby Boomers who grew up during the 50's and 60's. They filled the Sunday School classes and learned from their parent's volunteerism. They married, lived near the church initially, but as they rose in the company, they moved to the exurbs. Again, great volunteers, served as Deacons and Elders, and on all the committees. They still consider the church they grew up in their church. No longer want to serve, as its time for others. They come back every Sunday, but because they are too far from the church, can't make it to anything held during the week.


nomads - this group thinks that life is about entertainment; what is your place in the story. The kids of the exiles, they have a vague sense of home. They each seek their own individuality and their own spirituality. They visit churches as consumers; want value for their tithing dollar. Driven by their "feelings", they church shop for the story they want to join, or do bits at a few different churches. Any notion of home for them is self-constructed, not from where they grew up. If they don't like 'X', find a new one, substitute community, church, spouse, or career for 'X' .

What is interesting is that 2nd generation nomads are now looking for community to find fulfillment. Some are turning down promotions rather than move.

I offer this as a basis for the classification of church members in any discussion that follows.

As I mentioned, Stodgy has a lot of 2nd generation (baby boomer) exiles, with a few 1st generations exiles. This last population are dying off to the tune of 1 or 2 a month. More to come.

And so it goes ....

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