“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (I Corinthians 9:19-22)
My friend the Rev. Mindi Welton -Mitchell posted a link on Facebook to an interesting article. The article, entitled “Generational Road Blocks” is about the results of a Hartford Seminary study. The study revealed that not only is attendance down at so called “mainline denominational churches” but that the average age of attenders and leaders at such churches is well over sixty and that there is a noticeable absence of folks in their twenties and thirties in these churches.
The article also pointed out that such churches tend to be technology phobic. I’ve visited such “liberal Protestant” churches as well as Roman Catholic churches. It IS true than at any Sunday morning service at a liberal Protestant or Roman Catholic church you’re going to see a LOT of white hair, and you’re going to encounter lot of people who were born before 1945. I recall that one time about fifteen years ago I was involved in a joint service at a liberal Protestant church in Framingham, MA. I called the church’s office to ask if they had a sound system that could play a tape cassette soundtrack during the service. The person at the liberal church acted as though I’d asked if they had a launching pad for the Space Shuttle on their property. Fifteen years ago, most liberal Protestant churches and Roman Catholic churches were using the same fairly primitive “P.A. systems” that they were using in the 1960s, and a lot of them are still using those.
If you want to check out that article which Mindi shared the link to, it’s at:
NOW, here is what I find really ironic: The mainline denominational churches are in a time warp, stuck somewhere around 1971. They still use the same hymns and semi-liturgical (or liturgical) formats they were using forty years ago. Their hymnals and corporate prayers are probably “gender inclusive” which they were not forty years ago. (Honestly, I find that “gender inclusive” stuff in worship services DREADFUL!) The pastor at the liberal Protestant church is probably a woman. (I don’t have a problem with that. We have women pastors in the Assemblies of God.) The female pastor is probably fairly young or middle-aged, but she’s dealing with a bunch of senior citizens in church leadership who want everything just the way it was at their church when John F. Kennedy was President. The contrast is that over the past fifteen years or so there’s been a marked change in the “evangelical” and “charismatic” churches. If you go to a fairly typical “evangelical” or “charismatic” church service of today, you’ll find that the pastor is likely dressed as though he’s on his way to go mini-golfing and then out to Dairy Queen (even if it’s February). I say “he” because 90% of the time the pastor is a male and he’s probably in his late forties. He sports a goatee, and he dyes his hair and goatee. He tries very hard to be cool, and frequently uses the words “suck” and “sucks” in the midst of his preaching. The service focal point is PowerPoint on a screen. Everything is PowerPoint. People no longer flip through their Bibles. All the Scripture verses are on the PowerPoint, so in fact, fewer people bring their Bibles to church. There are no hymnals. They began disappearing around 1990 and were gone for good by 2000. Few traditional hymns are sung. In fact, the music is often rock music and LOUD. The services are likely to be long. It is not unusual to see people in the congregation sipping Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts coffee during the service. The crowd is decidedly YOUNGER than you will find at the mainline church down the street. In fact, the bulk of the people are between thirty and fifty. You’ll find some but very few people over sixty-five. Most will say they don’t like the music...that it’s too loud. The pastor is no longer called the “Senior Pastor”. He is the “Lead Pastor”. He’s likely both a salesman and administrator, but he’s “cool” and very much appeals to “Gen X-ers”.
I’m now fifty-seven years old. I was raised Roman Catholic. I received Jesus Christ as my Personal Lord and Savior in 1970 and shortly thereafter began attending Baptist and Presbyterian churches. I visited an Assemblies of God church in 1976, and within a year I was attending the AG’s Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. There is a HUGE difference between the Assemblies of God churches of the late 1970s and today. In 1977, you could walk into any Assemblies of God church in America and predict what hymns they’d be singing and what choruses they’d use. You’d be given a copy of the Pentecostal Evangel magazine. In Sunday School, pretty much every Assemblies of God church in America was using the same material. The format of a service anywhere in the U.S. was almost identical. Today, it’s SO different. The Hartford Seminary study laments the lack of “diversity” in the mainline churches, and that is a very valid point. It’s also a valid point for today’s evangelical and charismatic churches.
I don’t want to say that EVERY liberal church in America is like those that the article described, or that EVERY evangelical and charismatic church in America fits the description I’ve given. In fact, one of the many reasons I attend Bread of Life Assembly of God in Westminster, MA is that they DON’T fall into lockstep with the kind of thing I’ve written about here. At Bread of Life, we DO have announcements on PowerPoint before the service, and we occasionally have video clips during the sermon. But the pastor does NOT depend upon PowerPoint. Most of the time, the PowerPoint is not on during sermons, and I like that. Pastor Gary recently commented that he’s sort of bucking the trend of pastors “dressing down” and that he’s tending to dress up more. Honestly, I like that and I hope he will continue to be his own person and not feel he has to conform to the casual dress trend. Most of Bread of Life’s music is contemporary, but almost none of it is “blastin’ and rockin’”! It’s up-to-date and beautiful but never too loud. The nice thing is that Bread of Life draws people from a wide age spectrum. There are quite a number of folks at the church who are over sixty, and there is one woman that turned one hundred in September. Yet, there is a huge number of people in their forties and a good sized number of children and young people.
In our sphere (Pentecostals and charismatics) there’s quite a belief that if you’re not “up to date” in everything and if you don’t have predominately young people you will not grow and you will not touch your community. I visited a church in Springfield, Missouri in early 2009 that has completely disproven that stuff. Incidentally, another trend I forget to mention earlier is that today’s evangelical and Pentecostal churches are afraid to use the name “Baptist” or “Assemblies of God” in their church name. THIS church in Springfield, Missouri is less than ten years old, and it uses the name “Grace Assembly of God”. The church meets in a converted (small) food store in downtown Springfield, Missouri. It’s a neighborhood where you will find a lot of prostitutes and addicts. Yet, the people in the church come from all over the city of Springfield. The church’s co-pastor is Owen Carr who is in his late eighties but has the energy of a forty-five year old. Many of the church’s constituents ARE over sixty. This church still sings a lot of the hymns and choruses from thirty years ago. I sat next to Sam Balius, a retired Assemblies of God missionary who was in fact one of my Professors at Central Bible College.
“This is the OLD TIME AG!” Sam told me excitedly.
And it IS, but not exactly. They DO use PowerPoint, but they never over use it. The music is certainly not “loud” nor is it “rockin’”. Not EVERYONE at church is over sixty. I scanned the room where about 120 people had gathered for worship. There were several childrean and teenagers and a number of adults in their thirties and forties. Amazingly, the pastors at this church have been active in the neighborhood reaching out to prostitutes, addicts, and very needy people and have seem a number of lives totally transformed.
I don’t think Mindi would ever have imagined how that article she posted would cause me to reflect and to write this piece. I think the whole thing of churches breakinig down by demographics and lacking “diversity” IS a big mistake. I ask,”Why can’t we sing some of the old traditional hymns and some of the older choruses along with the newest stuff?” I also ask, “Why must EVERYTHING be on PowerPoint?”, AND, for my friends at the liberal mainline churches, “Why can’t you incorporate some newer music and worship styles and get a little less stiff?".
Church attendance in America IS, in fact, declining. These are matters we really need to seriously consider.
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