Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

Church Usefulness Over Time

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proportionaldirectTo catch you up, I’ve spent the last three months at Saint Luke’s Baptist Hospital working as a Chaplain as part of a training program to develop leaders in pastoral care. It provided a lot of insight into the world of spiritual care outside the church, particularly among those people who frequent hospitals, who tend to be the elderly.

Until I got to the hospital I had never considered that Older people tend to go to church more because church attendance is much more practical for them. It meets an urgent need. Churches are great to provide a low maintenance community, visitors when sick, or provide with advice for the end of parishioners lives. But young people are more worried about meeting members of the opposite sex, and succeeding in business, for which church just isn’t what it used to be.

Everybody knows that people get more religious as they get older. But nobody has ever been able to offer a great reason why. The prevailing theory I had heard previously is that they were worried about their own death and wanted to get salvation squared away. I’m not buying it. The whole repentance/heaven focus is concentrated in certain Christian traditions, and if this were true, you would expect to see more octogenarians in those churches. Instead almost the opposite is the case, turn-or-burn churches get more middle aged clientele, and older believers congregate (pun totally intended) in the mainline churches especially.

Everybody knows that the millennial are not coming to church as much as other groups. And there are a million unsatisfactory theories about that, but the vast majority assume that church attendance is correlated directly with religious sincerity. And I am not convinced.

Not all of the people I met in their 80s and 90s this summer were very religious. Few of them read the bible on a regular basis, and virtually none of them (save a retired pastor or two) knew very much about theology, or did very much on service or mission. Almost all of them went to church.

And when I met an elderly patient that did not attend church regularly, my response was concern. I was not concerned because they were risking hellfire, or because they were lacking sound biblical teaching. I was concerned because there would be nobody outside their family (if they had any) to help them through these difficult years. Where were they going regularly to see people. Who would notice when they were gone? Who would speak at their funeral. Had they even though about these sorts of questions?

I didn’t met many 20-something in the hospital for obvious reasons, but those I did had were about as religious as their elders. Their church attendance was much lower. They were in sports, or startups, or projects, they had clubs and leagues, they were involved in causes, and sought out mentors. They went about meeting many of the practical needs the church provides (those needs other than the gospel) in other ways.

I think this should impact our ecclesiology. I think we need to think, and think carefully about how much we want church to fill a practical need, even for those not sold on it’s message, and then build our communities to match. But it is to early for me to say how and in which direction. You figure it out and tell me


Written by RyanGaffney

August 26, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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