Faith

Reboot Plan has Older Church Members Claiming Discrimination

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You may have seen stories about leaders asking a group of older church members to worship elsewhere. The church says it didn’t happen that way.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press started the bruhaha about older church members and their place at a church. Their article, titled “Cottage Grove church to usher out gray-haired members in effort to attract more young parishioners,” claimed a church plans to close in June. Then, in a move to attract younger members, it will relaunch with a new worship style.

But this part raised eyebrows in a big way:

The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship somewhere else.

The article went on to state a memo recommended the elderly parishioners stay away for two years. Then, they should “consult the pastor” about attending again.

I can understand the furor. After all, would you want to return to a church that kicked you out? Some parishioners told The Pioneer Press it was essentially age discrimination.

The idea, apparently, is that younger parishioners won’t attend a church populated by mostly older folks. That idea isn’t universally true. I attended a church years ago in which most people were older than I was. That didn’t bother me.

But then again, I’m now closer in age to the older parishioners than the younger ones they’re probably trying to draw in.

Church leaders say that’s not exactly what happened.

The Washington Post picked up the story four days later. The Post interviewed the church’s pastor, who described a strategy “for a church that has been on the decline for two decades.”

It’s not age discrimination, he says, and no one’s being asked to leave. But the church will have “a different look and feel.”

I’m guessing there’s a good chance the church will be ditching its hymnals for words projected on a big screen and a worship band.

For the record, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. But it depends on the music, the lyrics, and the music style. I’ve written before about how the louder “rock concert-style” worship services can alienate worshippers.

If you scroll further down in The Post article, you’ll find a quote from Mark Chaves, a sociologist at Duke University who studies congregations in America:

“Organizations of all sorts have a kind of inertia, and it can be difficult to make changes,” he said, “so it’s easier to start another one than try to modify an existing one.”

I don’t doubt that for a minute.

We all hate change.

Often, we hate change even if the change is something positive or something that will help us.

We find comfort in what’s familiar. Far too few of us look for opportunities to “shake things up.”

I also think some of us have been burned enough by different kinds of changes that we naturally avoid it.

I have to agree with the sociologist: a group’s inertia can be a major stumbling block to change. Once we get used to something that we like, we don’t want anything else. We want more of the same.

Churches, as much as we’d like to think they’re not, are businesses. They have to bring in revenue or they cease to exist. And a church that has been declining for years obviously doesn’t have a bright future from a business standpoint.

If this church really wants to rebrand itself into something it hasn’t been, mustn’t that mean it must want different types of attendees? They must surely assume the current members would absolutely not accept the planned changes in its current configuration. Otherwise, why relaunch?

But if they know (or believe) the current folk won’t accept the change, then aren’t they already discounting them with the plan to relaunch?

There’s no easy answer here. The status quo obviously isn’t working. Hopefully, something else will have a better shot.

But if you’re part of the status quo, what are you supposed to think?

I hope the members who feel they’re being left in the dust find a place where they feel as welcome as they apparently used to feel at their current church.

It’d be a shame for them to not be able to find such a place.

How would you feel if you attended a church that wanted a different age group than the one you’re in? What would you do?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.