What's Age Got to Do with it?

I used to attend a church service catering to a younger crowd. It was energetic and always somewhat reminiscent of a college party. Everyone was cool, young, and hip. No one was over the age of 35, not even the pastor. Only a few people within the congregation were married and absolutely no one had children.

I enjoyed being there, yet I could never shake the feeling that church was not suppose to be comprised of only the young.

We had no one over the age of 35 attending service on purpose. We had no discipleship taking place. We had no one older and wiser to look to or lean on because, well, no one was older or wiser.

I eventually moved on, but the questions never left: Why have some churches begun catering to a younger generation? And more than that, should they?

The church today has become irrelevant to most non-Christians. In an attempt to climb a wrung higher on the relevance ladder, many churches have convinced themselves that they must cater almost exclusively to the young.

They have bought the Hollywood lie that youth is admirable and desirable. Young is, like, so totally in and old is, like, so totally out (said in my highly annoying valley girl voice).

The fact is, though, the Church is not suppose to resemble the world. It is suppose to be sanctified and holy. And it is Christ and His Spirit which bring relevance and power to the Church. Nothing more, nothing less.

Churches must abandon the idea that they need to compete with the world. This is not a competition. This is not a popularity contest or a reality show. This is not Survivor or The Amazing Race (although both of those names would make great Christian euphemisms, no?). This is a battle, ongoing, for people’s souls…and we should treat it as such.

What, then, is God’s ideal congregation?

Whereas our culture envies youth, we simultaneously mock maturity…and forget the word “wisdom.”  Youth is seen as life and worth grasping onto tightly. Aging, however, is seen as decay and eventual death. But, scripture says quite the opposite. Ecclesiastes 11:10 reads:

“…for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.”

That’s not to say that being young discourages God from using you. Jeremiah and Timothy were both great examples of that. And yet, who would Timothy have been without Paul, his older and wiser counterpart? Who would Robin have been without Batman?

Likewise, the Lord’s Church should be made up of all persons, all creeds, all races, and all ages. The body is designed to meet one another’s needs. And how can we effectively do so if only a portion of individuals are represented? In Acts chapter 2:41, we read:

“So those who received [Peter’s] word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

Is is hard to imagine that, out of three thousand souls, all were within the age range of 18 to 35. In fact, it is historically inaccurate. The souls that were saved that day most likely consisted of leaders, priests, servants, woman, and children, to name a few. It was not the MTV crowd…it was everyone.

(long passage alert. I apologize) As we read on in Acts 2:44-47, we see that “…all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Whew).

I believe that the Lord was with this group of believers in a supernatural way, but I also believe that one of the reasons they had “favor with all people” is because they represented all people.

They were the leaders and servants, men and women, young and old. This description from Acts is my favorite representation within scripture of how the body should look, act, and who it should be comprised of—everyone, not choosing youth over maturity, but choosing God’s wisdom over all.

Who do you think should make up the church? Do you value youth or maturity or both within the body? Have you seen demographic-based churches hurt rather than help the body of Christ?

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17 thoughts on “What's Age Got to Do with it?”

  1. Nicole, are you in my head? Did you go with us to church this weekend? We tried out a new church and it is exactly the young, hip, relevant church you described. I felt like I walked into a Christian clique. While my age fell in the 18-35 category, I felt like that was the only category I fell into. It was a strange environment that looked a lot like a night club and felt a lot like high school. When I looked at the small groups in the bulletin I didn’t find one I was interested in, it was very strange indeed.

    “Churches must abandon the idea that they need to compete with the world. This is not a competition. This is not a popularity contest or a reality show.” Right on! We’re supposed to be in the world, not like it!

    I also believe that one of the reasons they had “favor with all people” is because they represented all people.‘ Amen! I love to walk into a church and see diversity. Different ages, different incomes, different cultures, and know that we are united in Christ Jesus. I’ve heard it said that the things that make us different can help us be salt to the earth- to reach people with our uniqueness, that they can relate to.

    You made so many excellent points. Great post!

    1. That’ so weird that you and your husband were just at a “young church.”

      I too crave diversity within the body. Sadly, for some reason, the church in America is not nearly as diverse as it should be.

      I love this: “Different ages, different incomes, different cultures, and know that we are united in Christ Jesus.”

      What a witness to our Lord when people who should be divided by class, race, age, actually come together to serve His Kingdom.

      Thanks for the awesome comment Carla.

  2. Nicole,

    You said:
    “The fact is, though, the Church is not suppose to resemble the world. It is suppose to be sanctified and holy. And it is Christ and His Spirit which bring relevance and power to the Church. Nothing more, nothing less.”

    No, no, no, no, and NO! The World needs to know it can come to church and not be made to feel uncomfortable. This is why it is so important to have cutting-edge worship akin to a musical production, a coffee shop inside the church building, programs upon programs to “minister” to the lost and show them our ability to “listen and feel their pain”, and of course, don’t worry about bringing a Bible with you to church because all the cool kids have told me that it is all about “feeling God” and not so much, you know, actually reading The Scriptures. Pshaw!

    Yes. That was sarcasm.

    We cannot make Jesus into our image or into an image that is more likable and approachable to The World. Once we compromise, we have lost.

    Great post, Nicole. I can see why I like your writing so much.

  3. I attend a church that is comprised of mostly 40 years and up. But the important thing for us, the church is local. We live in a small community and being in the local church is more important than catering to our age demographics. But there isn’t much “discipleship” here either. The older women only want to “fellowship” with the older women because that is the majority of the church. I think the church fails when comfortable reigns.

    1. Sarah,
      I’m glad to know you are in a community, not just a church.

      Sadly, you bring up an issue widespread in the church: Discipleship, or the lack thereof.

      The book of Titus has great instruction for older women to be guiding younger women. I wish more women knew this, cared about this, and were convicted by the Spirit to “make disciples.”

  4. I think Craig Groeschel on Catalyst spoke about this very thing. How the younger generation should “honor” the older generation and how the older generation should “support” the younger generation. We criticize so much, and because we don’t believe in “how” they do things, we don’t support them. The church is for everybody. Old, young, fool and wise, etc… There is no “youngster crowd” in heaven. There will only be sons and daughters, regardless of age.

    1. Oh my gosh, the visual of a youngster crowd in heaven made me laugh out loud. So simple, but so true. God does not discriminate when it comes to age and yet we do within the church.

    2. Josh,

      I love that your current church experience is a mixed age range and walk of life. I think this really is the ideal model.

      Sure, it can be difficult, loud, and even messy, but so are families.

      My husband and I recently began a house church and we have expressed the desire to have the same kind of dynamic. I have been in mixed aged home groups before and been tremendously blessed.

      Keep me posted about how church life is for you. I’d love to hear more.

      1. Nicole,

        >>Sure, it can be difficult, loud, and even messy, but so are families.

        My husband and I recently began a house church and we have expressed the desire to have the same kind of dynamic.

        1. Local church should be as family. (We agree on this one, Nicole)

        2. House churches are the wave of the future for The Church. Mark my words. Institutional and formal Christianity will be sifted and the best will be drawn out of them. Jesus is looking for true worshipers. The era of the House Church has begun, indeed.

  5. Preach. So good. One thing that always strikes me when people talk about age in church is the development of youth groups in the past 100 years or so.

    Why are we so worried about making sure that church is fun, flashy, and fabulous for everyone involved? And why are we compartmentalizing church? Just because it’s nice for a teenager to skip away from his/her parents to a Mountain Dew chugging competition shortly followed by a 15 minute surface exploration of God while his/her parents go to “big church” (I speak from experience) doesn’t mean that said scenario is the best option.

    It’s been really interesting for me coming out to the east coast and going to a church where EVERYONE (baby through grandpa) is in the same service together. It’s challenging, but I’ve enjoyed being able to hang out with a 6-year-old one moment and a 60-year-old the next. And I’ve learned so much more, I think, because of the set-up we have.

    1. Okay…my two cents…

      If we’re talking semantics, the church should “cater” to no one but Christ and His mission. The mission of Jesus is the salvation of souls.

      I think the church should always err on the side of targeting the future generation, because if it doesn’t it will die in about 20 years.

      That being said I think the Church should be intentional about involving and activating older adults in the cause of reaching the younger generation.

      1. Luke,
        I agree that the younger generation is important as far as church growth is concerned, but I do not think other areas should not suffer as a result.

        I would actually argue that if you wish to capture the younger generations you should focus on capturing men. My husband has a saying: “Healthy men, healthy marriages, healthy homes, healthy churches, healthy cities.”

        Churches of primarily young people, in my experience, lack discipleship, maturity, roots, and wisdom. There has to be both, pouring into one another–the young and the old. God is not ageist, neither should the church be. I agree with you though, that yes, the mature in the church should be reaching the younger generation I just desire to not see those two groups so segregated within the Body.

  6. At the risk of being lambasted, my two cents:

    I am an associate pastor at a fairly new church plant in Pittsburgh, PA. Our primary target is the largely unreached young adult population of the city. We are, however, also heavily involved in the community where we are located. Our services are definitely catered to a younger crowd, our service programming, even our location (a former catholic church,turned small rock concert venue). As a team, we feel uniquely called to target that specific demographic.

    The fact of the matter is, a lot of traditional church goers may not be “comfortable” in our setting, but I guarantee a lot of those who attend ours would never set foot in a more traditional church. And we are seeing dramatic life change. Now we are not trying to exclude anyone who falls outside of an 18-35 age bracket, but those who do (the majority of our volunteer staff) wholeheartedly support the vision. In addition, the lead pastor has been actively recruiting older couples to come and serve as part of a “mentor team” as the church grows.

    I can personally attest to the importance we are trying to place on discipleship as that is my primary role on staff. We just operate under a system where we’ve decided that if you are already a Christian, Sunday is not about you. It’s about worshipping God, and reaching the lost. We pick up discipleship throughout the week in our small groups. So while our target demographic may be narrow, there is plenty of room for all. I’ll never understand how people can make it seem like you either have to choose to be “relevant” or to preach the Gospel. The Gospel is always relevant!

    One last side note: our two most successful small groups are our young adult (almost too big to be small anymore) small group, and a small group led by the lead pastor’s 70-year old mother-in-law.

    1. Mike,
      I really try to avoid “lambasting” since I’m aiming to love others more than myself and all. wink wink…

      I’m not opposed to churches trying to reach specific demographics. I know of a local church that is also one of the largest in the U.S. and they primarily focus on capturing men.

      Statistics show if you can get the men coming to church, the whole family will follow.

      I am always cautious, however, of churches that are comprised of only a specific age group.

      It sounds like your church is focusing on discipleship and that is so great to hear.

      Again, I also think God is a God of variety and different church settings and even denominations can appeal to a wider range of people.

      I agree too. The Gospel is always relevant and never needs to be watered down, sugar-coated, or prefaced.

      Just curious, because I am passionate about discipleship, what are some of the things your church is doing in that area? I always love to hear encouraging stories and ideas.

  7. Great one Nicole!

    Emphasis should be laid on discipleship however I observed from the church I attend that until departments that concentrates more on specific demographics within the structure which alligns with the vision of the ministry are created, the decline in the ministry was so extreme that it was almost defunct. I agree that the general house must accomodate all persons, creeds, races, and ages, but creating such departments within the ministry might help the perspectives of those that belong to these groups. Thanks.

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