Out With The Old!

A small country church made the news recently for a new growth strategy it is implementing. The Washington Post reported, “Church leaders voted to shutter the Cottage Grove church temporarily, and then reopen it after what church officials call a ‘replanting.’” But that wasn’t the part that sparked the  news reporting. As part of their “replanting” strategy older members of the church were asked not to return when the church reopens. Why? Simple, to attract younger people to the church. According to DISRN.Com, “A church in Minnesota that has been struggling to stay afloat in recent years is undergoing a "relaunching" later this year, an effort which consists in part of asking older members of the church to stay away so that the congregation can attract a younger base. The Cottage Grove branch of The Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, will "restart" near the end of the year in an effort to reverse declining attendance and finances. Part of that process has reportedly involved asking elderly congregants to attend another Grove United Methodist church in nearby Woodbury.” The older congregants are not allowed back to the church for up to 18 months after they reopen and they have to request permission from the pastor to come back.

What this church is doing here is a snippet of our society’s current infatuation for the young. Long ago it was considered wise to submit under the experience and knowledge of someone that has lived a life. Now it is about being younger, less experienced, more modern, more relevant and someone new. Many businesses now will have someone young and inexperienced lead in their corporation. While they will layoff the middle age person who has twenty plus years of hands on experience. Look at even the political arena. Society is looking to the teenager to change the world and champion their cause. You have activists like Greta Thunberg (age 17) and David Hogg (age 19) that are getting all the media attention whenever they speak or make an appearance. 

And now the church is accepting this mentality as well. The more youth the better is the thought process of so many church growth operations. But is it biblical? Not at all. The bible teaches us that, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” (Job 12:12) not with the young. The church needs to be balanced with all ages. Not discarded because their tastes and likes are old fashioned. The body of christ is made of those from newborn to 100 years old and everything in between. The church is a family and the young and old should be fellowshipping together. The lie of the devil is that I as a christian have to have someone in my demographic to socialize with. Yet that is what so many churches believe. Look at any local mega church and you have a separate group for every demographic; children's ministry, youth ministry, couples ministry, singles ministry, seniors ministry, moms ministry, men’s ministry, couples with small children ministry etc. But is this how the bible teaches us to fellowship? “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. [2] Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. [3] Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, [4] and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, [5] to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. [6] Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. [7] Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, [8] and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:1–8) The goal of the church is not to age discriminate but to be holy and fruitful. The church is not a social club but a tight knit family that supports all of its members (regardless of age) in the love of Christ. 

It would do the church (and the world for that matter) well to listen to the wisdom and experience of the elderly. But as the world turns away from God more and more, should we be surprised that it listens to the young and discards the old? The exact opposite of what the bible teaches! I haven’t even mentioned Paul’s teaching of the importance of the prayers of the elderly widows in church: “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.” Read what one pastor said happened in the Ukraine during the height of communism: “How mistaken the Communists were when they allowed the older women to continue worshipping together! It was they who were considered no threat to the new order, but it was they whose prayers and faithfulness over all those barren years held the church together and raised up a generation of men and young people to serve the Lord. Yes, the church we attended was crowded with these older women at the very front, for they had been the stalwart defenders and maintainers of Christ’s Gospel, but behind them and alongside them and in the balcony and outside the windows were the fruit of their faithfulness, men, women, young people, and children. We must never underestimate the place and power of our godly women.” 

And these are the people that so many churches want to get rid of? This is their idea of strengthening their church? Philip Ryken states, “The prayers of widows give strength to the church. Calvin said that “prayer by day and night is the special privilege of widows and the childless, for they are free from the things that very properly hinder those who rule a family from doing the same.” As a result of their intercession, young mothers with their toddlers, ministers at their books, missionaries in their fields, men and women on their jobs all receive spiritual help for their work. If you are a widow, God is calling you to enter into deep fellowship with him through prayer. In fact, one of the praying widows in my own congregation asks that I encourage other widows to join her. Perhaps the great work of your life is only just beginning: the great work of intercessory prayer.”

I think Tim Challies put it well saying, “As Christians grapple with the fallout from the empty claims of the attractional model of church, it becomes clear: churches without grandparents are just as sick as churches with only grandparents. Why? Because these churches were founded on a model that explicitly rejected many of the people nearest and dearest to God. After all, it’s gray hair, not a man bun, that God declares a crown of glory. We are to rise in the presence of the aged and wise, not the young and hip. It’s the weak who are most worthy of special welcome, not the strong. It’s the helpless who most merit our attention, not the affluent.” May our church never be just for young people or for old people. Instead ,may it be a beautiful blend of fellowship with all ages and demographics. For it is in this type of fellowship that we will have strength and health. And it is what God calls us to!

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