Grandma and Grandpa’s Church.

1179695_old_man_2It took me awhile to get used to it. I look around at my fellow church members and I see an overwhelming numbers of seniors, and not the seniors heading off to college next year. I see widows, men with canes, and sweet couples who have been married over fifty years. Prayers of the church and death announcements consist of names of people who used to sit in my pew. I have watched as they slowly walk up to and painfully kneel at the Lord’s Table to receive the true body and blood of Christ. Many faces have disappeared into senior living. Many bodies have been buried and are awaiting the resurrection of the flesh. It’s enough to bum a guy out. Aging and death is difficult to handle, even as redeemed children of God.  Over the years I have accepted the age demographic in my church body. The lack of people my age used to bother me, but lately, upon observation of my elderly brother and sisters in Christ, I realize my feelings are misplaced.

Most of us have heard the saying: “Respect your elders”. That saying is really just an extension of the 4th commandment in terms of honoring people in authority. Respect and love for others definitely extends to the older members of my congregation. So why am I, more often than not, concerned about the ratio of older member’s vs younger members? Why do I get more excited about a new family with young children joining my church then a single older member? Should it really bother me that I’m the youngest member who attends the church’s “Men’s Group”? Shouldn’t it strengthen my faith to see older members who have lived so long in this world?  They have lived long lives enduring sin, attacks of the devil and yet still remain steadfast in the faith.

There is no question that church attendance is falling. A lot of churches are losing members and are not gaining many back. So we worry, we worry what the future holds for our local congregation we love so much. The issue of the age demographics in my church worries me. Will the church be there in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years? Will my children have the chance to be married there? Will my funeral service be in that same place where I received so many gifts of grace? Like many things in life, doubts and worries like these are covered in sin with a side of the devil’s spit. My sin turns the great gift of faithful older members into something bad. The devil twists my thoughts into worry and temptations of church growth ideas. It’s more likely that I will sit next to the young couple with kids or alone then with the old widow who sits alone every week.  Slowly my sin will cause me to forget and abandon my older brothers and sisters in Christ. Lord, Have Mercy. We are one body in Christ; equally loved, equally important and equally forgiven.

It may be a struggle but we must try to look upon age demographics in our church as a treasure and not a burden. After many years of attending a church with older members I have come to respect and admire their faith and service. Too many times I have sat on my hands while my older brothers and sisters in Christ serve. It’s time we started serving them as much as they have served us. We must continue to support our pastors in their service to older members as end of life circumstances may take an emotional toll on them. We should always be sure to remember that the service we offer to them is nothing compared to the true service and sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ. His ultimate service to us all has paved the way to life and salvation. The grave could not hold Jesus, and it will not hold us. Our sins are forgiven because of Christ’s perfect life, his death and resurrection. It’s only through the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ that we are sure of eternal life and salvation.  Jesus Christ is proof that God has not forgotten us. Let us not forget any of our brothers and sisters in Christ. From young to old, we are all children of God.


Grandma and Grandpa’s Church. — 36 Comments

  1. A spot on article, and quite timely. The elders in our churches are, as you said, a wonderful treasure, and they are also just as much a part of the church (maybe more so, as many of them carry pearls of wisdom and experience!) as anybody else.

    When you look at modern evangelicalism, the trend is often that the youth is put front and center while the old people are told to go stand in a corner and keep their mouths shut. And the problem is that evangelism efforts are quite often directed toward the young, when the truth is that evangelism should never be an age-specific or demographic-specific matter. This is a terrible misunderstanding of the purpose of the gospel, and it “tunes out” those who are not in the target audience.

    As such the Lutheran doctrine of vocation and bearing witness in daily lives to our faith is far superior to the “each one, reach one” claptrap found in the gaudy, whiz-bang efforts of those who advocate youth-first directed outreach. The sower in Matthew 13 threw the seed everywhere, not just at particular patches of earth.

  2. Nathan,
    Excellent article and timely for my situation too. The picture that you paint above is exactly what my current church looks like. And as some here on BJS also know, we are going through the call process right now. What’s very troubling to me is that the district is pushing a two day “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats” (SWOT) analysis event to be attended by our entire congregation. The whole process really bothers me. First, isn’t a SWOT analysis a business tool? Also, the SWOT analysis event paperwork provided to us from the district indicates that the focus will be on numbers and growth. There are also requirements that we establish various “teams” for this event, including a “prayer team.” To me this screams CHURCH GROWTH MOVEMENT. J. Dean alluded to this in his statement regarding the misunderstanding of the Gospel. I couldn’t agree more. It appears the focus will be on all the wrong things.

    I’m pushing back hard right now, but others who aren’t aware of the CGM in my congregation are predisposed to “go with the flow” as directed by the DP. NOT ME! To me, this could be that crucial moment in time when a CGM seed is planted or crushed. Does anyone have any experience with this SWOT process in their church? I’d appreciate any information.

  3. Excellent analysis of the ever-encroaching “cult of the new.”

    I’ve no experience with SWOT per se, although the Transforming Churches Network has made it’s presence known in our congregation. :/

  4. @Randy #2
    I’ve gone through this “program” in at least two calling congregations in salt water districts. You’re right, it’s business derived and growth focused. I’d go back to the AC and memorize the high points of acticles 4-15, and use them to answer the ridiculous questions your “facilitator” is going to ask.

    I remember being asked continually if we were “willing to grow.” Yes, of course, but I’m also willing to shrink, or, if necessary, to be crucified upside down. It’s the Holy Spirit that creates saving faith, and He does it through Word and Sacrament ministry, not bait-n-switch marketing campaigns.

    Article V: Of the Ministry.

    1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3] the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.

    4] They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.

    You should also read AC Art 28, because Satan recycles. The church, and especially her leaders are always being tempted to grow their wealth and influence by confounding the kingdoms.

    Be as respectful as possible, and realize that you can’t win by argument. If you are in a congregation that laps up the MBA inspired church-growth mantras and rejects Word and Sacrament ministry, get ready to shake the dust off your sandals.

    Fight the Good Fight+,
    -Matt Mills

  5. I am going out on a limb here. Years ago the church would maintain by the minister visiting in the neighborhoods families not attending any church. One of my pastors would accompany myself and visit these people to see of what service we could be as a congregation.

    Some people responded and the Lord added to the congregation some with whom we did not meet. This is still not a huge congregation but it is still going on 20+ years later.

    I know conventional teaching says this is not successful any longer. However, showing love to the neighbor by these visits shows our genuine care.

    Of course that is just my viewpoint, Your mileage will vary.

    God’s peace. †

  6. In my former parish I could not help but wonder if it was a result of this worldly demographic-sociological approach to ministry I experienced when I met former – or rather formal members of Evangelical congregations who found themselves abandoned by their congregations and pastors about the same time as they found that were old, terminally ill, and not in a very strong position financially speaking. I could not help but wonder if this had to do with them not being interesting anymore, now that they had little more to contribute in terms of numeric or financial growth, since training in the latest evangelism methods or stewardship programs would obviously be wasted on them …

    I came bury a few people who had found themselves in such positions. For all intents and purposes – or at least for most intents and purposes – I became their Pastor during their last months in this world, because the shepherds to whose care they had been entrusted were nowhere to be found – at least not anywhere near them.

    During my years there I more or less expected at some point to hear somebody ask at some congregational meeting if it were not a worthless and wasted effort to minister to these people. After all, them being buried from our church, or by “our Pastor” did not contribute much to the “growth” of the congregation. As it happened, nobody ever actually asked that question, though, although I would, on occasion, sense that there was some resentment about “people we do not know” being buried from “our church”, and people who had not “paid their dues”.

    I do not think, however, that people having “paid their dues” is the primary reason for which the angels rejoice …

    And i think that although we as Lutherans should have our pride in Christ only, we should not be ashamed, either, to be known as the Church that cares about the salvation of sinners every bit as much, at the very least, as we care about the “growth” or the “future” of our congregations.

  7. Regular poster Scott Diekmann had a great series on this type activity here on BJS a few years ago. Check the “search” function on this site and look for his name or for TCN.

  8. SWOT *can*, in its barest framework, be a useful structure for a church council, e.g., to follow in examining the circumstances and activities of the congregation–*in the context of* the proper and Christ-centered doctrine of the Church. It is simply a tool. It may come out of business, and therefore have limitations for its use in a congregational setting. The real problem is when such business models adn tools are used *without* the context of sound doctrine. The real problem, I’ve found, is that the “gurus” who come in from the district or wherever to present these things (be they evangelism “pastors” or executives, or “consultants”, or whatever) leave *doctrine* out of the picture, entirely, by *assuming* it.

    Strengths and Weaknesses can be an honest, Law and Gospel founded assessment of the “internal” life of the congregation. Opportunities and Threats have more to do with external “environment” things, though “Threats” has never seemed to me to be a particularly useful category–Your adversary the devil prowls like a roaring lion…. But the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.

  9. To the original post: most excellent article, Herr Redman! May I reprint it for use in my 2 congregations at some point in the future?

  10. @Randy #2
    There are also requirements that we establish various “teams” for this event, including a “prayer team.”

    It does seem like everyone in the congregation should be praying… for the district officers… and for yourselves, that you not be deceived by “sheep’s clothing”.

    @Marc from Cincy #11
    You rock, McCall!

    +1 🙂

  11. All,

    Much thanks for the advice and words of encouragement. Down here in my neck of the woods it’s like the game “Whack-a-mole” when it comes to CoWo and the CGM. Except, it’s “Swack-a-schwarmer.”

    Anyone know where I can get a copy of the BoC attached to a hammer handle? Never mind, sounds like a relatively easy self-help project 🙂

  12. What beautiful thoughts, Nathan.

    I can imagine older people looking around at their church and feeling sad and even guilty that “they” are the only ones they see there. Some older people may even feel that they cannot even “join” a church (should they not have one) because they feel they have nothing to contribute now except their “oldness.” And they feel guilty putting one more senior “burden” on the pastor. When, even they agree, that is where the focus of the pastor should be — on the young ones.

    The Holy Spirit will “move to another place” when He is ready. And not before. For these old ones still need to be taken care of. If only there will be those dedicated to doing it. And the old ones should not feel guilty for needing and wanting this care.

    This quote by C.S. Lewis came to my mind.

    “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which,if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilites, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

    There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

  13. Nathan, I prefer to call the elderly in a parish,
    our mature Christians. They have survived
    many hurdles on their journey to heaven. In
    fact, they are great at setting examples of
    what it means to persevere in their faith in

  14. @Rev. McCall #8

    Rev McCall, Your law enforcement background could really be put to good use during our “SWOT” event. Yes, we could put you on retainer to sit outside with a bullhorn and negotiate our release from the CGM fanatics. What’s the going rate these days – 2 dozen donuts? 😉

  15. My heart goes out to those commenting on this post, as this situation is one of the most frustrating a congregation can be involved in. Obviously, poor catechizes is part of the problem in dealing with district officials, etc. It is not unknown that some district officials have a different confession that some of their district’s congregations and that of LCMS. It seems that problem can only be fixed by the election process, unfortunately.

    However, this is not the only issue to be concerned about. For far too long congregations have not been taught the correct polity for LCMS congregations, particularly the Call Process. For years many districts have been slowly undermining the Call Process for their own purposes, and in the process, trampling the rights and freedoms of the congregation. District officials have been know to maneuver the calling process so that the man they want to be your pastor is the one that receives the call, rather than the pastor the congregation is lead by God to call. Added to this is poor evaluation process for called workers which slants the information even further. Our historical understanding of the Call Process has been undermined by some districts officials, plus we have newly minted Lutherans from other denominations who bring with them their understandings. Both of these issues results in a congregation that is easily lead, rather than one that knows its rights and exercises them.

  16. @Gene White #20 Perhaps a great reason to attend the ACELC conference in a few weeks in Iowa. The theme is the Office of the Ministry. Another thought – God IS growing His Church – every time an elderly member is buried, as well as whenever an infant is baptized. With all the company of heaven we laud and magnify His glorious name. Pr. David Likeness: mature Christians implies a level of faith that young and old may or may not have, and really, who are we to measure? Whenever we are discussing age, elderly seems a more suitable description to me and about me.

  17. @Pastor Dave Likeness #17
    The one question I have Pastor is: aren’t the younger families we seem to be missing these “mature Christians'” children? Is” “why don’t we ever see your kids” a fair question for a pastor to ask these folks?
    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

    @Gene White #20
    There are even questions on Pastors’ SETs that basically ask: “Do you follow LCMS theology and praxis or not?” (open vs. closed communion for one) and there seem to be no negative repercussions for pastors who answer “no, I publically repudiate the official doctrine and praxis of the LCMS.” If anything, those who answer “yes, that’s why I’m a member of Synod” are more likely to be discriminated against.

    -Matt Mills

  18. @Pastor Dave Likeness #17
    Not all the elderly are “mature Christians,” whatever that means. I’ve seen very ignorant elderly, I’ve seen an elderly gentleman move from barely Lutheran to staunch unbelieving postmodernist (and continues to serve as crucifer at his church and shame on his pastor who fails to teach) and I’ve seen elderly who have been ignorant of doctrine all their life until their 70s only to pick up a book of concord and have a Cocoon-like influx of theological wisdom.

    @Matthew Mills #22
    Indeed, where is their children? As wonderful it is to see a man in his old age become a fine theologian, the cost of waiting is children. In the cases I can think of, two out of eleven children attend church *somewhere*.

  19. Matthew Mills :There are even questions on Pastors’ SETs that basically ask: “Do you follow LCMS theology and praxis or not?” (open vs. closed communion for one) and there seem to be no negative repercussions for pastors who answer “no, I publically repudiate the official doctrine and praxis of the LCMS.” If anything, those who answer “yes, that’s why I’m a member of Synod” are more likely to be discriminated against.
    K.E.+,-Matt Mills

    Matt, funny you mention this. I just listened to the latest Issues, Etc post of
    Dr. Paul Zimmerman’s interview regarding Seminex. He indicated that J.A.O. Preus Jr not only had issues with those who promoted false doctrine, but also, those who tolerated it. This is a crucial point.

    Regarding closed communion, I have found it to be true that those pastors who don’t administer closed communion are also the ones that seldom or never preach and teach about the importance of the Sacraments. Makes you wonder if they really believe what the bible says – sort of “Selective Theology.”

    As a result of “tolerance” and “heterodox practices” I think the older members of many churches that partially or wholly buy into the CGM are in a sad and horrible position. As the district/congregation disregards the importance of the Sacraments and Confessions in favor of relativism and emotionalism, the older members feel betrayed, lonely, and pushed aside. But, more importantly, many are scared as hell.

  20. @Randy #24
    I’m sure that there are many older members who feel betrayed, lonely, and pushed aside. In some Districts these folks are doubtless life-long Confessional Lutherans facing a new CoWo pastor chasing the ephemeral “relevance”, but a significant number of the older folks in congregations I have attended have been the aging hippies that are feeling “pushed aside” by Confessional pastors bringing the congregations back to Lutheran Word and Sacrament ministry. It’s mostly to these folks I was directing my hypothetical question. When they say we need (fill in the blank programmatic innovation) to reach “the young” can we ask,” but where are your kids?” Many of their kids wandered off after confirmation, and the aging hippies did nothing to bring them back. If they want church growth they should start by getting their kids back into church.

  21. @LadyM #21
    Good point about attending the ACELC Conference and if you are there please stop to say hello during that time. CLCC will have a display table there with other educational products that could prove useful.

  22. @Matthew Mills #25

    I couldn’t agree more. My rant in #24 above is what I’m facing now. What you describe is EXACTLY what I faced in my former church. In that church, a CoWo hippie pastor established a “Super-Secret” BoH (Board of Heresy) who brought all of this into the church. And to your point about “their” children, one of the founding members of the “BoH” even told us that her daughter was going to the New Life Church down the street because “our” praise band had not yet reached it’s full potential. I think she said something like, “You have to go where you can grow.” All these folks were teenagers when “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds was a new hit. Yes, no matter how you look at it, this stuff is harmful.

  23. It seems to me that Lutherans should be able to reach out to multiple generations. Isn’t the ideal look of a body of believers that age, ethnicity, gender and all that stuff doesn’t matter? Seems the seasoned disciples have a lot to offer the young. I’ll never forget when a 86 year old member came up to me and asked me what was next and how were we going to keep reaching the young people of of his great grand children’s age. very cool…

  24. @Tim Klinkenberg #29
    We are going to make a start at working this problem at our upcoming Free Lutheran Conference with the theme of “Building up the Body of Christ,” on April 29 & 30. Part of that effort is to develop useful materials for congregations to use, or individuals to access, that will provide sound, practical tools for addressing this from the inside and the outside. In 2015 CLCC is already working hard on a conference to held in N. CA for Lutheran families on the topic of “Building up the Body of Christ.” It is our hope and prayer that this will generate enthusiasm for similar conferences to be held around the country in the summer time so attendees can use part of their vacation to attend as a family.

  25. Shamelessly stolen from

    Do not despair, faithful Lutheran pastors and people. Do not lose heart. Do not give in. The temptation is great and it has always been but the Gospel is worth nothing less than our best. The means of grace have the promise of God. Worship which is centered in the means of grace is the path of the future as it has always been. The once and future church is not the invention of the moment or the abdication to culture and personal preference but the faithful proclamation of the Cross.

  26. @Tim Klinkenberg #29
    Give them a faith they can grow into, not one they will grow out of. There are plenty of solid Confessional young folks in the Church today, but I think that’s what happened to the younger folks who DID wander off. We thought they’d be more comfortable at the “kid’s table,” and at a certain point that got old.

    Setting up a newer even more fun kid’s table is the wrong answer.

  27. @Gene White #20
    Absolutely. Catechizes, catechizes, catechizes. How can people witness to a community if they don’t know what they are talking about? How can a church grow spiritually if they don’t know the Word? Offering self help and church activities is not an alternative to presenting the Gospel and it’s saving grace. And you can’t present a witness without the Word. Otherwise you are just inviting people to a social club.

    And Gene brings up a valid point also in that issuing, or even rescinding a call, can not be done with out the full knowledge of Scripture, the BOC, Walther and Luther. Too many congregations make it a personal vendetta instead of a Biblical choice and go against God’s call of a pastor and use there personal ego to make a decision.

  28. If it is any comfort all RSO’s (TCN is one astonishingly) are currently under review at HQ according to the Chairman of the Board of Directors. All we can hope and pray for is to have their RSO status lifted, and soon.

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