As Pastors Get Older, Churches Start to Die

by Darren Slade

In a survey of over 9,500 different congregations from 2008-2017, NCD America reports that 54% of pastors are above the age of 50*. Not surprisingly, there is a direct correlation between the age of the pastor and the age of the congregants who attend church every week. The older the pastor, the older the congregation. These same churches also have very little growth, where the older a pastor/congregation is the less likely the church is to grow numerically. In fact, the growth rate is so minimal that it is virtually nonexistent.

What’s more, these same churches tend to have very few children, adolescents, or young adults attending services, meaning there will likely be no new families to replace current church members as congregants begin to retire from services.

So, what happens when a church is run by and populated with senior citizens? The short answer: it dies. This will happen for a number of reasons. Retirees and senior citizens tend to be on a fixed income. Hence, church contributions plummet. Retirees and senior citizens become less active in outreach and evangelism, preferring to stay within the safety of familiar places and closed circles. Thus, new memberships plummet. Lastly, retirees and senior citizens tend to expire. Hence, attendance plummets.

Couple these statistics with the fact that younger generations are less and less religious, preferring to practice an individualized spirituality outside the confines of institutional religion, and we get a total collapse of conventional Christian paradigms.

If the church truly is an organism (the body of Christ), then it is expected to ebb and flow with normal evolutionary developments like any other organism. The church clearly went through an infancy stage, and an adolescent stage, and a flourishing adulthood. But what happens when the church reaches retirement? How much longer before it dies completely?

If the Christian religion is made up mostly of older and older believers, isn’t it time we recognize the inevitable and start preparing our ministries for what happens when “Churchianity” expires? Shouldn’t we begin thinking about the future of Christianity once the old paradigms have been buried?

Will we leave the next generation of believers with an inheritance that transcends institutional religion? Or will our church buildings act only as a tombstone, reminding everyone of how frail this organism truly is?

* The following demographic data can be viewed in more detail at this link.