Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to preach at a church that many consider obsolete and in demise. This church is close to Orlando and located near a large retirement community. As one who is one year shy of the half-century mark, I was clearly the youngest one present. Nevertheless, I was joyfully welcomed by more than one member who due to the infirmities of aging required a walker or a cane.
The service began with an orchestral ensemble of less than a dozen members who struggled to play “Take Time to Be Holy” and “Who is on the Lord’s Side.” This was followed by the Chiming of the Hour presented by the Senior Adult Bell Ensemble. After a congregational reading of the Call to Worship, we sang two 1970s era praise songs: “Step by Step” and “I Love You, Lord.” The Special Music of the day was a song entitled, “I’ll tell the World that I’m a Christian,” a song written by Baynard Fax in 1958.
This was not the first time I had preached at this church. The first time was shortly after another leader had about destroyed the church by trying to make it something that it clearly was not! The most marked remnant of this area was an enormous black guitar amp. Please understand, my home church has a full band, with an average of three amplified guitars on any given Sunday. Regardless, this amplifier was the largest I had seen in any church other than when a concert was going on!
These dear people where exhausted from years of being pressured to be relevant and have a contemporary service to reach the young families. It was assumed that because this church did not have young families it was clearly in decline! Sadly, no one told them that their efforts of being “contemporary” where far from current and in fact would be considered not only atrocious, but inauthentic to any young person who happened in the door.
This is not the time to delve into North America’s current infatuation with contemporary worship and the false conclusions that it somehow is the answer to church growth and more specifically the attraction of young families. Needless to say there is no clear evidence that any one style of worship in of itself draws young families, or for that matter anyone!
The bigger question we need to ask is if a church must be multi-generational to be considered healthy. Does a church located in an area whose demographic profile is retirees need to make young families a priority? I would argue that it does not! Rather the primary goal of that church should be to be The Church and faithfully minister to the people in that context. In fact, I would argue that it is time to aggressively plant churches in these exploding retirement communities across the south that unapologetically target retirees! (I will write more on this later).
Since the first time I preached at the aforementioned church, a friend of mine has stepped in as a supply pastor. In that time he removed the monster amplifier and let the congregation relax and worship in style they were accustomed too. He began to love on the people and to faithfully give the people what we Presbyterians call the “means of grace.” In other words, he preaches Scripture with thoughtful application to the “age and stage” for these people, regularly administers the sacraments. Over the last year, God has used this to bring a new life in this body. People are growing in their faith and attendance is increasing! There is not much young about this church, but I don't think it is dying!