I’m not as young as I once was (and neither are you, apparently)

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Even as I type this I’m getting older. Apparently I’m not alone in that either. According to a LifeWay study, Southern Baptists are greying at an alarming rate. People between 40 and 59 accounted for half of the messengers to the 2007 SBC annual meeting, which is fairly consistent with history.

But those over 60 made up 35.4 percent of the crowd, while those 18-39 only made up 13.1 percent. In 1980, people older than 60 made up 12.1 percent of SBC messengers. In 1980, those under 40 accounted for 33.6 percent of messengers. Attendance to the meeting by younger Baptists has been in decline since 1985.

“This sample represents all messengers, and historically 40 percent of the messengers have been senior pastors,” said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, in the latest report. “The percentage of senior pastors attending the annual meeting has remained relatively constant, but the age of attendees has risen dramatically.”

“Simply put, the proportion of those under 40 attending the SBC is declining precipitously – down by more than 50 percent since the beginning of the conservative resurgence,” Stetzer highlighted.

To me the more alarming fact is buried a bit in the story. Not only are messengers aging, so are Southern Baptist pastors. Those 18-39 represent 17 percent of Southern Baptist pastors. The 60+ crowd represents 24 percent.

Sam S. Rainer III, a young Baptist pastor who heads Rainer Research, says it’s no surprise that many churches are getting older and church leaders, grayer. Rather, the alarming part of the trend is that another generation is not rising up behind the older crowd, he pointed out in his weblog on Thursday.

Both generations need to step up, Rainer indicated.

“The baton needs to be passed,” he said. “Passing a baton requires both parties (older and younger generations) to be running in sync, and the church is not there yet.” 

I don’t think the findings of the study will shock many of the readers of this space. But the question becomes what do Baptists do about it? It’s been bantied around quite a bit, but what do you think?

Reading some commentary around the blogosphere, some are linking the decline in younger leaders to a decline in evangelistic zeal. If we don’t reach young people with the gospel, how do we have young people who can develop into leaders, goes the logic. What do you think of that thought process?

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4 Responses to “I’m not as young as I once was (and neither are you, apparently)”

  1. Gerald Bastin Says:

    Young people aren’t the problem. Younger folks don’t come, because what happens at some annual meeting simply doesn’t land on the “important issues radar”. The SBC is going to elect a male, fundamentalist leader and talk about how great everything SBC was, is and going to be. The BGCT is going to talk a good game of change and diversity, even electing someone of color or a female, but nothing at the core has really changed and younger people know it, so they don’t come. Just how old was the first female ever elected president of the BGCT, in her 60’s? Until the powers that be change the way they do business (truly inclusive leadership, fresh leadership, less sermonizing and more testifying, bold even risky mission thrust) expect the younger crowd to stay away.

  2. Tim Dahl Says:

    One of the best attended conferences (by young people) the BGCT every put out was Epicenter. But, since they got rid of Rick and Milfred, they act like it never happened. Do I hold out great hopes for its replacement, the new and improved Evangelism Conference? Nope. It seems a rehash of the past. Seriously, some things need to say buried.

    Don’t feel bad. It isn’t just that the convention is irrelevant. Look at the statistics. Around 80% of our churches are irrelevant as well. As the local church goes, thus goes the convention. Having the “same old church,” seems to lead the same old dysfunction. This leads to more young Christians seeking their spiritual families elsewhere.

    If you want to see a rejuvenation of young people (aka, older than 25 and younger than 45) within the BGCT, and maybe even in the pastorate; get guys like Milfred Minatrea back. Have Rick Davis as a consultant, and put conferences together that have Dallas Willard and Bob Roberts as their key not speakers. Have some break out sessions on Warren’s Peace Plan. Lets show them that Church is more than the country club that it has become. Lets show them what real Christianity is; and not the cheap grace that we dole out. Lets give some real discipleship; and not the same old literature/teachings that looks vaguely similar to what was being distributed in the 1950s.

    Oh, and did I mention that a good way to start would be a little repentance upon the part of the BGCT leadership? Maybe even a personal apology to Minatrea? I bet that would do wonders.

    Tim Dahl

  3. Bob Cheatheam Says:

    I am 49 years old and have been in ministry for a good 25 years. I graduated from Hardin-Simmons and SWBTS. When I was in training to be a minister I was so excited and pumped about serving and seeing people come to the Lord.
    Fast forward to today. I am discouraged with the culturally irrelevant churches I have served. I see churches filling out funeral plans without even knowing it. They can’t or won’t change how they have been doing things for generations and are slowly killing churches. They kill pastors and churches at the same time. It is no wonder the young ones don’t want anything to do with the traditional church. I can’t say I blame them. But they are seeing new and innovative churches that are being relevant to the culture and having an impact for the Lord. Those are the churches that are and will be replacing the “traditional” Baptist churches in the years to come.
    The traditional churches will continue to struggle and will die off, unless they are willing to make the changes necessary to become relevant. I am hopeful that my church will do that, but honestly it will take a few funerals before that happens.
    Bob Cheatheam

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