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?