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Is Your Church Too Old — Or Too Young?

Several years ago, while we were vacationing in Florida, our family visited a church and inadvertently wandered into what can only be described as the last rites being administered to the congregation. Instead of meeting in the sanctuary of the beautiful, historic church, members assembled in the basement — because they could not afford to pay to air condition the entire building. We awkwardly sat through an uncomfortable meeting at which the church members (the majority over 50) agreed to rent out the main part of the building on Sundays to a younger group of church members who had broken off from the main church. It appeared that neither side would compromise on the worship style and church growth philosophy. There may have been other, more substantive doctrinal differences at play — we were only privy to the final vote on what had obviously been a long, drawn-out family squabble — but the sad episode gave us insight into the dangers of a church that does not encourage or appreciate generational diversity.

Not very long after that church visit, our family found it necessary to change churches. It was an agonizing decision after nearly 20 years at the same church. We had spent the early years of our marriage  immersed in the seeker-sensitive mega church culture, raising our children alongside other families in similar circumstances. We found a new church home in a much smaller, more traditional congregation.

Believing that church should be a full participation sport with no bench sitters, our family immediately plunged into the full range of activities — youth group for the kids, Sunday school for everyone, church Sunday mornings and evenings, and midweek prayer meeting.

Those early months of midweek prayer meetings were grueling. I had been out of the habit of spending time in corporate prayer and the discipline of praying for people I didn’t know was a challenge for my media-saturated diminished attention span. At one of the first prayer meetings though, a prayer request jolted me out of my inattention and made me realize that we had spent the last 20 years more or less in an age-segregated bubble: “I would appreciate your prayers. I have to turn my wife every few hours to keep her from getting bed sores and things are kind of hard right now.” The man, in his 80s, was caring for his bedridden wife who had Alzheimer's disease at home and struggled to keep up with the demands. I was touched and heartbroken. I was inspired by the man’s love and dedication to his wife and saddened by his suffering.

But I was also saddened at what we had missed in our years of age-segregated church.