knew that mainline congregants tend to be older than the general population.
The average member is about 58, whereas the average American is age 38. The
latest survey from Hartford Seminary fills in the
picture with this piece of data: in more than half (52.7 percent) of mainline
Protestant congregations, a third or more of the members are 65 years old or
Hartford's veteran researcher David Roozen reported this figure recently, he
added a kicker: given that life expectancy in the U.S. is 78, this means that
these congregations are likely to see a third of their members die over the
next 15 years.
at similar data, Lovett Weems, a researcher at Wesley Theological Seminary, has
been talking about a "death tsunami" beginning in 2018
that will deliver a crippling blow, in membership and finances, to mainline
churches. (It also means that ministers will be doing lots of funerals.)
like this concentrate the mind. And foster desperate searches for the elusive
magical formula that will reach young adults.
at least offers a practical suggestion to churches looking at the demographic
change ahead: Don't manage your finances year by year. Make a major downsizing
effort now, save your resources and plan for a "smaller, more vital" future:
that things are not the same as in years past, and the previous financial
baseline is no longer realistic. . . . Make the difficult but ultimately
life-saving decision to reduce the financial baseline to one that is more
realistic for the new circumstances. It is from this new and more appropriate
baseline that the church can begin to build strength for the future. One of the
reasons churches tend to do better after such a financial recalibration is that
energy previously sapped through maintaining financial survival now can be
spent for outreach and ministry.
Sounds good, but how realistic is that? Wouldn't most
congregations say that the money they are spending now on building, program and
staff is devoted to outreach and ministry--precisely what is needed now and in