President Joe Biden plans to run for re-election in 2024. But it is not what most Americans want, and they have their reasons.
No separation from the state, the North American church finds itself in a similar position with older clergy leading aging congregations. The North American church is showing its age. From the top down, denominations, churches and pastors are getting grayer.
To be fair, most Americans don’t want Biden or Trump to run for president. According to a poll released by Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies and Harris Insight and Analytics, only 29% are in favor of Biden running again and only 39% agree that Trump should be the 2024 Republican nominee.
When asked why they did not approve of Biden’s 2024 candidacy, respondents said that “he’s a bad president” (45%), “too old” (30%) or that “it’s time for a change” (26%).
For Trump, respondents claimed “he’s erratic” (36%) and “will divide the country” (33%), and they cited “his responsibility for the January 6 insurrection” (30%) as their reasoning.
By 2024, both men will be close to, or in, their 80s. Is this the future of American leadership and, if so, what’s your message for young leaders?
While you’re thinking of an answer, read this:
“Young adults make up 23% of the population but only 14% of churches. … While a quarter of religious communities are at least half senior citizens, some congregations are more likely to be lacking youth. Among mainline Protestants, 42% of churches are at least half 65 and older,” wrote Aaron Earls, senior writer at LifeWay Research, last year.
Another major challenge evident across two decades of Faith Communities Today surveys is the dual issue of aging of both participants and religious leadership, and also the strong correlation of these trends with a decline in vitality and the diminished possibility of congregational change or revitalization.
Since 2008, the average percentage of senior participants in congregations has risen 5%. This reflects a similar national aging trend as baby boomers grow older.
However, in congregations, on average, 33% of participants are 65 or older whereas in the general population it is half that, just 17%, the report found.
Statistics coupled with stories of being told to just “get an education,” the numbers don’t lie. According to a 2019 Pew Research article, Millennials are “better educated.”
It’s proof that they listened to their elders. But what’s a seminary degree when a church cannot see themselves calling a pastor unless they are older and have a spouse and children?
Earls says that the average age of clergy is 57 years old, up from 50 years old in 2000.
Traditionally, the focus of Christian ministry is often on young married couples with children who are young enough to stay asleep in the service and then magically skip to the age when they can participate in the children’s program.
These churches want children to attend church, but they don’t want them to get in the way. It’s the same mindset for young adults who seek a place in ministry.
Church attendance shows that this model does not work for younger generations who resent pat answers and pats on the head. Their presence and faithful service does not equate to opportunities for leadership or, in some cases, even mentorship that does not result in being made in the pastor’s image.
Up in age, too many Christian leaders hold on to positions well past their prime and dismiss a generation’s response to today’s pressing issues. Distrustful of their answers, they are viewed as competition and not co-laborers.
To be sure, this response is likely rooted in the fear of losing power or relevance — not relationships. Ironically, the North America church, despite its idolatrous proximity to government and capitalist ties to American culture, is losing both, which moves it closer to being in relationship with Jesus.
Older clergy’s extended day in the sun has left younger clergy out in the cold. Consequently, they have sought shelter in other forms of ministry — outside of the church’s door.
Despite its ageism, which is getting old, it could be that the North American church is unknowingly creating the conditions for the next generation to take the lead in following in the footsteps of Jesus — with or without their vote.