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Are current church-goers scaring others away?

Are current church-goers scaring others away?

Andrew Brown has written a wide-ranging column for the Guardian that asks whether it is the presence of so many older people–and the prevalence of services geared to their tastes–that keep younger people from coming to church. He isn’t thumping the tub of liturgical change, or bashing recalcitrant lay people. He’s examining the issue in a sociological sort of way, and I’d be interested to hear what people think about the article.

When I talk to Anglican clergy about the frustrations of their work, the answer that comes back in a dozen forms is that the greatest difficulty is not with the outside world. It’s with their own congregations. I gave a talk on the apparent death of Christian England in the glorious medieval church at Evesham, and when I said that it was impossible to go back to the 50s or 60s, someone angry in the audience wanted to know why time travel wouldn’t work. That was what he thought the church should do, and must do if it was to get back to health.

Such an attitude is of course self-selecting. If the congregation is run by people who feel like that and who also pay, however inadequately, for the upkeep of the building, the vicar’s opinions are of little account. And no one who would like a church comfortable for the under-50s will ever feel at home.

In that case, the biggest threat to the future of the Church of England is in fact the congregations who now seem to hold all its remaining life.


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Terry Pannell

From what I have witnessed, attitude is more important than age when it comes to attracting newcomers to church.

Terry Pannell

From what I have witnessed, attitude is more important than age when it comes to attracting newcomers to church.

Harriet Baber

Great. Reminds me of a sermon by the curate when I was in college–and the only one in the church under 50. Fr. T., a Brit in the silly vicar mold hired in those old days of anglophilia for his accent, told a little story, as was his wont. There was an old, lady in church, he said, who insisted on shuffling up the center of the aisle going for communion, blocking everyone elses way. And wasn’t life like that, he said: the problem in the church was that old people were getting in the way.

I was pretty annoyed: I hoped to be an old lady one day myself. I didn’t want to be told to get out of the way: ‘Shove over, Granny, and let the young and beautiful pass’.

That said, having been through this in the Church since I was a young person, the efforts by middle-aged clergy to speak to young people is no better now than it was then.

Bill Dilworth

Tom, it’s one thing for older people to decide on spiritual and fellowship experiences that sustain them (but isn’t it odd to assume that that means excluding young people from the mix?) and another thing entirely for Brown et al. to helpfully hustle them off to those social icefloes.

Ann Fontaine

It is a stupid article. The church I currently serve has a nice mix of ages. But the younger people are way too busy with work and kids to keep things going. They love the “grandparents” who give them space to worship.

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