Last week I sat politely listening to John Drane talk about the probable demise of the church. He was envisagening a velvet revolution / fall of the Soviet Union type situation where one day it was there, the next something had just happened. He also referred in passing to the fact alot of people in our churches were going to die over the next twenty years. As I say I sat and listened politely, my mind being slightly cynical about his fall of the USSR analogy.
Last night, however, I had an oh shit! moment when I actually realised the important bits of what he was saying and the consequence for my generation, and knowing the age of many others of you reading this, our generation.
I literally woke up to the what the death of a sizeable number of British Christians over the next 20 years meant. Here are my thoughts:
1) It is easy to think that those currently in the 55-75 age group who are “the backbone” of the church just started to get really actively involved when they retired….this is not the case. These are the people who have faithfully served for years. They have literally kept the church together for ages, serving on committees as well as doing the jobs that have needed doing and being the volunteers running the kitchens, etc. If they are all going to age / die significantly over the next 20 years there need to be people who are getting trained up now to take on the necessary roles, and some of those roles will still exist in some form or another whatever type of church we have. In reality in 15 – 20 years time it will be those of us now in our late 20’s – mid 40’s whose children will have grown up and whose careers will be built who will have the time / resources to be taking on many of those roles. The practicalities mean that our current young people, whom the focus has quite rightly been on (to stop them slipping out the back door) will be busy doing all the things we are doing now.
2) People don’t all die at once, there will be a gradual decline – unless we are blessed with revival. Which ever way we are going to be in a position where one day we will wake up and notice there are either alot of people not there or alot of new people there who are wanting our advice / support as “older” and “mature” Christians. Again this means we will have responsibilities, for handling change and for mentoring/ discipling.
3) As a generation we have spent far too long sitting there moaning. We have dressed this up as wanting to engage in mission, (quite often), in terms of discussion on emerging church. However, we are now at a point where we are talking “mixed economy” in a comfortable way. It is time for us to stop moaning and learn / be trained into handling the change about to come into being. It is also time for us to pray about what is to come. As a faithful people we should be praying for wisdom about it now.
4) We need to wake up to the fact that this is not going to be something for “the professionals” to handle on their own. The structures we have in our churches for decision making, be it synods, church meetings, assemblies or whatever mean that we will be the people at ground level having to make decisions to have them voted on. We will have to engage….we won’t just be able to leave it to clergy, our systems – quite rightly don’t work like that. Also not to put too fine a point on it the pressure on our clergy in terms of doing funerals, etc is going to increase. There are more people now and an aging population – think about it.
5) It is no good trying to pass the responsibility on to the next generation. The next generation are the church with us and will be heavily involved as partners in this, but we are their parents. They will turn to us for advice and as I said earlier when all this happens they will be the ones with young children and budding careers.
6) We also need to wake up to the fact there are less of us. Alot of people in our age group have drifted out of church, how many people did we know who were in churches when they were younger who aren’t now? Those of us who are left are going to be the ones on whose shoulders this falls.
7) In short what I am trying to say is it is time that my generation stopped moaning and got their backsides in gear to prepare for what is about to come. Additionally, it is time churches woke up to the training that our generation will require to take the tourch. Much as everybody may wish they could skip our generation the fact is we are going to have to take on appropriate roles and need training in them now.
8) We need to get our heads around what a missional focus means for us. I think we are so focused on connecting with and understanding our culture we have missed the fact we are going to have to act as mentors and disciplers….which means we need to get our spiritual maturity sorted a bit more.
9) If you are older please pray for us and please take on board that we need to be trained up. Yes, we have and are challenging alot of the things you might have held dear, but we are the ones who are going to be the next set of people with grown up kids and careers that are slowing up.