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Reality Check

Showing our age

By David Ewart

The crisis facing our church is people, not budgets. And the people crisis is not that we are becoming fewer, but that those of us in the pews no longer look like our communities.

Of the many differences we might consider, one of the easiest to identify — and the most critical for us — is age. The United Church doesn’t keep records of participants’ ages, but the chart shows the latest Statistics Canada figures for each of the six living generations. The youngest of the baby boom generation are now 50; the oldest are entering retirement. Gen-Xers are solidly middle aged, 35 to 49. And millennials, aged 15 to 34, now have bragging rights as the largest generation ever at 27 percent of the population.

Want to know how your congregation is doing compared to Canada as a whole? On Sunday morning, ask all those under 35 to raise their hands. Counting children, they should be at least 40 percent of those present. Those over 65 should be about 10 percent.

Personally, I am glad that I have been able to grow older in good health. As my friends joke, “Given the alternative, growing older is better.” But for those of us who love our denomination, the church’s growing older is not better. We want our church to be young and vibrant.

But trying to “stay young” is an old person’s concern. My 20-something kids aren’t staying young; they are young. And although we live in the same city, we live in different realities. Homes? Cars? Kids? Careers? Marriage? All of these markers of adult stability are elusive for them. And so my kids don’t need my congregation to be more youthful. They need a whole new way of congregating. One that is flexible and mobile, and that connects using multiple platforms. One that assumes that debt, under-employment, self-employment and transience are normal. One that is also authentic, substantive and personal.

I wonder if our congregations have the courage to abandon old wine skins for the sake of the culture that is already upon us?

Rev. David Ewart is a United Church minister in Vancouver.

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