Will They Be Back?

– By Doug Koop

50-somethings Disengaging From the Church

Church DoorI’m writing in broad strokes about a subset of my peer group—people long active in congregational and ministry circles who in later middle age are making the institutional church more of a back-burner item, less of a lifestyle.

For some this represents a full-blown crisis of faith: they can no longer even salute the doctrines that previously bounded their fellowship with other believers. Their erstwhile religion makes little sense to them anymore, and they wonder how they could ever have invested so much heart and soul into anything so fatuous. Many of these are simply disillusioned. A few are bitter.

For other former church aficionados, the change relates more to practice than basic beliefs.

They realize that weekly worship service attendance no longer provides them with the sanctuary and inspiration it previously delivered. Instead, Sunday mornings without the rush and bustle and work and worry of congregational life offer a welcome respite from the rush and bustle and work and worry of the workday world.

Their souls settle into a newfound leisure. They rediscover something of Sabbath.

Of course, pastors hate to hear this kind of talk. Longtime Christians in their 50s represent an enormous asset to the church. They bring a helpful blend of maturity and energy, providing wisdom and work to the activities of the congregation. They are teachers and mentors and leaders. And chances are they have more disposable income than those either older or younger.

The spiritual and financial health of churches depends on the gifts of people like these.

Ideally, these 50-somethings who are holding the institutional expressions of the Church more loosely are simply taking something of a breather—a sort of “summer vacation,” a lakeside cottage respite, a sabbatical season that will serve to strengthen their spirits and restore their souls. Many, I believe, will indeed be back.

In the meantime, however, some are on a pilgrimage that is leading toward more varieties and different venues for worship, devotion and service. Their mode of Christian witness is morphing into something different and potentially deeper. For the time being, they are largely content to worship more serendipitously and attend Sunday services irregularly.

That may change. The time to settle down once again is apt to arrive. My hope and my prayer is that the seasoning these later middle-age sabbaticals stimulate will provide long-term benefits to communities of Christians—in congregations, workplaces and neighbourhoods.

Doug Koop is a Spiritual Health Specialist in Winnipeg. He authored a series of Faith Today columns Blessed Is the Man (2012-2014).

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