Reflections on Aging Well

Author, Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults (Upper Room) and Columnist, Aging Well, United Methodist Reporter

It’s not your grandmother’s church… or is it? August 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 2:17 pm

Recently I spent an afternoon with an 85 year-old friend. She’s the sort of jovial woman every young person would love as a grandmother. In fact, I doubt that this gray-haired dynamo has ever seen a glass half-empty in her entire life.

We talked about a variety of topics, but when she mentioned that she had recently visited her young-adult granddaughter’s church, my ears really perked up. I knew this to be a non-traditional, youthful congregation that uses a full-range of the latest technology and electronic music.

I listened intently as she shared her experience. She was so impressed by the dedication of the young adults who greeted her and made her feel welcome. She thought the minister’s message was powerful and the music was uplifting and vibrant.  She was amazed by the video clips and the images on the screens. She also took special pride in telling me about her granddaughter’s involvement on mission teams.

Then she paused for a moment as if to decide whether or not to continue.  She lowered her head as if she was afaid to utter the words. Finally she said, “I feel guilty for saying this because I am so thankful that my granddaughter’s church is reaching young people, but I must be truthful. My old heart wasn’t moved during that worship service. I really tried to be open to the young people’s style of worship, I really tried to be worshipful in spirit… but I left feeling as if I had failed.  I know at my own church, everything is about attracting the youth. Some church leaders make us old folks feel bad just because we like old hymns and stained glass. It speaks to our generation. It’s not that we don’t want them to have their own services with their own way of doing things, but it just doesn’t seem right to tell us that our way is out-dated and wrong.” 

It was an insightful interaction. I certainly applaud the grandmother for stepping out of her comfort zone. She is no stick-in-the-mud, nay-saying older adult.  She understands and supports the importance of reaching out to young people.  At the same time, she feels that her church is making her feel guilty for prefering more traditional elements of worship.

The point is, it’s not a matter of one side being right and the other wrong.  What speaks to one generation may not speak to another. That’s nothing new. But can’t we be a church that can stretch its arms enough to lovingly embrace all generations? I’m just sayin’….

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7 Responses to “It’s not your grandmother’s church… or is it?”

  1. Jaron Terry-Smith Says:

    Missy – thank you for this healing note. I am going to post the link on my facebook page. I hope that’s OK?

  2. Tim Colling Says:

    Have you heard about the trend toward multi-venue churches? I attend one such church, North Coast Church, in Vista, California. At multi-venue churches, there are multiple “venues”, or rooms, in which different styles of worship music are featured. These venues all conduct their own type of worship at the beginning of the service and then, at a specified time, they all show the main (“live”) venue’s message with streaming video of the pastor teaching that week’s message from the live venue. It’s great! We have venues with everything from traditional hymns to hard rock worship.

    – Tim

    • missybu Says:

      Tim, thanks for sharing info about your church. I visited one multi-venue church recently. It’s great that churches are exploring possibilities to meet the needs of a wide range of people.

  3. Susan Slye Giles Says:

    I am so happy to read your article. I am a 2nd career clergy serving 2 small churches who have tried unsuccessfully to attract younger people. I began to think last fall that maybe that was not the direction God was leading us and I have been working on programing specifically for older (more mature) adults. My concern is that this might be seen as giving up. I believe that our spiritual development as older adults is an area that is neglected in most churches. People are living longer and stronger and certainly we do not have everything about God figured out just because we have been alive for so long. I am excited and a little nervous to see where this takes us.

  4. Ah, indeed every church is grandma’s church, as well as the church of mom and dad, the grandkids, and even weird Uncle Louie! In smaller church settings we don’t have the luxury of different venues; then again I believe something is lost when all can’t worship together. It’s a delicate balance of “traditional,” “multicultural,” and “modern.” I use these descriptors in quotes as there are elements of all three that can truly reach all people. Whether it’s a powerful, organ-accompanied version of “Built on a Rock,” a soul-infused and gospel choir led “Amazing Grace,” or one of the praise songs of Kelly Willard, one thing needs to be true: all music has to be done well to reach the masses. A two-chord garage band will leave any congregation groaning, as will an awful and unprepared organist. Bring in some variety and do it well, then even Grandma might enjoy dancing in the aisles!

  5. Rita Christie Says:

    It’s not so much “grandma’s church” that is wrong, but nothing gets done in grandma’s church. It becomes a dead church. Everything is status quo. There is nothing wrong with a traditional church…with stained glass windows and traditional gospel songs, but you have to keep the church alive. The statement in “grandma’s church” is that they are too old or too settled to do anymore evangelizing. Like a nursing home, they want quiet. I have experienced such a church. And folks real old people who want to keep moving and not ready for the nursing home look for a “hip” church or a more involved church.


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