By Teddy Ray, Special Contributor…
I recently asked a friend who is business administrator of his church to run a quick analysis for me. My specific question: “How much of your church’s contributions come from people age 55 and over?”
His answer was “70 percent.”
My friend was unflinching. “Isn’t it just always that way?” he said. “That’s the group that has the most to give, so they give most of the money.”
One could understand why he wasn’t concerned. After all, my friend’s church looks healthy. The UMC would consider it a “vital congregation.”
But I wasn’t convinced, so I asked him to see if his software could pull off a second analysis. My follow-up question: “How much of your church’s contributions 10 years ago came from people age 55 and over?”
This time, my friend came back concerned. A decade ago, only 50 percent of contributions came from those age 55 and over. In 10 years, they went from half to 70 percent of giving coming from the older group.
A few reasons I had this hunch:
• If your church is at least 10 years old, I’m fairly confident that on average, the membership is older now than it was 10 years ago. You may have anecdotal evidence to argue otherwise (that booming parents’ Sunday school class; the three infant baptisms last week), but unless you can show me the numbers to prove otherwise, I bet you’re older. The average age in the American UMC went from 30 in the 1950s to 57 in 2008.
• Most churches—even ones that look very healthy—have been living off the leadership and giving of the Baby Boomers for a long time.
• The Baby Boomers are now ages 47–65.
• The Older Boomers (those who could have been drafted for Vietnam) are all now 55 and older. They have proven to be generally stronger leaders and contributors than the Younger Boomers.
• The older Silent Generation (whose youngest are now 66) were loyalists, committed to the Church, and committed to supporting it with their money.
This shows a fundamental non-shift taking place in our churches. The younger generations are not shifting to handle more of the financial burden of the church as the Boomers and Silent Generation age. There are no signs that they plan to fill that void.
We are living off the fumes of prior periods’ growth. Meanwhile, we have increased debt, enlarged our campuses (and their accompanying maintenance and utilities costs), and inflated our staffs and salaries.
If the last 10 years saw those ages 55 and older go from accounting for half of a church’s giving to 70 percent, what will the next 10 years see? Unless there is major change, they will almost certainly see big budget reductions.
I don’t write this to scare, but I do write it as a wake-up call.
Mr. Ray is executive pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lexington, Ky. He writes about theology and ministry at www.teddyray.com.