I had the opportunity to hear Brian McLaren give a day of talks at Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, PA last month. He quoted our Lutheran attrition stats, that something like 90 percent of the young people who come up through the ELCA are gone by college years. (Our bishop has used the same statistic on several occasions, with the rejoinder: If you're ok with only 10 percent staying, then you don't have to change anything!) Brian went on to note that the Southern Baptists and other denominations have similar statistics. Later he observed that while denominations are rightly concerned about the missing 18-29 year olds, he is becoming concerned about the 45-year-olds in our churches who are wondering if they can keep doing church one more Sunday.
That hits home, because my peers are in this age group, and I know a number of people who are going through the motions of church with no real engagement, and several more who have just plain given up, dropped out as solidly as any college freshman. And of the folks I know who are solidly churched, well ... I happened to start sharing this observation with a friend from church and before I could get to Brian's point, she supplied it for me. The next day I spoke to a friend from another church, and she, too, supplied the "can I do this one more Sunday?" line before I could.
This anecdotal evidence is hardly proof of a trend, and this observation is not new (George Barna hits upon it, with some dire predictions, in his Revolution, published last year). Still, it's worth paying attention to. The average age of ELCA members is 58, and the average age in the five-county Philadelphia area is 37. If even a small percentage of our 40-50 year olds, who are often key leaders and givers, are wondering about their commitment to church, where will we be in 10 years? Where will their kids be?