I hear it all the time – something like, “The older people in our church just don’t like change. They’re aggravating.”
As a pastor at heart and an older person (age 54), I understand both the frustration of the pastor and the reticence of the older person. I hope the following thoughts will help us minister better to older folks facing change:
1. They’re people, and most people eventually don’t like change.
Change might seem the norm to young people today, but even young people eventually grow older – and then long for days gone by. It happens, even when you’re sure it won’t. Trust me.
2. Sometimes they legitimately long for something to stay the same.
The older I get, the more I understand this reality. Careers end. Friends die. Children move away. Spouses pass away. Memories fade. When everything else is changing, the one place an older person can cry for normalcy is the church. What seems like obstinacy might simply be a cry for pastoral understanding.
3. They’ve seen pastors and programs come and go.
When pastors change every 3-4 years, and each pastor brings a new program that doesn’t last, I understand why long-termers might question change. Their knowledge of a church’s history naturally makes them skeptical of the latest change.
4. They’ve seen change not work out.
We’ve all seen that happen, of course – but older folks have often seen it happen many times. In fact, sometimes they’ve been there multiple times to clean up the mess when a poorly handled change leads to disruption and division.
5. No one has helped them understand the “why” behind changes.
You may disagree with me, but I’m convinced that many older folks are willing to accept change as long as they understand the reasons behind the change. They’ve been around long enough to know that we should be able to explain and defend our reasoning in a logical and loving way. If we can’t – or won’t – do that, why should they accept the change?
6. They’ve seen change that they believe really has led to compromise.
Growing up, they never dreamed that drums would be in the church, women would wear pants to church or the Bible would be anything different than the King James Version. We may not agree with what they believe is “right,” but sometimes their fear of change comes from a genuine, heartfelt desire to avoid seeming compromise.
7. They’ve watched some pastors lead poorly through change.
They’ve been there when pastors “ran over” faithful church members to implement change. They’ve seen others ignore the loving advice of church leaders. When you’ve seen enough leaders harm the church through poor leadership, any change produces anxiety.
8. Change often means loss.
To move in one direction usually means moving away from another direction. Adopting a new program requires giving up an old one. For older folks who are sometimes already facing loss, loss in church – their place of security – is even more difficult.
When I think about these honest reasons, I can minister better to folks struggling with change. What other honest reasons would you add to this list?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless currently serves as professor of evangelism and missions, dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and as president of The Lawless Group, a consulting group for church leaders. This post first appeared at chucklawless.com.)