Tsunami: Dr. Duane W.H. Arnold PhD
But everybody’s going to get wet
Don’t think it won’t happen just because it hasn’t happened yet”
We’re going to have to face reality, whether we want to or not. A tsunami is on the way.
I recently sent around a new demographic survey to some friends. (http://rainmakerthinking.com/assets/uploads/2017/02/Gen-Shift-2017_Electronic.pdf) It contained some fascinating information. As of 2017, less than 1% of those born prior to 1946, remain in the workforce. Following this group are two “waves” of baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1954 (the first wave) and those born between 1955 and 1964 (the second wave). In 2017 the first wave makes up 11% of the workforce, while the second wave is at 16%, making boomers 27% of the workforce today. The rest of the workforce is made up of Generation X and the Millennials.
By 2020, that is in about two and a half years, this will change. Those born before 1946 will have no statistical presence in the workforce. The first wave of boomers will make up less than 6% of the workforce, while the second wave will account for just 13%. Together, they will make up slightly less than 19% of the work force with Gen X and Millennials accounting for 81% of the income earning population in the US. (Global figures are even more stark as the “youth bubble” is much larger in Africa, Asia and Latin America.)
With this reordering of the workforce, there will also be a reordering of income distribution. Boomers, who have been responsible for financing much of the American Church, will largely be on fixed incomes while those who remain in the workforce for a few years more will be more and more concentrating on saving for their own impending retirement. The money that has provided for places of worship, from the small denominational church on the corner, to the mega-church on the outskirts of the city, will largely be gone or redirected by many of those who were once donors.
Additionally, across the board from denominations to independent churches and associations, the clergy are aging and will soon be gone. A 2016 report from the United Methodist Church made the following analysis of their clergy:
Elders between ages 55 and 72 comprise 56 percent of all active elders, the highest percentage in history. This group reached 50 percent for the first time ever in 2010. This age cohort represented only 30 percent of active elders as recently as 2000. The median age of elders remained at 56 in 2016, the highest in history. The average age remains at 53, a historic high, though unchanged for seven years. The mode age (the single age most represented) is 61, up from 60 last year.
Episcopalians/Anglicans and Lutherans are still slightly older (Roman Catholics are the oldest), while Baptists and Evangelicals are slightly younger, although still close to the UMC age range. Oh yes, I failed to mention that the average age for clergy retirement has been 64, although it is now creeping up to 65 years of age over the last few years. In many denominations, almost most half of their churches are already being served by part-time clergy who are either retired or are active and trying to serve several small churches under their care.
When we consider that the Calvary Chapel movement was once considered a “youth movement”, the scenes from the latest Calvary Chapel Association conference are sobering. The age of the leaders and most of the participants made me wonder if the busses from nursing homes were lined up outside the conference hall waiting to get people back for for the 5:00 pm blue plate special at the home. On the other end of the “ecclesiastical scale”, a friend of mine who is a priest in the Episcopal Church in a northeastern diocese (once a bedrock area for Anglicans) predicts that half of the parishes in their diocese will close within the next decade. The issues driving this coming demise are not those of sexuality, or liberals versus conservatives, but of age, money, and the lack of younger trained clergy.
It is no longer a matter of “strengthening that which remains” or even “staying the course”. If any of us, in any of our faith communities, limit our vision to the maintenance of the status quo, we will fail to weather the change that is already upon us.
In short, we are facing a generational change unlike almost anything we have seen before. I will not repeat all the figures from last year’s Pew Survey result, except to say that skepticism about religion is especially evident among younger people with the study finding that barely a quarter of millennials attend church services on a weekly basis. Researchers acknowledged that some young people may become more religious as they grow older, but their data suggest that the generational differences in religious belief could well endure. “The oldest Millennials, now in their late 20s and early 30s, are generally less observant than they were seven years ago,” the study concluded. “If these trends continue American society is likely to grow less religious even if those who are adults today maintain their current levels of religious commitment.”
We’re going to have to face reality, whether we want to or not, because this reality is soon going to be confronting us, week by week, Sunday by Sunday, empty pew by empty pew. We may already have waited too long.