Ageism in the Church – The Insufferable, Obnoxious Fixation on the Under-25s Demographic

One of the themes of this blog is exploring how and why so many American churches and denominations and the Christian community in general either ignore never-married Christians over the age of 30, or treat them like garbage.

On a similar note, I’ve noticed that a lot of American Christians are guilty of ignoring or not caring about the needs or spiritual growth of anyone over 25 years of age.

My mother used to take me to church weekly when I was a child. We moved often, so the older I got, we did not attend churches as often.

I definitely remember feeling welcomed at church at ages 3 to 10. I did not feel like an outsider at a young age. There were Bible stories for us read out of kiddie Bibles, and punch and cookies.

I went to different churches here and there, off and on, in my 20s, but not often enough to pick up a feel of how Christians treated 20 somethings.

I began going to church regularly again when I was in my mid 30s. It was then, walking in to a church alone at 35 or 36, that I felt out of place and peculiar. It was then I began to notice how I was one of the few people sitting alone in the pews. Everyone else was part of a couple.

I further began noticing how most of the sermons or activities were for married couples or pertained to parenting.

I had wondered if I was alone in noticing or feeling these things until a few years ago, I began reading the occasional book about singlehood in Christianity.

The authors of these books confirmed it was not in my imagination, and that a lot of other unmarried Christians past the age of 30 noticed the same things I was.

One of the books I read, Quitting Church, by author Julia Duin, mentioned how churches are alienating not just unmarried people in general, but anyone over the age of 25, and I agree.

Almost any time I see church membership figures discussed by preachers on television shows or on blogs, and how Barna research and other pollsters and survey groups report that church membership and attendance is in steep decline, these preachers wring their hands in worry and wonder how they can attract more people.

One of the common solutions I see offered by preachers is to entice the under- age – 25 demographic to attend, which seems to mean putting a rock band on stage during Sunday morning services and having the pastor dress in casual clothing and flip flops.

Not only is extra focus on the under-25s terribly unfair to anyone over 25 (i.e., it’s ageist), but it makes the entire affair irrelevant – especially for female Christians.

I felt very comfortable in a church environment when I was 4, 6, or 10 years old, but when I walked back in at mid-30s, not at all.

While churches offer programs, songs, activities for children, and acknowledge children from the pulpit every now and then, preachers and the church community don’t mention or tailor anything for people over the age of 30, except for the occasional “divorce recovery” groups.

If you are a female, your problem is ten fold. Most conservative churches are against a female leading or teaching at any time or for any reason, or some churches permit older (as in over the age of 20) females to serve only in very limited roles, such as baby sitter in the church nursery.

If you are a female who has no interest in babies or children, you are not going to have any desire at all in serving around children, so working in the nursery will not be appealing or make one feel as though one has purpose.

If you are a female who God has gifted in areas of teachings or leading, most churches, due to their “gender complementarian” views (views which are not biblical, contrary to what they believe), will not allow you to practice those gifts.

It’s a very shocking, startling experience to be told by churches that they love and accept you when you are a five year old or a ten year old female child and to feel that inclusion, but they have no use for you when you hit 20, 30- something, 40+- something.

This situation is made ten times worse if you are a never married, childless female over 25 years of age.

Here’s my question for the preachers who are consumed with attracting people who are under 25 years old: why? What is the point in attracting these younger people if you only intend on turning around in another five years and totally ignoring them?

Do you only care about getting their butt in the pew when they are 15, and getting them “saved?” Do you not care about what happens to them when they are 30 and facing career problems? Or when they are 35, still not married and wanting help from the church in getting a mate? Or when they are 45, 50 years old and trying to care for aging parents?

If you are not going to care for the needs and pain of people over the age of 25 / 30 now (and most of you preachers and churches do not), why are you reeling in kids today – just so you can ignore and ostracize them in another five to ten years?

In reading about the decline of church membership, I’ve also come across the anecdotal evidence that many churches are also guilty of ignoring the widows and widowers in their churches, especially the ones over 50 or 60 years of age.

If you are in your 20s and are reading this and consider yourself a committed Christian, and you attend church fairly regularly, let me tell you what’s in store for you in ten or 15 years: most churches will not give a hoot about you.

Most churches will not extend much effort at trying to meet your needs, to hold on to your membership and participation, hold activities that are of use to you or your life stage.

And if you mention any of this, you will be told all the usual cliches, such as…

You go to church to serve, not be served; stop the pity party; you should be more “servant minded,” etc.

In other words, most preachers and church staff don’t care if you feel alienated or ignored. They don’t care and don’t want to do anything to rectify the situation.

Unless the American church makes some radical changes, I would advise people to stay away, including anyone under 25.

Why would any church expend so much time, money, and energy trying to attract teenagers, knowing full well that in another 15 – 20 years, they will brush these people aside to again focus on the ages three to 25?

Related posts this blog:

(Link): Aged Out of Church by M. Van Loon (For Christians over the Age of 35 – 40 – Churches ignoring middle aged adults)

(Link): Mature Christians Need to Stop Allowing the Under 30 Crowd to Direct the Entire State of Christian Affairs

(Link): Never Married Christians Over Age 35 who are childless Are More Ignored Than Divorced or Infertile People or Single Parents

(Link): Standing Alone – single or never married Christians over 35 years old – by Cristina Foor

(Link): The Church / Christians Have Failed Are Failing Older Single / Never Married Christians

(Link): Why It May Be Wiser For Women to Enter First Marriage At Age 40+ – especially ones from religious or conservative families

(Link): Post by Sarah Bessey Re: Churches Ignore Never Married Older and/or Childless Christian Women, Discriminate Against Them

(Link): Note to people who use stock photography in commercials – 40 something does not look like age 60+

(Link): The Stupid Advice We Give To Single Women Over 40 (from the Current Conscience Blog)

(Link): Myths About Never Married Adults Over Age 40

(Link): One in 25 babies born to over-40s / 53 year old woman gives birth to baby

(Link): What You Learn in Your 40s by P. Druckerman

(Link): Never-Married Men Over 40: Date-able or Debate-able?

7 thoughts on “Ageism in the Church – The Insufferable, Obnoxious Fixation on the Under-25s Demographic”

  1. I was welcomed into a young singles group at a church I just started attending, felt very welcomed. Then two weeks later they pulled me aside and said that because of my age (I’m 35) that they would “encourage” me to go to the thirtysomethings singles group. This person even admitted that most women are married by 30 so it basically tells me it’s filled with single men. I just can’t believe after being welcomed so warmly, all they had to find out was my DOB and I’m gone. I don’t look even close to 30.

    1. @Joshua D. Garvin

      I’m sorry about that.

      Once you get past your mid or late 20s (it depends on the church), you just no longer fit in anymore, if you’re not married.

      I’m still single in my 40s (have not married yet). I felt out of place in my mid 30s going to churches. There are usually little to no adult singles from around age 30 – 50/60 in many churches.

      The people who are in those age ranges who are there are married with children.

      One church I went to in my mid 30s, the singles adult class was mostly women (and I’m a woman who was hoping to meet a single guy my age), and they were divorced and in their 40s. Some of them spent a chunk of the class talking about being divorced and complaining about their ex spouse, which was awkward for me.

      Went to another church (Baptist) when I was about 38 years old, and though they advertise their church as being a happening singles place for singles age 35 and up on their site (which is why I went to start with), their singles class (for mid 30s to 50) was filled with one 40s lady, one married guy (his wife was not there that day), and the rest were weird, or socially awkward or obese men over 45.

      Evangelical and Baptist churches are really bad about not just lacking middle aged adults (singles), but they are a little too strict about the age limits.

      On the other hand…. I have read online there are perverted 40-something year old men, who, instead of sticking with their church’s 40- something age Sunday school class, go attend the class for 20 somethings, because they are trying to pick up a 20 year old girlfriend – which creeped out the ladies in that class. The preacher had to kick the 40 something males out over it.

      So, I can see how it may be a good idea to enforce age barriers. I don’t know.

      I just find most churches do not even have many singles ages 30 – 60. It’s mostly married couples or teen agers.

  2. Please don’t apologize for rambling. When a person has a lot to think about (like I do), it’s only natural.

    Interesting thought about Christians not expecting or praying for God to do anything miraculous: The last church I attended (a large United Methodist congregation) held a meeting roughly a year and a half ago about forming an organized, formal prayer group. I attended this meeting, which was led by the senior pastor. The plan was for the group to meet once weekly at the church complex to pray for various requests received over the last 7 days, then make a schedule to visit people at home or in hospitals or nursing homes to pray with them individually. During this meeting, the pastor specifically instructed us NOT to pray for an individual to be healed during any visits, if they requested prayer for an illness. We were instead to offer a general prayer for God to “touch the person at their point of need” and to “provide comfort.” This same pattern was used in our services whenever intercessory prayer was offered. The reason: to avoid hurting friends and family members’ emotions if healing didn’t occur and to avoid having them angry at the congregation or pastors. I left the meeting amazed at hearing this! It left me feeling that maybe, indeed, even clergy members don’t honestly believe God is omnipotent and are afraid to ask Him anything boldly (as another New Testament verse instructs Christians to do). Not to my surprise, the prayer group never got out of the planning stages.

  3. I found this blog sometime during the past month and have been reading it avidly. I have had the same experience mentioned here: feeling that Christian churches have nothing to offer me at my stage of life. My experience is a little different, however: I’m a relatively young widow after being involuntarily single for many years. I was married for the first time at age 40, and my spouse died just a few weeks before my 45th birthday in 2010. Thus, I have had the dubious distinction of being involuntarily single not once, but twice in my lifetime. Plus, I don’t have children but desperately want to be a mom (and not only to be a mother, but to conceive and give birth before I run out of time).

    It seems that churches and fellow Christians don’t know what to do with me. I don’t fall into any neat category. Most Christian resources offered for people in their 40’s are aimed at married people with children at home. For widows, the resources are generally aimed at senior citizens. For my desire for children, I get all the usual platitudes of “just adopt” or “you can be a mother figure without having your own children.” (On that last point, I have met very few people who support the notion of a 48-year-old woman seeking to marry again AND become pregnant. For those who love to tell the stories of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, and who love to say “with God all things are possible,” when it comes to late-life conception, it seems most Christians, deep down, don’t believe God can or will work to give an older woman a baby the old-fashioned way.) Add to this mix my mother’s death in 2011, after a painful physical decline that lasted several years, and the fact that I have no surviving immediate family (I am an only child and both of my parents are deceased), and that further befuddles everyone.

    I have simply reached the conclusion that Christianity doesn’t hold the solutions to my life’s challenges, and that God’s character, painted as all-loving and all-powerful, isn’t what I’ve been taught it is. I am facing life alone, while receiving little to no comfort from a place and people I’ve previously thought I could turn to and receive concrete, tangible, effective help. It is, however, somewhat comforting to find there are others who feel the same way I do. Thank you for letting me know this.

    1. Thank you for the comments, Martha.

      I’m very sorry for your many losses, that of your spouse and other family, and that you would like to have children but have not been able to thus far.

      I really related to your post. If this post is very long and meanders all over the place, I apologize. I related to it so much, I’m not sure where to start.

      I could have written most of it! Not all the details are the same – I’ve never been married and am ambivalent about having children myself, for example – but many of your experiences are similar to mine.

      I do have a few living family left, but for all means and purposes, I’m pretty alone.

      I don’t have a great relationship with either sibling I have. I cannot really count on either one of them. My father is still living, but he has the compassion of a rock. I love him, but he has never been a source of comfort for me… that would be my mom, and she died a few years ago.

      I have extended family, but they ignore me (even though I’ve tried reaching out to them).

      So I do have family, but I feel alone. I’ve tried going to other Christians (at churches and such) but have found many of them to be judgmental or critical, and some churches are so fixated on marriage and kids, if you are not married with a child, you feel out of place.

      I totally agree with you that Christians love to quote the stories of miracles from the Bible about how God can do things, such as allow an older lady to become pregnant, but where the rubber meets the road, in day to day life, Christians actually behave live like atheists on the matter.

      Early on in this blog (and even before then, when I hosted this content on Geocities), I used to write about that subject.

      If you are past age the age of 40, 50, and say you want marriage and/or to get pregnant, many Christians act like it’s impossible or as though it’s naive for you to expect either one to come to pass, that God will not or cannot do some things.

      I was never like that. I always believed anything was possible for God.

      (In the last couple of years though, my opinions may have shifted. I’m now wondering if the “pray and wait on God” stuff I was taught growing up was naive and wrong. Maybe you are supposed to go out and look for a spouse, not just sit around praying for one and hope you meet a suitable guy at a church function.)

      Anyway, for a long time, my only sticking point was not “CAN God do thus and so?” but “WILL God do thus and so?”

      The God of the Bible is all powerful and can do anything, but it seems like sometimes his answer is to say “No” to our prayers. That bothers me.

      If you’ve seen the “About” page of this blog, you can see I was a Christian my whole life but the past few years have been becoming more agnostic.

      I am not seeing the promises of the Bible come true in my own life, and I did not see them come true in the lives of a few other devout Christians I know / knew.

      I have done a handful of posts on this blog about unanswered prayer; unanswered prayer is contributing to my agnosticism (among other things).
      (One such post: On Prayer and Christ’s Comment to Grant You Anything You Ask in His Name
      and another:
      Unanswered Prayer.)

      I’m tired of pat, cliched answers from Christians on every topic, from singleness, to grief over death, to many other things.

      Yes, I have seen on Christian blogs and forums, where if a woman says she is infertile or wants a baby but can’t get a husband, some well meaning Christian will jump in to say, “You can satisfy your motherhood urges by volunteering to work in the church nursery, or baby sit your nieces and nephews, or work as a grade school teacher!”

      I get what they’re saying, but I think it would be far more compassionate and helpful to get down on that person’s level and say, “I am so sorry you have not been able to have a baby,” and to offer to pray for the person, e.g., ‘Please, God, bless this person with a child of her own.”

      I sometimes felt frustrated by Christians who do not respect my desire for a spouse, and how it puts you, as a single, between a rock and a hard place.

      I did a blog post about it once:
      The Netherworld of Singleness for Some Singles – You Want Marriage But Don’t Want to Be Disrespected or Ignored for Being Single While You’re Single

      It’s amazing that so many Baptist and evangelical Christians / churches hype marriage as much as they do, but many of them, when you go to them and admit feeling sad for not having a spouse, or ask them to pray for you that God send you a spouse, you will get lectures about it where they make you feel bad or ashamed for wanting a spouse, where they tell you that you should be content in your singleness, etc etc etc. (They do the same thing with the topic of women who want babies but who are unable to have a baby.)

      I got one book by two Christian women authors a couple of years ago about singleness that was such a disappointment in some ways. I thought if anyone would be understanding about being past your mid 30s and still single, it would be these ladies, but…

      While the authors did a wonderful job detailing how evangelical Christianity stigmatizes singles and lamenting this fact, they never the less spent the last half of their book essentially shaming singles past age 35 – 40 who still want to get married!

      The authors’ attitude of that book is that only eternity matters, God does not care about your earthly happiness (which includes your marital status, in their opinion), so, according to them, you should suck it up and learn to cope with being single until you die.

      In the mean time, you should skip and frolic along in flower- covered meadows, go to church every week (even though most churches treat singles like crud), they feel you should spend all your time being super spiritual, being content reading your Bible, and thinking about how awesome Jesus is… (not that they actually wrote those things quite like that, but I am saying that was their attitude in the book).

      There is just no encouragement by Christians out there for Christian singles past the age of 35 who would still like to be married – not even by older singles who had hope to marry who write books about it! I want to go bang my head against a wall.

      We singles past 35 who still want to marry and/or have children are thought delusional, out of touch, selfish, and so on, for wanting marriage, or for trying dating sites, etc.

      Well, there is one group, the marriage mandaters, who are somewhat supportive of Christian singles who want marriage, but…

      The mandaters tend to go the other extreme to say if you are still single past the age of 30, it’s your own fault, you are a loser, God commands everyone to marry (and to marry young and have ten kids apiece).

      (See for instance this blog post, Article: Age 30 [over over age 30] And Single? It’s Your Own Fault which sort of explains more of their views.)

      But mostly, there is no support in Christian culture for older singles who want to marry.

      The glaring amount of insensitivity is astounding, as well as hypocritical – churches build up parenting and getting married to the absolute hilt but then fault you for trying to achieve either one for yourself!

      Anyway, I’m sorry if I have rambled on too long.

      I am very sorry for what all you’ve been through.

      I have met a few other people in a similar situation to yours and mine either here on the blog (they have left comments under other posts), or I’ve bumped in to them on other blogs or forums.

      I know what it’s like to be lonely, alone, to have unfulfilled desires in life, no support, little to no family to lean on, and to witness a church that is uncaring or insensitive about you / your particular situation/life stage.

      I also am sorry if I come across as too ranty on this blog, but I am so sick and tired of how most Christians treat anyone who doesn’t fit the “married with three kids by age 30” type like dirt or like odd balls and find it very insulting and against the character and teachings of the one they claim to follow, Jesus Christ.

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