A Simple Formula to Determine If Your Church Members Are Too Old

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I know. I wrote a provocative title for this article. I changed it several times, but I eventually came back to it.

The obvious question is: are the members too old for what? My response is another question, but it could still lack clarity. Are they too old for the church to continue on a path of health?

If you are a senior adult and find yourself disturbed by this conversation, please know that I am one of you. I have been a senior adult for a few years now. I estimate the median age of the attendees of my church is 28. I am 40 years older than the median age!

I am not just old; I am ancient. I will soon be a candidate for display in the museum of antiquity.

Why am I concerned about the ages of church members? Is there any way to determine if your church members are too old for the church to be effective? Let me attempt to answer both questions.

What’s the Big Deal about the Ages of Church Members?

Though this issue is rarely addressed in a public forum, I hear from pastors and other church leaders who express this concern every week. They know that the median age of the church members is much older than it was in the recent past. They express their fears with these ancillary issues:

    • If we get to the point where we have no youth or children, our church will not have a future. One pastor told us he was “11 funerals away from closing the doors.”
    • Younger church members have a vitality about them that can diminish with age.
    • Younger members are best to lead some ministries in the church.
    • When a young family visits a church with few younger people in it, they are not likely to return.

Please hear me clearly. While I would not want to be in a church with all senior adults, I do not wish to be in a church with no senior adults either. We older people are typically more faithful attenders, more faithful givers, and often have a bit of wisdom that comes with age.

So When Does the Church Get Too Old?

Though our approach is far from perfect, our team at Church Answers looks at the age metric in our newly created Church Health Scorecard™. It’s a simple process:

    • Estimate the median age of the attendees in your church. Remember, “median” is not the same as “average.” The median is the midpoint where half of the population is on either side. For example, a church with a median age of 43 is one where half of the attendees are under 43 years old and half are over 43 years old. Try to count those who attend rather than looking at the membership roll. Don’t forget to count the children and youth, even if they are not present in the worship services.
    • Find the median age for your church’s community. You can get that information from the Census Bureau. Our Know Your Community report has great community information, including the age of the residents in your church’s defined community. The median age of the population of the United States is 38 years old.
    • Then, compare the median age of your church to the median age of the church’s community. We have a Know Your Community report that covers the community within a 15-minute drive of the church. The community has a median age of 34, and our church has a median age of 28. The variance is thus -6 (minus 6).

Now, you can take the variance you calculated and evaluate it with our “traffic lights.”

    • Green Light: +5 and lower. This number means that the median age of the church is no more than five years older than the median age of the community. The green light also includes negative numbers, which means that the church members are younger than the community. A church with these numbers will relate well to the community, even if it is significantly younger.
    • Yellow Light: +6 to +12. A church with members 6 to 12 years older than the community might be losing its youthful vitality. While the church is not in an “age” crisis, the congregation could be drifting away from attracting younger families.
    • Red Light, +13 and Higher. The church is at least a half-generation older than the community. As the number grows, the congregation will be in an age crisis. The younger community may not view the church as relevant if they know about the church at all.

While these numbers have limitations, they might be helpful for you and church leaders to consider.

Is your church at the green light, yellow light, or red light?

Let me hear from you in the comments.

Posted on April 1, 2024


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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13 Comments

  • Thank you for this! Our church is going through upheaval right now because we hired a young pastor to help draw a younger audience. A few members have been trying to undermine the new pastor with inuendo, out and out lies, and misinformation.
    Ten members did not come to Easter service.
    The “too old” applies to us for sure! Many cannot tolerate change of any kind and cannot accept the premiss that we are trying to plan for the church’s survival beyond their lifetime. (I would say the congregation is predominanty over 70 and into their upper 80’s)
    How do we deal with this?

  • Bill Walker says on

    Your green, yellow, red analogy is spot on. And unfortunately it puts our dwindling number in the red. We are one death away from a crises.
    Instituting an outreach and it is not too late

  • What about Jesus telling us I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail what about I think it was Moses who was 120 but had a physique as a 40 year old what about Adam lived so he was 969
    24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
    Noah lived to be 950 years old (Genesis 9:29) Noah had never seen what God told him. By faith in God, however, Noah obeyed and still is one of the most famous men ever.
    Job 1:1-5 with Job 42:16, Job lived to be at least 210 years old. Greatly used for Gods purpose and a lesson to imature counselers mportant is that Job even as an old man courageously listened to the Lord’s rebukes, humbly turned from his sins, and trusted the Lord.
    Abraham lived to be 175 years old (Genesis 25:8). His life easily breaks into two parts. At age 75, he turned from idols. Then for the next 100 years, Abraham followed the one true God, maker of heaven and earth (Acts
    7:2-8).
    What about the apostle John wasnt he between 80 and 90 when he died still used by God. The Apostle Perer was about 66 old enough to be hung on a cross upside down.
    Luke was martered at the age of 84.
    I’m John Bolger 12 I was converted at the age of 37 pretty late from a Catholic background well into drink and the world I serve the Lord ever since after an amazing controversion with no born again or biblical background whatsoever when I was 60 Iris in a horrendous car accident and managed to smash almost every bone in my body broke my neck first post lungs broke both legs almost lost my arm have to receive 63 points of blood on conscious for six weeks and in hospital for six months my stay was predicted to be at least a year in hospital but through determination and the help of God and physiotherapy I was so in six months in a wheelchair in a Granny scooter but again with God’s help and determination was restored back to virtually full health I’m now 71 I’m an exolder I reckon I could take on any 40 year old most of them are either two skinny or too fat a lot of them have not had much experienced of hard work like I myself did coming over from Ireland and working underground and overground on skyscrapers building roads and trained to be a plaster bricklayer roofer and all these things I am still at the moment working especially in retirement on a new renovation of an old chapel and I’ve no intention of giving up unfortunately too many Christians are listening to the scientists follow the science they say rather than getting their direction from the Bible I’m sorry to have to say but a lot of pastor and Bible teachers today don’t believe in a Six-Day creation this is a sad thing to have to say and that is why most of them have gone woke with the rest of the world.
    But isn’t it true that the church is the ecclesia of God in other words the cold of God arent they the colled out ones called out of the world called to serve the Lord Jesus Christ by the help and power of the Holy Spirit.
    The Holy Spirit the second person of the Trinity doesn’t grow old make sure you serve your old people well some whom will be still serving God in the old peoples home even while there on ther deth bed breathing there last . John Bolger PS you will have to forgive my spelling and lack of grammer as I didnt have the privilege of a good education.

  • Our know your community report says the median age of the community is 51. Our congregation has 20 under the age of 50 (including 14 children from age 2 to 16) and 24 quite a bit over 50 – mostly in their 60’s , 70’s and 80’s. Feels like red for us. The good news is there are new communities building up in the area. Not sure our antique church complete with historical marker out front will be attractive to younger families, but we’re working on it with a new sign and some community outreach.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Vicki –

      For now, it looks like your church is in the green (with at 51 year old median in the community). As the new communities develop, the median age is likely to drop significantly.

  • My church is at a “Red Light”. Miracle of miracles, we are seeing a few children. But, I certainly don’t yet see a trend younger.

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    While I appreciate the need for local churches to be multigenerational and I recognize how a cogregation can age to the point that a church is no longer viable, it has also been my experience that the obsession with maintaining a young appearance out of a desire to attract young families results in ageism in churches that prioritize the maintenance of this appearance. Older Christians find themselves sidelined and benched because they do not fit the image that church leaders are seeking to project. It does not matter if they are knowledgeable, talented, have years of experience, and the requisite spiritual gifts. It does not matter if they still have a lot of energy and have a high level of vounteering compared to youger people or that they have a lot of connections in the community. They may be tolerated because they give more than younger people but they are apt to encounter an age barrier when it comes to assuming a role that might place them in the public eye.

  • Bob Myers says on

    Ha! I saw your title and immediately began to formulate a response even before I read your blog. I’m glad you have the self-awareness to realize you were baiting us with a provocative title.

    Intriguing post and helpful formula, Thom. I wonder if folks who fall into the green or red catigories intitively know where they lie on the continuum. I will try and have someone crunch our numbers, but I’m somewhat confident that we are in the “red” zone. Looking at city-data for our zip code, our median age is 29.1 and there are a lot of folks on Medicare in my congregation, including me.

    One of your statements triggered me, however: “The younger community may not view the church as relevant if they know about the church at all.” As Pilate quieried Jesus about truth, I have to ask, “What is relevance?” Is it an accomodation to our American culture (where it seems paramount) or is it an essential value for the Kingdom of God?

    I don’t mean to hijack this discussion. But I do think the question is “relevant” (ha!) to faithful ministry. My thinking is informed in part by Os Guiness’ thoughtful little book, “Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance” and Thomas Bergler’s “The Juvenilization of American Chrisitanity.”

    At any rate, I do think it would be very helpful to know where a church stands, especially if it is gentrified. There are steps that such a congregation will likely need to take if it is to thrive into its future. But, if I may make one more suggestion, “relvance” as conceived by Boomers (we brought on the “worship wars) may not be the same as concevied by Millenials.

    Thanks again for this provocation.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Bob –

      Good response. I do think most church staff and active members intuitively understand the age issue for their respective churches. I hope this metric provides a bit more objective confirmation, particularly where the red light begins when the difference is one-half of a generation.

  • Randy Keeley says on

    Very good article giving some helpful benchmarks. I hope you follow up with strategies for churches in the yellow and red.