July 9, 2010
In 1979 Neil Young came out with a song on his Rust Never Sleeps album called, “My, My, Hey, Hey.” Now, that song my not ring a bell with you, but out of that song comes a lyrical phrase that most have probably heard, “Better to burn out than to fade away.” That phrase became even more popular after it was found April 8, 1984 in the suicide note of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana. In both cases, that lyrical phrase had to do with the death of a rock icon. The first was Elvis Presley, the second was Kurt himself.
No one desires to simply fade away into oblivion when they die. In fact, most spend a lifetime trying to build some kind of legacy that will last beyond their time on this earth. Local churches are really no different. Like individuals, most churches desire to leave a lasting legacy as well. Sadly, many churches have experienced vision drift and their original passion has faded away.
If you do a google search on the average size of the American church, you are likely to be frustrated by the facts. No one really knows for sure, but it is estimated that attendance, in 75 percent of American churches, ranges somewhere between 75 -100 or less on any given Sunday. To make matters worse, the median age of those attending church is on the rise while the median age of the unchurched, continues to decline. Many churches are quietly fading away with little to no trace that they ever existed.
Some mainline denominations are experiencing a major crisis due to the age of general membership. According to David T. Olsen:
“In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the average age of church members is 58. For United Methodists, 61 is the average age. Sixty percent of Episcopalians are over age 50; 38 percent are over age 60. The older the members of a church are, the slower the church grows. Why? Older members do not have children, so they do not help the church grow through reproduction. Older members also tend to adjust slowly to cultural changes.”
The early years of a church plant are chaotic, to say the least. As the church begins to mature and grow, the church experiences greater financial stability, membership starts to climb and the chaos of the early years begins to fade. Many planters welcome this sense of calmness. It is often during these times that the planter must re-engage the vision. The planter or planting team will need to choose between change or stability; between being conservative or remaining bold.