US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Are "old people"--I mean baby boomers--the problem with the church?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

I didn't say it! I'm only reporting what Religion News Service columnist Tom Ehrich, an Episcopal priest, wrote in his column this week. (NB: Ehrich is a boomer himself.)

Ehrich points out--without citing any evidence--that the most successful churches he sees "tend to be startups, not because young startup pastors are more capable, but because they don't have older members standing in their way." Ehrich is most likely talking about mainline congregations, but I wonder if his observation doesn't apply to Catholic churches as well.

Think about it: Who are lay leaders in your parish? Who coordinates the lectors or heads the social justice or prolife committee? Who is the president of the parish council? I know of a Lutheran church in Chicago who actively seeks out parish board members under 40; their last three board presidents have been people in their lower 30s.

In my own church, we recently let a 20-something youth minister and religious ed coordinator go for budgetary reasons, despite the fact that the number of kids in the program more than doubled over her three years. At the same time we raised more than $50,000 to replace a dilapidated organ. Whose priorities do you think that decision reflected?

Father John Cusick, who founded Chicago's successful young adult ministry, sees entrenched oldtimers as part of the problem when it comes to younger Catholics. The "pay your dues" mentality doesn't compute to the younger generation--who, contrary to popular belief, are not more "entitled" than boomers. He asks people to move on from YAM after they turn 40.

Obviously the church needs its boomers as much as it needs its millennials. But is it time to make a preferential option for the young, even if that means stepping aside?