By Jean Hopfensperger, Star Tribune.
A Presbyterian glancing around the church would find lots of company — if they’re over age 50. With 70 percent of their churchgoers over that age, Presbyterians are the “oldest” religious group in the nation.
United Methodists, Anglicans and United Church of Christ come next, with more than 60 percent of members eligible to join AARP.
As religious groups across the nation grapple with ways to grow and sustain membership, new research underscores the pressure on mainline Protestants. They’ve watched the 50-plus crowd become an ever-growing share of membership, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, while emerging faiths in the United States and groups with no religious affiliation enjoy the largest share of young faces.
How to keep a church vibrant in this cultural landscape is a constant question facing religious leaders across the nation.
“A church’s age is important because it reflects its ability to pass its life to new generations,” said Dwight Zscheile, an assistant professor of congregation mission at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. “A faith community without that ability doesn’t have much of a future.”
The age statistics were gleaned from a survey of more than 35,000 Americans involved in Pew’s 2015 report on America’s changing religious landscape. Last month the Pew center highlighted the “oldest” and “youngest” groups in a separate report. The figures, including median ages, are just for adults.
The oldest were Protestants who emerged in Europe several hundred years ago, noted Zscheile. That includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has deep roots in Minnesota but just 1 in 10 adherents under age 30, according to the survey.
The youngest groups included newer faiths in the United States, as well as those categorized as no faith and agnostic. More than 80 percent of Muslim adults are under age 50, the survey showed, including 4 in 10 under age 30.
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