The results of the 2010 census have been released and it reports what we knew, only more so. It is not headline news to announce that America is changing. The statistics have surprised people, however, at the rate America is being altered. Here are some examples:
Over the last 20 years, from 1990-2010:
-Almost half of America’s population growth (30 million people) has come from Hispanics. There are now 50 million in America.
-The traditional family (2 parents, 2 or more children) continues to decline.
-16% of American homes are intergenerational.
-One-person households grew from 25% to 27%
-Only 1/3 of households now have children.
-The 24% of Americans who are under 18 is at a record low.
–57% of Black people live in the South, the highest percentage since 1960.
-By 2042 less than half the American population will be white, and non-Hispanic.
-Half of women who marry wait until they are 26. Half of men who marry wait until at least age 28.
-Men who reach 65 are expected to live until 83. For women it is 85.
-More than half of Americans live in the suburbs (158 million).
-Rural populations are declining.
-Population is growing most in the South and West. For the first time, more people live in the West than in the Midwest.
-In 2010, 24 million adult children lived at home.
-The 85 and older group grew from 3 million to 5.5 million.
What does this suggest? It certainly indicates that the methods and focus of churcheswill need to adjust to these major shifts. The growing number of Hispanics,single member families, elderly, and childless couples ought to cause churches to rethink the way they deliver their ministries. Denominations such as Southern Baptists are recognizing that they cannot have their primary focus on rural ministries, as the populations are increasingly found in the cities and the suburbs.
Unfortunately the church has generally never been quick to adjust to changing demographicrealities. Businesses do, of course, or they go bankrupt. But often churches become comfortably entrenched in their programing and calendar and then become bewildered when attendance declines.
This does not mean that churches set their agendas based on the next national census. But it does mean that God’s people are very much aware of what is happening in their nation as well as where the needs are. When Joshua was preparing to conquer Canaan, he commissioned two spies to reconnoiter before they took out the city. Ultimately, God gave them the plan, but Joshua was aware of the demographics! Jesus organized His disciples into pairs so they could cover more territory as He sent them out. Jesus received His plan from His Father, but He had also selected people largely from the demographic He intended to reach. Church growth that is driven merely by sociological data is no more spiritual thanbusinesses that conduct market research. But likewise, churches that blithely assume that God will bless their church as long as they keep the doors open are extremely naïve.
Certainly ministry in America must take Hispanics into account. Our ministry realized we were not focusing enough on providing materials in Spanish. We are seeking to address that. (I also encouraged my kids in college to take Spanish!). I heard of a Caucasian church that had suffered steadily decline until it no longercould afford a pastor. The community had transitioned to become largely Hispanic and many of their Caucasian members had moved out of the area. They sent a delegation to the largest Caucasian church remaining in the community to ask what they should do. They were offered three possibilities. 1. They could call a Hispanic pastor and intentionally transition their church. 2. They could give the building to a Hispanic church and their remaining members could consolidate with the other Caucasian church. 3. They could do nothing, and die. They ultimately chose to die. Unable to respond to the changing demographics of their neighborhood, they dwindled away until they disbanded. Unfortunately,there are many churches essentially doing the same thing.
I am also seeing churches recognize that they need to develop more extensive singles’ ministries beyond high school. Often churches offer extensive programming through high school but then there is nothing more provided until those teenagers become married adults. Americans are remaining single later in life and it is at that stage they desperately need a social network and help in hearing God’s voice as they make important career and marital decisions.
Scripture notes of David: “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep . . .” (Acts 13:36). I am increasingly feeling the weight of the seemingly self-evident truth that we cannot serve any other generation but our own. We cannot serve the people of the 1950s or the 2050s. We must serve the people, by the will of God, of 2012. That means we allow God to make whatever adjustments He wants to in our approach and emphasis until we are exerting the maximum impact upon thepeople we have been called to reach.
Ask yourself the question: Is my ministry, church, and witness today having themaximum impact Christ wants me to have upon the people of my generation?