Ageism is seeping into our church culture says Christian charity

Mon 19 Aug 2019
By Heather Preston

The Church needs to be careful not to alienate older generations as "God never puts a retirement age on Christianity", a Christian charity has said. 

It comes as new research found 34 per cent of Britons discriminate against others because of their age.

A survey of 4,000 adults found that 1 in 30 people admitted to being ageist on a regular basis in the UK, with people in their thirties most likely to use age discriminating language.

The Ageist Britain report analysed thousands of blogs and twitter posts in the UK and found the most age discriminating language was used by people in their 30s, with the phrases "old fart", "little old lady" and "old hag" among the most used.


Steve Robinson, CEO of Pramafoundation - an organisation promoting initiatives that give dignity to people in later life told Premier prejudice can easily slip into our language and people need to be mindful of the impact their words can have.

"There are some areas where we do feel that we can still get away with [prejudice]. Ageism and ageist language is one of those things, and it's whether it's in the community, but also when the community seeps into the church as well.

"When we are unintentionally ageist, it makes people within our congregations feel less valued. It makes them feel unhappy, and it alienates them for what else is going on within the community.

The report also found that 40 per cent of British people over 50 regularly experience ageism, with one in three commonly experiencing it at work, one in 10 on public transport, and one in seven while shopping.

Mr Robinson says that this is a big problem in our churches too. He argues that a strong focus on appealing to younger generations in our services has made it harder for older people to connect.

"So often, when we go into what we think of as a modern, vibrant church, we use video projectors, we use the full immersion 'Hillsong' type experience, which I love, to be honest. But it's also very difficult for people who are getting slightly slower at processing information to keep up with words and images that are constantly flashing on screens and constantly changing."
"There has to be something where we can help people of any age engage. If we're not doing that, then we are unconsciously having some form of ageism within our churches."

Steve says the problem of ageism stems from unhelpful stereotypes, where people make unfounded assumptions that serve to limit our views of people.
He said: "It's when you make someone feel excluded or disadvantaged. That's when the ageism comes in.
"One story comes to mind of a lady who we provide care for - many would look at and say she's a 'little old lady' and they make all sorts of assumptions about her.

"This little old fragile lady actually used to be a missionary in Africa and she was a doctor. Now having had all that wealth of experience all that Christian strength, and stamina that's required to do that, the commitment and the calling, all that is put to one side because she's seen as being a little old lady.

"I think that is just so awful for the church to do. It's disrespectful of the older people we need is to get rid of these silos that we put people in and have communities of all generations."

Mr Robinson says the Church needs to acknowledge the value and wisdom that older members of our congregations have to offer.

"As a church, we can we tend to put a retirement age on being a Christian, up until a certain age you're an active Christian, you've got a calling, you've got a ministry, you've got something that God wants you to do.

"And then you've hit the age of 65/70 and that's something you used to do. And now you're not valuable.

"God never puts a retirement age on Christianity."

When asked if he thinks that other age groups can suffer discrimination within church settings Steve said the Church should be for all generations to learn from one another and grow together as the body of Christ.

"What I think we've had so much in the recent past is we've been siloed people into the youth group, the children's group, the young 20s, or 30s. And no one ever gets to talk to each other, no one ever gets to learn from one another. We might worship together for 20 minutes before they go off into their groups. But we never build relationships between generations."

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