“Children are the future” “Catch them when they’re young”

How often do you hear statements like these? They’re common in the church, where clergy complain that “my church is full of old women”. Yes, yes, of course the elderly are valued members, they add, but what we REALLY want is young people.

Similarly, the chair of Table Tennis England recently wrote that “The future of our sport lies in young hands”. She acknowledged the valuable contribution of older people who make up the bulk of Table Tennis England membership, however … there was a “however”, it’s young people who are the future.

I too want to see more young people enjoying table tennis, and those with exceptional talent going on to play at an elite level. I want to see children and young people develop their spiritual lives through church communities. But old people are the future too. Here’s why:

  • There are increasingly large numbers of them, most of whom are in reasonable health, with many years of active service to offer. If others are put off by the sight of a largely older membership, challenge the stereotype. Many organisations would collapse without them.
  • Older people bring children, grandchildren or other young people into organisations, just as children bring adults with them.
  • “Catch them young” is counter-productive. If church is what you do when you’re a child, for example, you’re very likely to want to stop as you leave childhood behind. In fact, to guarantee children grow up as Christians, ban church altogether and raise them on Richard Dawkins! With sports like table-tennis, while elite players need to start young, too much pressure to perform at a young age can put people off for life.

Insisting that children are the future is disrespectful to children who matter because of who they are NOW, not because of some theoretical future benefit. It is discouraging for older people who also matter because of who they are and what they bring now.

There is a place for activities and organisations for particular age groups. I run one myself. But let’s not set age groups against each other, or make out that one group is more valuable than another.

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