My two oldest sons were home from Liberty University over Thanksgiving break, and it made me proud to hear them discussing life.
As we were driving, my son Reid spotted a gleaming red sports car and asked, “Why is it that Corvettes are almost always driven by grey-haired men?”
From the front seat my son Walker retorted, “Because it is older men who finally have the money to buy one.”
“Why is it that Corvettes are almost always driven by grey-haired men?”
As I listened, I couldn’t dispute my sons’ logic. When most Americans are young, they don’t have much disposable income for lavish purchases. But as life progresses, careers advance, and children leave home, men and women past the age of 50 finally have the financial ability to purchase what they’ve always dreamed of — the red Corvette, an overseas vacation, a beautiful dining set.
But examining the American cultural landscape today, it isn’t only Corvettes or dream vacations that capture the hearts and minds of 50-somethings. Many people in that category are actually thinking about spiritual things, revisiting church, even coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
For many years, experts have written that 85 percent of Christians become so before the age of 18. This is often called the 85/18 rule. But this statistic is mildly misleading, because it only holds true if the person grew up in a home where both parents were Christians — or where there was a high level of spiritual activity.
But many active Christians today did not grow up in a Christian home or with Christian parents. Among that group, nearly 60 percent came to faith sometime during adulthood, with some during retirement. In other words — many people who grew up with little or no spiritual influence will trust in Jesus Christ as adults, many in their 50s and beyond.
What are some of the reasons why many mature people are coming to a newfound faith in Jesus? Consider these four:
1.) They see that material things don’t bring lasting fulfillment.
By the time they reach 50, many Americans have been working for 30 years or more. These steady souls poured themselves into their vocations, hoping to build a family and a home. They experienced the joys of a nice house, a good income (one hopes — of course this is not always true), a reliable car, a Disney vacation. But even the best earthly pleasures do not bring lasting fulfillment or true satisfaction. The nicest vehicles rust out and break down. Houses grow old and become a burden. Careers can lose their luster after decades of dedication. As a result, 50-somethings understand the truth Jesus explained about earthly things in Matthew 6: “Where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19). This certainly opens a door to discussions of faith and eternal things.
2.) They see their own mortality.
Mammograms. Colonoscopies. Cholesterol. For older people, these are words learned by experience. Those who 50 and over know the ups and downs of physical health — and the bitter griefs that attend physical death. They know from hard experience what it means to bury a parent, or sit beside the bed of a friend who is battling cancer. As a result, people in their 50s wrestle with their own mortality, realizing they aren’t going to live forever. They understand the Bible is right: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). For many people, health crises and physical ailments bring new inquiries about God, salvation, and the afterlife.
3.) They see that government can’t create utopia.
My son Reid voted in his very first presidential election this November. But think about those 50-somethings. Most have voted in eight or nine different presidential elections. How many hundreds of votes were cast for representatives, governors, or judges in their lifetimes? Yet neither human government nor human laws have turned back the tide of evil. The world is still full of injustice, crime, and poverty. If the best human beings among us can’t make a lasting difference — where else is there to turn? Many people in their 50s finally perceive that the real answers are not in our books — but in God’s book.
4.) They see that something is missing.
As retirement looms, many older Americans become quite introspective. They start asking deeper questions like: “Does my life count for anything?” and “Is this all there is?” They can’t put their finger on it, but they sense something is missing. While many search on in vain, some finally discover the wonderful truth penned long ago by Saint Augustine: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord — and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” It is an amazing thing to watch a grey-haired person finally learn Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Today’s churches invest thousands of dollars every year in reaching out to children and young people, knowing the 85/18 rule. It is true that many people become Christians before age 18. But churches should not underestimate the power of God or the gospel by neglecting people who are older (Rom. 1:16). Repentance has no age limit, and salvation has no expiration date. Knowing this, we can be confident that people 50 and up will continue to come to faith in Jesus Christ.
So the next time you see that grey-haired gentleman at the gas-pump — putting fuel in his shiny red Corvette — stop and ask if he would like to come to church with you this weekend. You just might be surprised at the answer.
Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 17 years. He is a regular contributor to LifeZette.