There is an age wave that is about to hit the church like a tsunami. Two big factors, the size of the Boomer population and longer life expectancy, are going to have a tremendous impact on the church of tomorrow. By the year 2030, 20% or more of our church congregations are predicted to be age 65 and older. That is up from about 12% in the year 2000.
Because of this coming wave of older adults, I have decided to pull an excerpt from the book The Graying of the Flock. I hope this will jump-start your thinking about what your church’s ministry to senior adults will look like in the near future. Potlucks, game nights, and annual trips to see fall leaves changing color are not going to attract or minister to the Boomers who are retiring daily in surprisingly large numbers. New models of ministry are needed. The book was a wake-up call when it was first written; it continues to challenge us to think about how we will adjust our senior adult ministries.
The new model for senior adult ministry rests squarely within activity theory. In the past, senior adult ministry typically meant ministry TO older individuals. Lower life expectancy and a less advanced health care system usually meant that individuals who survived into their seventh and eighth decade of life were not only extremely rare but also very limited in their mobility. Today, however, senior adults are healthier and more active than ever before. As a result, senior adult ministry is increasingly becoming ministry WITH, and in many cases ministry BY older individuals. A growing number of congregations around the country are recognizing the time, energy, wisdom, and experience of their senior adult members and are searching for ways to harness it into meaningful ministry opportunities.
The author argues for a new approach to senior adult ministry, one based on “the three S’s” – social, spiritual, and service.
- Social dimension of ministry: When scheduling fun people-centered events, don’t forget to take into account those seniors who are on fixed incomes. Consider also the frequency of events and have a definite annual strategy.
- Spiritual dimension of ministry: Of course you will provide Bible study and prayer opportunities on Sundays, but don’t limit your senior ministry to only that time frame. Be creative – go where and when seniors can meet. This means expanding options off campus, and at times when seniors may never have gathered before.
- Service dimension of ministry: The big shift here will be from ministry TO seniors to ministry WITH and BY seniors. How might your church involve its senior members in leading the way in service projects to other seniors?
Boomers may also be reluctant to join current senior adult ministries. It will not be unheard of for churches to have two senior adult ministries: one for Boomers, and one for older seniors. Boomers still want to be active and to use their energies to change the world. They may not participate in potlucks, but they will be the first to sign up for an extended mission or service project trip.
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