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Amy Hanson

The Blessings That Come With Age

Aging gets a bad rap in our society. We joke a lot about the negative aspects of aging…hearing loss, hair growth, wrinkles, etc., but I believe there actually are some wonderful things about aging. In fact, I’ve had older adults tell me that this season of their life is the best. Scripture also suggests that the later years can be a positive time of life. Read more

Honoring Older Adults

From owning the latest piece of technology to reading the most recently released novel, American culture promotes a message that new is to be valued. Add to this the fast-paced life that many Americans live and what results is a society that does not have much time or desire to listen to the wisdom and experiences of its elders. That’s one reason why it is so important for churches to find ways to honor older adults and encourage them to tell their stories. Read more

Three Ways to Help Boomers Navigate Work, Retirement and Ministry

Work and Retirement. These words seem like complete opposites, but more and more these two words are showing up in the same sentence as baby boomers re-invent their retirement years. Boomers want to make a difference with their lives, and whether they choose to work for pay or work in a volunteer capacity, we want them to focus their lives towards Kingdom work. How can we help them do this? Read more

A Boomer Bash

Ministry with boomers. We know it’s important. We know millions of people need it. So what do we do? A church that is effectively ministering with the new old will have a variety of components, including service, intergenerational ministry and spiritual growth. But one element of ministry with boomers is providing them with places to connect with their peers. Read more

Are You Ever Too Old?

What keeps people from serving? The apostle Paul knew of one thing that could keep Timothy from serving God to the fullest extent and that one thing was ageism. Ageism is the term used to describe the negative biases we have about certain age groups and this is exactly what Paul was addressing in I Timothy 4:12 when he says to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” Ageism happens when someone is told they are ‘too young’ to do something and it also happens when someone is told they are ‘too old’. Read more

Different Generations and Different Needs means Different Ministries

Last Thursday I wrote about one church’s attempt to recruit people over 50 into the current senior adult ministry. The week after this church listed the qualifications for being a senior, they wrote about various activities and programs of the senior adult ministry. Here are several of them that were listed in the church bulletin: Read more

How NOT to get the new old to participate in your older adult ministry

Sometimes I will hear from senior adult ministry leaders who want to know how to get the 55 or 60 year old to join their senior adult activities. Let me provide you with one example of how NOT to get them to participate. This was in a recent Sunday morning church bulletin listed on the page devoted to senior adult ministries:

At What Age Are You Considered a Senior Adult at “Your Church”?

1. If you are age 50 or over – you may consider yourself a senior.
2. If you have been contacted by AARP – you can consider yourself a senior.
3. If you are retired or semi-retired – then you are a senior.
4. If you take the senior discount – then you are a senior.
5. If you live in a senior adult retirement community – then you are a senior.
6. If you have grandkids – then you are a senior.
7. If you are receiving Social Security or other retirement benefits – then you are a senior.
8. If you have a membership at the senior center – then you are a senior.
9. If you are a snowbird – you are probably a senior.
10. If you have grey hair, white hair, partial hair or no hair – you are probably a senior.
11. If you have artificial joints or parts – you are probably a senior.
12. If you wear bi-focals or tri-focals – you are probably a senior.
13. If you have a handicapped parking permit – then you are probably a senior.
14. If you are downsizing – you are probably a senior.
15. If you see one of our activities and wish you could participate, come ahead – you are probably a senior anyway! C’mon and admit it!

I wish there was some gentle way I could tell this senior adult ministries pastor that this creative method for getting more people involved is not going to work. Like it or not we are never going to be able to convince the new old that they are seniors and therefore should join the current senior adult ministry. They just do not identify with that group and listing 15 reasons why they should come to the group, is not going to motivate them. Rather than spending all of our energy trying to find a way to get these boomers to be a part of the current senior ministry, why not start something new and fresh to reach this unique group?

What is one thing you have done to reach the new old?


Flexibility: A Must for Engaging Boomers as Volunteers

“It’s not that I don’t want to lead the small group, I just want to be able to be gone from time to time. My wife and I like to travel to our granddaughter’s soccer games and we don’t want to be tied down with a weekly commitment.”

Some type of scenario like the one I’ve described is not uncommon to those of us in churches, ministries or non-profit agencies seeking to recruit the new old as volunteers. When it comes to involving the new old in meaningful ministry opportunities, we cannot ignore their desire for flexibility. In fact, many boomers are retiring from their careers and are entering into new jobs that afford them more flexibility.

So, how do we make this a win-win for our church and for the individual?

1. Encourage co-leaders or co-teachers. For example, you know that both Susan and Mary would do an excellent job leading the church’s food bank ministry. Ask them to share the responsibility. If one of them is going to be out of town, the other one can lead the team meeting. If one of them is babysitting their grandchildren on a particular day, than the other one can train the new food bank volunteers. Same thing works with teaching a small group or Sunday school class. Let two or even three people share the load. You are more apt to have people say yes when they know it doesn’t all fall on their shoulders alone.

2. Involve them in projects that they can do on their own time and while traveling.
Millions of baby boomers that are entering the retirement phase of life have the capacity to lead. Good leaders know how to manage their time and get tasks done. They don’t have to do the work at the church building ‘every Tuesday at 10:00am’. With cell phones, e-mail, skype and other technology, people can accomplish important tasks without being physically present.

Just because boomers desire flexibility they should not be written-off our list of potential volunteers. We would be making a tremendous mistake if we ignored the capacity of this group. They are too valuable and have too much to offer. Sure it may require that we adjust how we do things, but it will be well worth it.

What ideas do you have for involving boomers in ministry while responding to their desire for flexibility? What have you seen work in your ministry context?


Two Ways to Create a New Perspective of Aging

My guess is that a number of you have seen this picture before. If you look at it one way you see a beautiful, young woman…if you look at it in a different way you see the face of an old woman. (Hint: The chin of the young woman is the nose of the old woman).

It’s interesting how our view – our perspective – can have such an effect on how we approach something. For many people, aging has been seen as something negative and something to avoid. It is time we work to create a new perspective.

Here are two suggestions of how you can begin to do this in your church.

1. Draw attention to the contribution of older adults.

This woman is in her late 70s and volunteers her time with the tech ministry at her church. She does not fit the unfortunately common stereotype of an older person complaining about the music or powerpoint slides or lights. Rather, she is giving of her time and abilities to serve people in the local church. In fact, she runs the light program! We need to tell her story and the hundreds of other stories of older men and women just like her. Write about them on your church blog. Share their story from the platform on a Sunday morning. Create a video of older adults serving in various capacities. You get the idea. Start doing something to communicate that older adults are valuable and capable of making a difference.

2. Teach about the lives of older adults in Scripture. One of my favorite examples is of Caleb in Joshua chapter 14. After years and years the Israelites are finally coming into the Promised Land. In verse 6 we come upon Caleb who recalls the promise God had made to him 45 years before to give him the land of Hebron and then in verse 10, Caleb says: “…So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country the Lord promised me that day.”

Here is a guy who did not approach aging as something negative, rather he fully embraced this stage of life and all that God had for him. Young people and old people in our churches and communities need to hear these stories, so they know that this can be a reality for them.

What are you doing to help create a new perspective of aging in your ministry context?


The New Old

Last Thursday, Ed Stetzer invited me to write a guest post on his blog, “Thursday is for Thinkers”. I’m re-posting the article below. I hope it is helpful as we all try to sort out what ministry with the new old looks like.

Well, it’s here. The year 2011. And people like me who have spent their entire ministry, work and academic life immersed in the field of aging and older adult ministry have been anticipating this year for a long time. Just a few weeks ago when January 1st rolled around, the first of 78 million baby boomers turned 65. Pew Research Center reports that 10,000 adults are turning 65 each day and that in 20 years, almost 20% of our population will be over the age of 65.

In the past month there has been a surge of news articles and stories on the topic of aging baby boomers, a group I like to refer to as ‘the new old.’ These are adults who are primarily between the age of 50 to 70 and view the later years of life in a completely different way than their parent’s generation. The new old are active, involved and anything but ‘old’.

Government, health care, fashion merchandising and a host of other businesses are giving serious attention to the implications of this huge demographic.

And it’s time the Church enters into the conversation.

How do we respond to this phenomenon? What do we need to know?

Here are 4 key issues we must consider.

1. The new old are approaching aging in a much different way than preceding generations. For starters, leading-edge baby boomers and those just slightly older, do not like the word senior and they reject just about anything that smacks of old age.

I’ve had more than one frustrated church leader tell me, “We can’t get those sixty-year olds to attend our senior adult activities!” One primary reason for this is because the new old, do not consider themselves to be seniors and for the most part, they are never going to fold into the existing senior adult ministry at a church. They are not interested in potluck luncheons or bus trips. While some of these ministry ideas have worked in the past, they are not going to reach this new generation of older adults.

Community senior centers are discovering this and making adjustments like taking out the shuffleboard court and putting in fitness centers. Some retirement communities are even removing the names ‘senior’ and ‘retirement’ from their titles. The Church will need to follow suit.

A handful of churches across the country are creating boomer ministries (separate from their senior adult ministries) and are calling these new ministries Encore, Adult Impact or simply Boomer ministry. Whatever the format, we need different ministry names, fresh ideas and a whole new approach to how we do things.

2. The new old are reinventing retirement. The New Retirement Survey conducted by Merrill Lynch found that 76% of boomers want to keep working in some fashion during retirement. Many adults want to retire from their current career and launch into something new, like part-time work or a job that has flexibility. The type of jobs boomers are most interested in are working in the nonprofit sector, starting their own business, or just doing a fun job that is less stressful. One thing is certain. Boomers do not plan to sit in a rocking chair and simply relax for the next 20 years of their lives. They want their retirement years to include a component of work – either paid employment or a significant volunteer role.

3. Not all older adults are Christians. I know that sounds so simple, but think about this for a moment. Many churches invest a lot of time, staff and resources into children’s and youth ministry – which is important – but few churches are intentional and strategic about reaching the millions of older adults who do not have a relationship with Christ. Ironically, there are some characteristics among 50+ age adults that make them very receptive to the gospel. They are facing a number of life transitions such as caring for aging parents, concerns about their own heath and mortality, financial worries, and evolving relationships with their adult children and grandchildren. All of these stresses provide great opportunities for communities of faith to reach out with ministry. Boomers are also receptive because they are searching for purpose. They are entering a new phase of life and are asking questions like, “now that I am getting older, my work life is changing and the children are out of the house, what is it that gives my life meaning?” Obviously, Christ-followers hold the only true answer to that question.

I’ve been thrilled to learn of a few church plants and multi-site venues that are purposing to reach out to this age group. But we need more.

4. Aging boomers have the potential to make a tremendous Kingdom impact with their lives. They have time, experience and resources and they want to participate in purposeful endeavors that will benefit others. As these adults enter their retirement years, they desire to do more than staple newsletters, fold bulletins and make coffee. One man said about his retirement: “I want to give my time to ministry through my church, but I’d like to do more than be an usher.” These are adults that can lead community efforts to help with homelessness, give hours each week to mentoring children at an underprivileged school, serve for an extended time overseas, counsel those who are facing unemployment and on and on the list goes. It is imperative that we open our eyes and recognize the potential of this generation and then find ways to unleash them into ministry. My fear is that if the Church does not engage them, they will look elsewhere.

Never before in history have so many adults moved into their later years of life with so much health and vitality. We have a window of opportunity right now to harness the capacity of this enormous generation. To grow them up as disciples of Christ and to mobilize them for His mission. Let’s not miss the chance.

What are the barriers you’ve seen that keep us from developing robust ministries with aging boomers in our churches and communities? What are you doing in your ministry context to reach out to this age group and tap into their ministry potential? What other comments and ideas do you have about ministry with the new old?

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