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?
“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?
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?
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?
This past week I was invited to be one of the guests on a local radio program with two of my colleagues from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The topic? You guessed it…Baby Boomers. One of the things I appreciated most about the program were the demographics presented by David Drozd. While some of the stats in the program are specific to the state of Nebraska, there are lots of national and even global implications. For example, in the state of Nebraska, before the baby boom, the average number of births per year was 22,000. When the baby boom began (and throughout those nearly 20 years that followed) the number of births per year was 32,000. I’ve known the baby boom was a big deal – but just hearing the way David presented the numbers really put things into perspective. I’ve included the program below if you care to listen. It is divided into 2 parts.
One of the questions the host of the show posed to us was (I’m paraphrasing), “Knowing what you do about the huge numbers of baby boomers entering the later years of life, what is it specifically that preoccupies your mind when you go to bed at night?” Please post a comment regarding your answer to that question. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
2011 is a defining year as millions of baby boomers celebrate their 65th birthday and cross the threshold into what used to be (and to some extent, still is) the chronological marker for old age. This noteworthy event has been all over the headlines with many news stories being reported on this phenomenon.
Here are a few take-away points that I deemed as important in what I’ve read in the past week.
- Boomers want to be engaged and will continue to reinvent themselves through work and volunteer efforts.
- Finances are affecting aging baby boomers, and perhaps their biggest financial concern is the cost of healthcare.
- Many older boomers are experiencing the phenomenon of their adult children moving back home and some boomers are also having to take an active role in raising their grandchildren.
- Boomers and older adults are continuing to work past the retirement age, but are choosing to do new jobs that are meaningful to them.
- Boomers have always made an impact and we can expect them to continue to do this as they move into their later years of life.
Below are the links to several articles and news stories that you may want to check out.
Forever Young: What’s in Store for Baby Boomers? (segment on the Today Show)
Boomers Take the Retire out of Retirement (Segment on NPR)
This Isn’t Grandpa’s Retirement (USA Today Opinion Piece)
Baby Boomers: Officially You’re Now Senior Citizens. (Christian Science Monitor)
What does this information mean for those of us who want to minister with aging boomers? What have you seen or heard in the news lately regarding boomers that we need to take notice of?
One of the most challenging life issues facing boomers is caring for their aging parents. Eavesdrop on a conversation between adults who are in their 50s and 60s and at some point you are bound to hear them talk about their concerns regarding their aging mom and dad.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post on how churches can minister with aging baby boomers by providing ministry with the boomer’s parent. Now, I want to suggest a few additional ways that churches can minister with boomers who are caregivers.
1. Offer a support group. Call it whatever you want – support group, small group, discussion group, whatever. The point is to provide a safe place for those caring for an aging parent to talk about their concerns and heartaches, share resources with one another, discuss Biblical principles related to caregiving and pray with one another.
2. Develop a ministry devoted to providing breaks for caregivers. Some churches host an adult day care on their campus where caregivers can drop off their elderly loved one for several hours, knowing they will be well cared for. Even providing this service once a month can provide caregivers with a much-needed break.
3. Invite caregivers to telephone the church if they would like to discuss issues related to their aging parent. One church leader told me that whenever the church attempted to hold workshops or conferences focused on caring for aging parents, the turn-out was low. But, when he put a short blurb in the Sunday worship bulletin suggesting that those wanting to talk about issues related to caregiving could give him a call, his phone was ringing off the hook.
4. Suggest resources. Caregivers are busy and overwhelmed. They do not have time to spend hours on the internet or in a bookstore. One of the most helpful things a church can do is to become a clearinghouse as to the resources available in the community. Churches can research services available and then create a library of brochures and phone numbers and make these available to caregivers.
It is also helpful to have a few books that you would recommend. One I frequently suggest to caregivers is Caring for Your Aging Parents: When Love Is Not Enough by Barbara Deane. While the book is 20 years old, it is still one of my favorites because it approaches caregiving from a Biblical perspective and discusses the emotional and spiritual needs of the caregiver and the elderly parent.
With people continuing to live longer, opportunities for ministry with caregivers is only going to increase.
What have you found to be effective in ministering with those who are caring for an aging loved one?
This week, Good Morning America aired an intimate interview with co-host Robin Roberts, her 86-year old mother and author Missy Buchanan. Among other things, the piece served as a reminder of the tender and often complex relationship between baby boomers and their aging parents. Emotionally it can be hard for boomers to see their parents become more dependent. Then there are the practical questions and concerns like ‘how long should dad continue driving?’ ‘how do we choose the right nursing home?’ and ‘how do I help mom deal with the loneliness since dad has died?’ These are just a few of many issues facing adult children who are wanting to love their aging parents.
As we begin to look for ways to minister with aging boomers (both those inside and outside the walls of the church) we would be remiss if we did not consider the relationship of boomers and their aging parents.
I believe one key way to minister to boomers is to provide ministry for their aging parent. Think about it like this. Some churches have preschools and mother’s day out programs that strive to do an excellent job of providing quality programming for children. These ministries not only minister to the children but also minister to the parents, because many parents are looking for safe and fun environments for their kids. Reaching out to the children in the community also means reaching out to the parents. The same thing happens in youth ministry. Many parents will choose a church because of the church’s strong ministry for junior high and high school students.
Baby Boomers want the best for their aging parents. They want their mom and dad to feel valued, cared for and honored. Churches that have vibrant ministries for the old-old will reach out to boomers.
Several years ago, Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Oklahoma designed a service and day-long program to honor World War II veterans. These men and women were interviewed and their stories were recorded in a book given out that day. Other highlights of the day included a room full of memorabilia and a luncheon with a military band. Family members from out of state drove hours to be with their parent on this special day and other sons and daughters sent notes of appreciation to the church – so thankful that their loved one was being honored.
Other churches have luncheons where boomers can encourage their aging parents to attend for socialization and spiritual inspiration. One daughter looked on the web to find a church with a quilt ministry that her 80+ year old mother could participate in. Since that time, this older woman and her husband have become involved in all aspects of the church and have found new friendships.
Ministering with boomers will mean ministering to their parents.
What church ministries do you know of that are ministering with the old-old and in turn, are providing ministry to boomers?
Last week a very dear friend, who is in her early seventies, visited our home for several days. We enjoyed laughing, eating and catching up on each others’ lives but one short conversation reminded me of ministry with older adults and the importance of churches and organizations providing specific volunteer opportunities for retirees.
Our friend retired from her career as a children’s librarian and among other things, began volunteering for a local school. However, whenever she went to the school she found herself never knowing quite what to do. You see, the school didn’t give her any responsibility. She just had to show up and go to the different teachers and ask if there was anything she could help them with. She felt in some ways that she was bothering them and finally decided that she wasn’t cut out for this type of volunteer work. Interestingly, she is now back working part time at the library.
Unfortunately, her story is not uncommon. There are a number of reasons that organizations fail to fully utilize retirees as volunteers.
1. Organizations believe that they should not give volunteers any major responsibilities. This is a big mistake. Just because someone is a volunteer does not mean they cannot handle leading a big project or running a program.
2. Organizations fail to give people specific tasks or a specific job. Volunteers need to know that what they are doing matters and that they are filling an important need. You won’t retain a volunteer if they don’t have a specific job. They want to do more than just ‘show up’.
3. Organizations don’t find out the unique skills and experiences that the volunteer has. Having been a librarian, our friend would have been more than happy to be put in charge of re-shelving books in the school library or processing returned items. But no one asked her.
What lessons have you learned about engaging retirees as volunteers?
The boomers are coming! The boomers are coming! It’s all over the headlines. CBS News and USA Today recently did a week-long series on the aging of the baby boomer. We know it is happening but there are some major unanswered questions for those of us in ministry: What does ministry with aging baby boomers look like? What works in reaching them and engaging them in Kingdom causes?
This week I received an e-mail from a boomer pastor who expressed what I often hear from ministry leaders who are attempting to reach boomers.
With some of my own paraphrasing, here is a portion of what he wrote:
The problem we are having is getting the boomer engaged in kingdom focused thinking and involved in the call. You point out in chapter six (of Baby Boomers and Beyond) that the boomer does not like to be involved in activities linked with their parent’s generation, and that is the problem we are having! No matter how we try and differentiate the ministry, our church of around 1000 sees anything in this arena as for old people.
Can you relate to his challenge? Those of us who are attempting to create ministries to reach aging baby boomers are pioneers. We are starting something brand new and don’t have much of a road-map. This can be exciting, scary and HARD!
I would like to help move our efforts forward by identifying those churches who are attempting to do something specifically targeted towards aging boomers. I know of only a handful of churches who have hired someone on their church staff to give focus to this area, but I’m hopeful that there are others.
Do you know of a church that has a staff member (either full-time or part-time) specifically leading a ministry with adults age 50 to 70? (I’m looking for churches that have hired someone in addition to their senior adult or older adult pastor).
Do you know of a church that has a lay-leader or lay team specifically in place to lead ministry with adults 50 to 70?
I know there are a number of churches who have an older adult pastor (senior adult pastor), responsible for adults 50+, but for the purpose of this post, I’m looking for those churches that are working to create something entirely specific to the boomer.
So…if you know of a church (or churches) that fit this criteria, please post the name of the church in the comment section (and the leaders name, if you have it). I’ll then compile these churches and hopefully we can do some informal networking in order to learn from one another.