This week I read a great article regarding the ministry of YES! (Young Enough to Serve). This article tells the story of Frances, a 75-year old woman who is singing in a Mobile Home Choir, doing senior outreach work for her church and has just begun work on a Master’s degree in psychology and counseling. Her story reminds me of something I heard the late Dr. Gene Cohen (a leader in the field of aging) say in a presentation. He said as we get older we develop more of an attitude that says: “If not now, then when?” Stereotypes say that older adults are cautious, but many 50+ age adults are plunging into new adventures – things they have never done before. Things like going on an overseas mission trip, mentoring a disadvantaged teenager or going back to college! Anything is possible!
How have you seen older adults display an attitude of “If not now, then when?”
Peggy Horine never dreamed that her willingness to pray for a high school student from her church would one day result in her flying across the country to attend this young girl’s wedding. The relationship between these two women began when Peggy picked up a picture of Sara at a church gathering and called her to express she was praying for her. Peggy recalls, “We bonded instantly. She was so happy to have me in her life and in turn she made me feel like I was truly making a difference.”
There is no question that intergenerational relationships within the Church are valuable and yet so are relationships with our peers. Some churches build their ministries to reach specific age groups while others emphasize the need for all ages to intermingle. Dave McElheran, older adult ministries pastor at Cedar Mills Bible Church in Portland, OR, has found that a balanced ministry includes both. He says, “As people in the same season of life begin to meaningfully connect with one another they are more prepared to engage in relationships that cross generational lines.”
Ambassadors is the age-specific ministry for older adults at Cedar Mills. Monthly luncheons, book clubs and prayer groups are just a few of the ways older adults connect with their peers and begin to see the needs of those around them. These ministries give people a sense of identity and belonging.
But Dave says there are some drawbacks to specific age targeted programs. “You can become ingrown and exclusionary. Finding connection with those who are in a similar life stage is a great starting point but it should not be where people stop.”
When Peggy and her husband first started attending the church, they were looking for a place to meet friends and found themselves involved in a Suppers 8 group with other people who were 50-plus in age. This led them to participate in an Ambassadors luncheon where the pictures of high school students were displayed. “This luncheon was the starting point of my relationship with Sara. From that experience, God began to open my eyes to the needs of young people in our society. I’ve now become involved as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster children and my husband and I regularly give our time to ministries that support and encourage disadvantaged young people.” Peggy laughs, “Today we do more things with young people then with those our own age.”
According to Dave, for intergenerational relationships to happen the church has to be intentional. One successful event has been an annual miniature golf night in which 2 teenagers are matched with 1 older adult to form a team. Dave says, “We put a lot of care into how we pair the people up as we want to create the best environment we can for on-going relationships to occur.” The night of the event the teams have a meal together and are given various questions to use to get to know each other. 75% of the teams maintain at least an acquaintance relationship and about 25% develop a lasting relationship that continues on and goes deeper.
Intergenerational events provide a great way for breaking down negative stereotypes. High school students find out that older adults are real people and actually like to have fun. In turn, older adults learn that not all young people are irresponsible and reckless.
Dave admits that intergenerational ministry can be hard to do. “Most people are more comfortable with their peers and it takes work to encourage both the young and the old to open their lives to each other. But it’s worth it.” When you hear a story like that of Sara and Peggy, you know it’s worth it.
This news article caught my attention as it yet again serves as a reminder that Baby Boomers do not fit the aging stereotypes.
Here are a few quotes from the article:
According to a recent report issued by the Nielsen Wire, “today’s middle aged and older consumers are different than their predecessors. The conventional wisdom that they spend little, resist technology and are slow to adopt new products needs to be re-assessed.”
Nielsen says that “Boomers are an affluent group who adopt technology with enthusiasm “and have also “shown a willingness to try new brands and products.”
Check out the entire article and then share your thoughts.
How have you seen Baby Boomers defy aging stereotypes?
In the New Testament era, what Timothy received from his mother and grandmother as recorded by the apostle Paul in II Timothy 1:5, is one of the greatest blessings that can occur through intergenerational relationships. Paul writes, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” This may be one of the most important goals of intergenerational ministry–to leave a legacy of faith for the next generation. In a society where the retirement years are often seen as a time for ‘self’ – some retirees are turning this idea upside down and investing themselves in the future generation.
Ronnie Green, an adult lay leader at First Baptist Church in West Monroe, LA did not set out to intentionally do something intergenerational, he simply wanted to use the second half of his life in service to God. At the age of 55, Ronnie went on his first mission trip and now nearly 10 years later, he’s been on over 10 trips. His work has taken him to Africa, Alaska, Guatemala, and Mexico-not to mention the various ministries he has been involved with in the states. Ronnie has come in contact with many young people throughout these years of ministry and has had a tremendous impact on their futures.
On a mission trip to Zambia, Africa Ronnie asked an 8 or 9 year old African boy if he could talk to him and his friends about Jesus. At first the boy said ‘no’ but then said, “if you’ll climb up in a tree with us old man then we will listen to you.” Zambia does not have very many older adults and the novelty of this white-haired man seemed to make these young people more open and receptive. Ronnie says with a laugh, “At my age, I wouldn’t climb up a tree for just anybody! But for the chance to share the gospel with these children I was more than willing. I have found that if you just make yourself available to God, then He will take care of all the excuses you have about why you can’t serve Him, even the excuse that you’re too old.”
This was never more evident than when Ronnie was working at a youth retreat in the states and an overweight girl felt like she could not participate in one of the races. “All her life, she had been told that she could not run. I told her, ‘Even though I’m 64, I’ll run this race if you will run it with me. And she did.” God continues to stir in his heart a passion for young people. With a lump in his throat Ronnie recalls a freshman boy asking him a simple question during the last days of a youth camp where Ronnie was a sponsor, “Mr. Ronnie, can we go pray together?” Ronnie says, “We found a quiet place to pray and I will never forget feeling this teenager’s tears fall on my hands as we opened ourselves to God.”
Many churches are discovering the exact thing that Ronnie is experiencing – intergenerational ministry is a rewarding, God-honoring work. And as the generations interact with one another, people are finding ways to fulfill what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 78:4, 5b-7, “…we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done…He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands.”
How are you helping older adults invest in future generations?
(This is an excerpt from my Leadership Network Paper, Breaking Down the Age Barriers. You can download the entire paper at leadnet.org).
This powerful video speaks against what our world so often teaches us about retirement. Take a look and then tell me what you think.
While I said in an earlier post that the church seems to be slow to wake-up to the need for ministry with aging baby boomers, I have also been thrilled to see some talk about the future of this ministry. In March, Church Executive published an article by Sam Rainer where he forecasted some new church staff positions to emerge by the year 2020. One of the seven positions he mentioned was The Boomer Director. He wrote, “…there is a large generational divide between the Builders and the Boomers—as big a divide as the one between Generation X and the Boomers. The ministry that reached the Builders will not reach the Boomers. And it all starts with the name. Boomers do not like to be called “seniors,” so if you think that your existing seniors ministry will attract Boomers, you’re probably not going to reach many Boomers.”
Say it again, Sam. Say it again. Boomers don’t want to be called a senior.
Not only do boomers not like to be called senior, they are also approaching the later years of life with a desire to make a difference. One of the best investments a church can make is hiring a boomer minister who will give leadership to equipping and unleashing boomers for meaningful ministry.
Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas has a staff pastor with the title, “minister of adult impact”. The ministry works at engaging any adult in service, but a special focus of the ministry is the baby boomer. Adult Impact has socials, travel opportunities and classes targeted towards the baby boomer. There is a separate ministry (called Forerunners) for the senior adults.
First Evangelical Free Church in Rockford, Illinois is another church that has recently hired someone to minister exclusively with the boomer age group. The ministry is called MAXlife and once again, is separate from the senior adult ministry of the church.
Whether we call the person a boomer director, minister of adult impact or some other title – one thing is certain – churches who want to be in step with the demographic trends of our time will give serious consideration to this ministry position.
Do you know of any churches who are intentionally ministering with this generation and perhaps have even hired a boomer minister or something of that equivalent?
In the Winter 2010 issue of Leadership Journal, Dave Travis, managing director of Leadership Network, mentioned three things in the church that should be changing by now but aren’t. One of these was ministry to the encore generation. Dave said, “With the huge baby boomer population in this demographic, I’m surprised we’re not seeing growth for this sector.”
His words echo my own thoughts. In talking with many pastors, I have found that most of them do not even have this area of ministry on their radar screen. Health care, the travel and leisure industry and even fashion merchandising is paying attention to the bulging numbers of adults in their 50s, 60s and 70s, but the church seems to be ignoring it. Why is this? Here are just a few of my ideas on the subject.
1. There is the belief that a growing church is a young church. But, if the fastest growing segment of our entire population is older adults, can’t our church grow as we reach out to 50+ age adults?
2. The negative stereotypes surrounding aging have found their way into the church. Many church leaders believe the myths that older adults are slow, stuck in their ways and good for nothing but complaining.
3. Adults over 50 can be ministered to through the women’s and men’s ministry or other ministries for all adults. This might be true to some extent, but we must still recognize the unique issues that affect people in this life stage. Aging parents, the empty-nest, retirement and health needs are all big issues – just like parenting toddlers or preparing for marriage. It is good to gather people of all ages together but there is also a place for speaking to people exactly where they are at.
What are your thoughts as to why the church has been rather slow to wake-up to this important area of ministry?
A month ago, the front page story of the Omaha World Herald was titled: “Baby Boomers cringe at ‘senior’ label.”
Aging baby boomers do not think of themselves as old and definitely do not want to be labeled with any word that sounds old. Putting the words boomer and senior in the same sentence just doesn’t mix well.
Recognizing this, a group of retirement communities in Omaha is actually changing their name from Immanuel Senior Living to Immanuel Communities. And another national group suggests that we consider renaming the senior citizen activity centers in our cities from “senior centers” to “boomer café’s” or “boomer centers.”
So, if this discussion is making headlines in local newspapers across the country, shouldn’t we in the church be paying attention?
I have heard many times from church leaders, “I just can’t get the 60 year olds to come to our senior adult activity!” Well, for starters, boomers don’t like to be called seniors. And, like it or not, the terminology we use is important. Language can either attract people or turn people away.
That of course begs the question – what should we call this group of new-olds? The encore generation is a name I like and is certainly gaining speed in popularity and recognition. Also, just the term ‘boomers’ seems to be acceptable…at least for now.
But most important, we need to constantly remind ourselves that people are people. Every individual is unique and very few of us like to be labeled. In fact, the marketing tagline for Immanuel Communities is “Uniquely Your Own.”
This reminds me of a cartoon I saw a long time ago, where a social worker was asking questions of a very old man. She said, “And what would you like to be called…old geezer?, golden ager?, senior citizen?” He thought for a long moment and said, “How about Tom. I’ll just go by my name, Tom.”
What names or titles for ministry with baby boomers and the new-old are you finding to be effective? Let’s hear your ideas.