Something's Missing: Two Reasons the New Old Must Be Part of the Church Planting Conversation
This week in Orlando a big church conference called Exponential has been in full swing. Exponential is a church planting conference that has rapidly grown over the past few years to draw over 3500 people. All kinds of pertinent topics are being discussed including conversations about planting churches that are externally-focused, multi-ethnic and multi-site. Not to mention all the great coaching on leadership, social media, and vision-casting to help those who are launching new churches.
But there is a crucial element missing in all of these discussions — the 78 million baby boomers in our country.
Church Planting and the New Old
There are two primary reasons why church planting conversations should include some focus on aging baby boomers (or as I like to call them, “the new-old”).
1. Never before in history, have so many people lived into the later years of life. In America alone, 10,000 adults are turning 65 each day and this will continue for several years as 78 million baby boomers cross the threshold into what has been marked as the later years of life. This is a group with health, energy and vitality and they do not plan to sit on the sidelines and passively drift into ‘old age’. Boomers are reinventing the second-half of life and are very interested in staying active and making major contributions with their remaining years.
They bring some valuable assets to the church planting table. Among other things, three big things they can contribute are time, experience and resources. Pastor and author Earl Creps wrote a great article on the advantages of engaging older adults as church planters. He cites 13 reasons older adults make good planters. Here are a few:
Older planters have enough of a past to understand their future. We have lived enough of life to have some perspective on how the elements of our past fit together.
Older planters have a lesser chance of creating collateral damage. Since we tend to be empty nesters, our church-planting adventure does not gamble with the lives of young children or put our future career at risk (since our career is mostly behind us now).
Older planters have ministry experience.
Bottom line, older church planters have a lot to offer. And, even if an older adult is not the lead church planter, their talents should definitely be harnessed as a part of the leadership team.
2. The second reason we must start talking about boomers and church planting is the simple fact that millions of older adults are not Christians. It is a myth to believe that those in the second-half of life have already made up their mind about matters of faith and they will not change. God is in the business of drawing people to Himself and changing peoples’ lives. While reading the book of Acts, I was struck by a little verse in Acts chapter 4. The verse is referring to the crippled man that Peter had healed in Acts chapter 3 and it says in Acts 4:22, “For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.” Interesting. There are a number of people in the New Testament who receive healing, but seldom is their age mentioned. Why is it mentioned here? Because Luke (the author of Acts) wants us to realize that this person whom God had brought healing upon was older. He had been crippled for many years. The religious leaders could not explain away the miracle by saying that the reason he could not walk was because he was never really crippled in the first place. After years of being crippled, God miraculously and marvelously restored him. This is exactly what God wants to do in the lives of millions of broken and lost older adults.
To say it clearly, we need new churches for the new old.
Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL is one church that is serious about reaching adults over 50. They have two churches (Huntley and Carillon) within 55+ living communities and in addition, they have started a Saturday night service at one of their campuses with the goal of specifically reaching out to active adult and empty-nest couples. There are a few other churches popping up across the country that are doing similar things, but there could be more. And certainly, many existing churches could become more strategic about reaching out to those in their community who are in the second-half of life.
Let’s bring the new old into the church planting conversation! “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38)
How have you seen boomers and beyond engaged as leaders in starting new churches? Do you know of any new churches that have been planted to specifically reach out to unchurched older adults?