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encore ministry; church; leadership; older adult ministry; the new old; ministry names

Why Aren't More Leaders Excited About Ministry with the New Old?

More than a year ago in 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 have this area of ministry on their radar. 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. Read more

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?

Some Thoughts on Leading and Reading

Because I am a Leadership Network author (Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults over 50), I was asked to share a few of my thoughts on leading and reading in preparation for their upcoming event called Leaders and Readers. This totally free, on-line event is scheduled for November 11th and there will be six authors discussing their ideas on leading and reading. Register here.

I love to read. I list it up there as one of my favorite hobbies. I am one of those people who reads most newsletters cover to cover. I read the short blurbs displayed in the grocery store on how to cook healthy meals and choose the best produce. I read brochures in the doctor’s office about how to ward off colds and when desperate, I will read the back of the cereal box.

I read all different kinds of books and I read them for different reasons. I read a few fiction books each year simply because reading fiction is a leisure activity for me. I read fiction books while I’m on vacation or on days when I need to give my brain a time to rest and rejuvenate from the demands of ministry and family life.

I read a lot of books and articles related to my specific ministry focus – baby boomers, older adults and the 50+ generation. As a speaker, writer and consultant in this area, I study a lot of academic and secular information about aging and retirement and then try to synthesize how this research relates to the practical world of older adults and church ministry.

When I am reading for the purpose of studying the latest research and discovering trends and theories, I often skim and speed read. You can glean all kinds of ideas and concepts even if you read a book very quickly. I also jump around as I’m reading a book. I read for main points, illustrations and lists. I especially like to read the end of books and conclusions to get an overall feel for the action the author is hoping I will take.

I’ve got to be honest. Now that I am an author, I’m not sure I like the reading approach of people like me (skimming and speed reading). Having gone through the painstaking work of laying out a book, choosing the order of the chapters, being careful not to repeat myself, etc. – I want people to read every word! I know there are important concepts, ideas and examples early in the book that lay a foundation for what is to come later. Skimming can be beneficial, but so is reading and entire book from cover to cover. Especially when reading books designed to feed your soul.

Some of the best books I’ve ever read that have helped me as a leader have not been leadership books but rather books that cause me to press in to God and go deeper with Him. Getting closer to God ALWAYS helps my leadership and is never time wasted. I can think back to moments over the past several years, where I have poured over a book and allowed God to use it to minister to me, and in every case, I emerge a better teacher and leader simply because I am filled with more peace, more joy and less anxiety.

I’m able to relax in my leadership decisions because my soul is more connected with God and I’ve once again been helped to ‘set my mind on things above.’ Whenever I’ve taken the time to drink deeply from a spiritual book, the results in my life have been positive and in turn this is good for those I am leading in ministry.

Finally, reading and discussing books with others has been a great experience. I love discussing a book – whether a fiction book in a book club or a ministry book with a colleague or a soul-feeding book with a few fellow Christ-followers. My mind is more active when I read knowing I am going to discuss it with someone else. I am more apt to underline, take notes, and work to apply the material. Discussion also helps with retention.

Here are three of my favorite reads over the past few years:
(For other resources I like related to older adult ministry and intergenerational ministry, see my recommended resources.)

We Would See Jesus (1958) by Roy and Revel Hession.
This is one of those ‘soul’ books. It’s a short, classic piece of literature that gets to the heart of the Christian walk. The authors remind us that it is enough to simply see Jesus. Above all else, this is our primary purpose and goal.

Same Kind of Different as Me
(2006) by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.
A very engaging book that cuts to the heart about loving people as Jesus loves them and giving of our own life for someone else. It is a great read.

Who Stole My Church?
(2007) by Gordon MacDonald.
A fictional story that highlights many of the feelings that adults in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are experiencing as their churches are changing in style and format. It shows how the young and the old can work alongside one another and how older adults can continue to have an important role in the life of a church.

What are some of your favorite reads? And, especially, what are you reading in regards to ministry with baby boomers and the new old?

My Dream

I’m sure you remember Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech. It was a pivotal moment in American history. Well, I too have a dream. It is a dream about ministry with older adults that I describe in my new book, Baby Boomers and Beyond:

It is a dream where older adults are motivated to give their lives away to people needing God’s grace. A dream where aging is not feared but rather welcomed as a God-ordained season of life.

It is a dream where adults are telling their life stories to the next generation—proclaiming God’s faithfulness and provision. A dream where older adults find purpose and meaning through a relationship with Jesus Christ. A dream where no one is marginalized because of age.

It is a dream where older adults continue to grow in intimacy with God. A dream where older adults are fully using all of their talents, gifts, and abilities to make a major Kingdom impact.

God began to stir this dream in me at a young age, and by the time I graduated from high school and entered Bible college, this spark to make a difference in the world of older adult ministry was being fanned into a flame. Even as a college student, I wrote papers, read books, and pursued internships in this emerging area. People thought I was crazy and couldn’t believe that a competent nineteen-year-old woman with a year of college under her belt would want to jump into the almost unheard-of arena of ministry with people over fifty. Shouldn’t I be using my ministry gifts serving youth? Or maybe I should look into women’s ministry or children’s ministry?

But God had a grip on me, and I had a burning passion to see the entire landscape of aging and older adult ministry change. Over the years, I have served as an older adult minister, pursued further education, taught classes, written articles, and done just about everything I could to speak this message. When I would become frustrated that no one was listening, voices would say, “The time isn’t right,” “The church isn’t ready yet,” “We’ll get there one day.”

Well, the day has finally come. The bulging numbers of adults marching into their fifth, sixth, and seventh decades of life is larger than it has ever been. Now is the time to make the dream come alive. Now is the time to unleash older adults to live out their God-given purpose. Now is the time to create effective ministries that reach out to adults over fifty. Now is the time to explore the possibilities.
Now is the time.
(Excerpt from Baby Boomers and Beyond, 2010, by Amy Hanson)

What is your dream for older adult ministry and how are you going to make this dream a reality?

The Boomer Director

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?

Boomers Hate Being Called a Senior

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.