Hardly a week goes by without someone posting an article or blog about reaching millennials for the church, even though the real challenge may well be the internet generation, the next wave on the scene. We recognize that younger generations have their own distinctive interests, values, and styles. The face of the young adult population continues to change. Few seem to consider the changing face of senior adults and the impact this has on the church.
If you watch television commercials directed to senior adults, you will see that the advertising community is much more savvy about this age group than is the church. They realize that not all senior adults are going to be playing golf or bingo (not that there is anything wrong with that!). In fact, senior adulthood may be both the best of times and the worst of times for those who have lasted that long.
Although the traditional retirement age of 65 is no longer sacred, this is still the point of change for most senior adults. When one crosses this threshold, however, he or she is just getting started on a number of transitions.
The first transition stage is made up of people who no longer “go to work” every day, but who are still very active and engaged. Many see this as a time to travel, pursue hobbies, and to enjoy setting their own schedules. Seniors in this phase are usually healthy and proactive about their choices. Many choose to invest their lives in working with the church, volunteering with not-for-profits, or taking care of family members. There are an increasing number of seniors in this phase, of course, who must continue some kind of employment to supplement their incomes. The church must be flexible enough in its ministries to find ways to connect with this diversity of life choices.
The second transition stage is into a more sedentary lifestyle. Because of health concerns or having to care for an ailing spouse, this group of seniors tend to stay closer to home, but they are still very engaged in the life of the church. In fact, participating in church-related activities and services may be the highlight of the week. This is also a time when seniors invest in ministry with other seniors, taking the time to visit those who are not as mobile or involved as they once were. In this phase, seniors can perform a significant ministry on the part of the larger church body and their contributions should be recognized.
There is of course, a third phase, when the senior adult can no longer care for himself or herself. Although family members and community resources come into play at this point, the role of the church is still important. The church can continue to care for, honor, and support those who are no longer as active as they once were.
For those of us who are involved in church leadership, we must not forget that senior adults are an important part of the church. They are not just recipients of ministry. Most are still actively involved in serving and caring. Many senior adults may be involved in the life of the church into their ninth decade of life.
In our efforts to engage a younger generation, we should not forget those on the other end of the life spectrum.