As part of the requirement for graduation, the five students in Central Seminary’s 2014 Women's Leadership Cohort in Nashville must complete a Capstone project. Three of the students are nurses, one works in the health care field, and the other is an educator. Of the five projects, three consider opportunities for the church to minister to older adults. (The others address mental health education and breast cancer awareness in congregational settings.)
Churches often emphasize ministries with youth, young adults, and families as an investment in the future, but older adults contribute to church health and provide significant opportunities for meaningful ministry.
One of the students cited a typology of older adults used by Walter Schoedel in an article in the Concordia Journal. He describes three groups of older adults based on their independence, interests, and matches them with ministry opportunities.
The Go-Go's are independent, active people who may be working part-time or full-time. They love to travel, eat out frequently, and engage in sports. These individuals seek educational and spiritual opportunities and do hands-on ministry. In many churches, they play an essential role as teachers, leaders in community ministry, and in administrative tasks.
The Slow-Go's are in transition. Their energy levels are waning, and health issues may require them to slow down. Even so, they still enjoy educational programs, worship services, and ministry opportunities. They are the folks who show up on a wintry Sunday morning when younger people and families stay home.
The No-Go’s are dependent people who are homebound or in a care center. They seldom get to church, but still desire to fellowship with others and to be involved in community. They can also remind the church what it should be--a caring and hospitable community.
Schoedel believes that “congregations need to develop and promote a ministry by the go-go's, a ministry with the slow-go's, and a ministry for the no-go's.”
Although some older adults may be offended by these labels, the terms identify the different stages in the older adult life cycle. I readily admit that I am a Go-Go who is moving into the Slow-Go category! The key to Schoedel’s typology is that we should remember that older adults are not a monolithic group. They have varied needs and contribute to the congregation in different ways. If they are believers, they still want to be engaged in their congregation, but the manner of involvement is contingent on many factors.
Older adults not only provide service to the church, but they can offer wisdom and guidance during times of major change. If given the opportunity, they can embed a legacy of hope and integrity in the congregation.