Ageism is the new ‘ism’ in American Churches today. James M. Houston and Michael Parker put forth the thesis that the future of America’s Churches is not the next generation, but rather the current aging generation. A Vision for the Aging Church: Renewing Ministry for and by Seniors [ISBN: 978-0-8308-3948-3, 279 pages, InterVarsity Press] is an insightful look at the truth facing American churches for the next thirty years. I heard recently on radio news that thousands of new retirees are filing for Social Security retirement benefits every day. The Baby Boomer generation will represent the largest generational shift in American history. These retirees could easily live longer in retirement than they did during their work years.
This requires that Family ministry in the Church must embrace the richness found in this generation of saints. No longer should Senior Adult ministry be limited to just the weekend trip out to lunch or gospel music cruises. Rather, the riches of the Church are present today in the pews of America.
The Baby Boomer generation began approaching the retirement age of 65 in 2011. A growing trend among many Baby Boomers is the decision whether to retire or continue working well past the traditional retirement age. More and more are choosing to work. It is imperative that Church leaders structure ministry to assist those facing this life stage.
The Baby Boomer generation is energetic and productive. Yet their financial independence looks to not be as dependable as previous retirees. Those just now entering their “restful years” may suddenly realize that their 401(k) plans are not as secure as they had hoped.
As many pastors depend on retirees as volunteers for ministry, this trend could force a new way to think of the senior generation. Rather than depending on the flexible schedules traditional retirees offer, or the freedom to travel on mission trips, pastors must look to the Baby Boomers as teachers, mentors, and encouragers for the local Church body. Likewise, seniors will still require counsel and discipleship. Too often, the younger generations feel inadequate in giving to this role of ministry. Likewise, the seniors receiving the compassion feel awkward being counseled by someone with less life experience.
Church leaders must consider these facts as they minister to the new retiree generation. Rather than placing seniors in separate Sunday School Classes away from the Church body, bible studies must be more cross-generational. Or perhaps Baby Boomers should take on new teaching responsibilities.
I see the coming years in the church as fertile for a revival in cross-generational spiritual fruit. There will be a majority of senior adults in the Church population for several decades to come. Many of those working long into their senior years.
Pastors and Church leaders must reconsider putting our seniors out to pasture before their time. Seniors must take seriously their biblical role for discipling the generation following them. Youth ministry leaders as well must renew their vision for youth ministry to both serve and learn from the senior generation rather than isolate themselves in “youth church.”
God is not finished with the Baby Boomer generation yet. They have much to offer and the Church is much richer because of them.