What are churches in the U.S. doing to advance this “cutting edge” ministry?
Census data tells the story. From 2000 to 2010, those people age 45 to 64 (the boomers) increased 31.5%. The next highest increase was those 65+, who increased over the same period by 15.1% (source: US Census at www.census.gov/2010census/) It is projected that by 2025 there will be more persons 85 years old (the boomers again) than 5 year olds.
• Donald R. Koepke
In an article in the Lutheran Caring Connections journal, Donald Koepke notes how the post-WWII “baby boom” has driven the agenda for the church for many years now.
- In post-war America, we saw the rise of a massive youth culture and thus church and parachurch groups began to emphasize “youth ministry.”
- When the boomers entered adulthood and began families, the church suddenly began to “focus on the family.”
However, now that we (yes, I am a BB) are turning gray by the tens of millions, I for one do not see any corresponding growth in emphasis on ministering to older adults.
I understand that my perspective is limited, influenced by my own experience and otherwise anecdotal, but if people like me (and Michael Spencer before me) offer any kind of example, then what I see are churches who are failing to take this next step and who are losing aging BBs because they haven’t conceived how to minister to people outside the “youth and family” model that has long characterized local congregations.
In brief, one reason for the “post-evangelical wilderness” that so many of us aging BBs are traversing is that churches, and “cutting edge” evangelical churches in particular, have not aged with us and have little clue about what Christian spirituality in older age is all about.
It has left many of us feeling like we have “outgrown” the church as it exists and functions in its current forms.
It also betrays the church’s cultural captivity to maintaining a certain level of energy and spectacle, a high level of activism (or more cynically, busyness), and forms of teaching and preaching (and marketing) that are more designed to whip up enthusiasm and loyalty for certain “brands” or “positions” than to actually form people and congregations in Christ and in the world through all the different seasons and circumstances of life.
I’ve not heard of a movement to create “cutting edge” ministries for older adults. I’m not aware that churches are eagerly searching for “elder pastors” in the same way that they are seeking “youth pastors.” Tell me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see churches targeting over-50 communities strategically or putting spiritual vitality for seniors front and center in their vision statements. Few congregations are changing their “worship style” to appeal specifically to older people. Visitation pastors are usually low on the staff totem pole, if they make it on to the staff at all.
I’m not saying churches don’t have programs for older folks, but they are certainly not central to the church’s ministry, in my experience and to my observing eyes. Worse, like “singles,” churches tend to lump “old people” together and think that after a certain age everyone is facing the same issues. Yet, as Joan Chittister reminds us in her book, The Gift of Years:
There are, gerontologists tell us, three stages of “old” in our society. There are the young old, sixty-five to seventy-four years old; the old old, seventy-five to eighty-four; and the oldest old, at eighty-five years and over. All of these stages have some things in common— and each of them faces specific issues at the same time.
Where are the church “gerontologists” who are studying this and developing strategies for encouraging people in these groups spiritually?
Listen, we are talking about one of the largest demographic groups this world has ever seen! Still, it seems the church has little vision to reach them or to help them understand what it means to have a “Jesus-shaped spirituality” in one’s later years.
I know it’s now true that the Millennial generation has surpassed the BBs to become the largest living generation. I understand why the church is so concerned about ministering to them and including them in its life.
But for heaven’s sake, there are about 75 million graying people out here too. And many of us are asking, “What does life with Jesus look like when I’m 65? 75? 85? older?”
What does it mean to follow Jesus in the late autumn and winter of our lives?
And why don’t churches seem to care?