During the last thirty years the median age of the population in the United States has come to a place where there are more people over the age of fifty than there are those in their teen years. These demographics have placed an urgent need upon the church in general to develop ways to utilize the resources that these people can provide to the development of the church and the community at large.
The situation has also made it an imperative that the church makes an exhorted effort to communicate the Gospel to those people who are outside of the church. Without this spreading of the Gospel to these people, many churches will cease to exist, as there will be no younger people to continue as the older people leave the scene. It has been and is an imperative the church live up to its primary responsibility to carry the Great Commission to the unsaved.
The seniors can be a great help in this area because most of them have been in the church for many years and have a vital part to play in God's mission of reconciliation. They can make a significant contribution to the influx of the younger generation into the church as their witness of the Lord's grace and love is demonstrated to them. Their life experiences can narrow the widening contrast between churches that are perceived by many Americans as having no relevance to the issues and challenges that confront them from day to day.
To many people the in-action of the church to make any real difference in their neighborhoods have cause them to believe that the church is out of date, ineffective and irrelevant.
Many churches have become stagnant and others have become obsolete because they have failed to develop the treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge that resides in the seniors who are members in their congregations. This failure has caused many a church body to fail to confront the issues of their changing society even though they have retained their basic theological truths.
If the church as a whole would began to appreciate these senior saints, I believe that the paradigms would shift in a dramatic way and cause the increasing senior population in this country to become a much greater influence in the effectiveness of church ministry. This would come about because at least twenty-five percent of most congregations are seniors. Yet, the senior adult ministry is woefully inadequate now and unless major changes are made to correct this disproportion it will become even more so. This will occur only to the detriment of the entire congregation.
"The new senior is so different from what most church leaders have grown up thinking older adults to be that an old approach to this new group will be as fruitless as fishing with a net full of holes."
There are many concerns of seniors that have to be addressed as the church begins to utilize the talents of these members. These include comfort, for many are inclined to and desire to be in stress-free situations and are willing to be active in the many programs that the church sponsors including teaching in the christian mysticism
. Then there are leisure activities that are important to reach the seniors and provide an outlet for some of their pent up energy. These could include field trips that are goal oriented. These trips could provide the church with creative and opportunities to match these interests with the mission and overall purpose and direction of the church.
Then there is health maintenance, which becomes a greater concern as we become older. Nutrition and exercise classes as well as Wellness Seminars would be helpful in maintaining and increasing the interest not only in the seniors but also in the baby boomers that are increasing in age.
Since many are retired and no longer have to deals with parenting, these seniors could use their retirement years to greatly use their experiences and skills in the church.
Because of the demographics and the so-called generation gap, it is often difficult for seniors to make and keep relationships with those who are in a younger age bracket. However, the church can help them to focus outside of this situation and encourage them to learn and practice agape love. Showing and giving love can be a great help in self-development in that it causes us to grow into each other. Without it we are empty, incomplete and without meaning. It causes us to grow into a great spiritual maturity. It also gives us a sense of progress as we grow in our spiritual lives. Many seniors are invested in the life of the church and give their time because of the personal and spiritual benefit they receive when they know they are loved. They make many of the contributions of their time and talents because they are appreciated and they know it.
For many seniors real life begins at retirement. They see aging as an ascending process toward new horizons. I guess it could be said that the Apostle Paul put it best when he wrote in Philippians 3:12-15, "Not as though I had already attained, either were I already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I also am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth for those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
In this understanding, seniors don't yearn for what used to be. Likewise the church should seek to find ways to harvest the experiences that the seniors bring forth through a lifetime in a heightened sense of contribution and worth. At this stage of their lives most seniors have passed the midlife crisis and begin to define themselves in the sense of purpose.
I have found that this group attends Bible study and Sunday school in a great number then those who are yet in their thirties and forties. They have in a way become a great cloud of witnesses to the younger generation. This spiritual vanguard is leading us into a new understanding of what it truly means to service Christ. This trend has shown us the increasing need to focus on the spiritual needs of our seniors. As we develop these relationships with our seniors, we see them from perspective that is different from what the church has seen before.