Skillman’s Retirement Ministry

June 22nd, 2009

What one should call an “older adult ministry” in a local church has always been a challenge because society views the terms describing later life as negative. In the past I have utilized the name “senior adult ministry” because it received the least negative responses. James Knapp, in his book, Understanding the Generations, reveals the folly of such nomenclature. We have tied this ministry to an AGING GENERATION, instead of a STAGE OF LIFE through which all of us hopefully will move. Instead of “senior adult ministry,” perhaps “retirement ministry” is a more positive and accurate description of what follows.

The ministry for “senior citizens” at the Skillman Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas, began in the 1970’s as an effort to meet the nutritional needs of some of their home-bound members and to provide meals for funerals. Two social activities for retirees also began about that time—namely, monthly potluck dinners followed by entertainment plus several bus trips a year. Those active in this group were called “Thirty-Niners.”A new paradigm of how to work with retirees began in 1992, when we received the blessing of the elders to begin a ministry not only TO older adults but also WITH them. The focus is now on those who are well and can serve, in addition to the infirmed. Healthy older members are encouraged to minister to their peers who are frail, to serve intergenerationally as mentors to persons who are younger and less experienced, and through a variety of ways be a blessing to the neighborhood. Thus, the ministry is primarily other-person-centered, and volunteerism becomes the center of this new approach.Many people in our country assume that older adults have less value than others in society because they are judged to be beyond their productive years. The Church’s message to mature adults, while spoken in softer tones, is all too often much the same. We as church leaders have not been taught about this subject and thus have allowed the testimony of the world to become the norm for Christians by default. When we expect little from those in their retirement years, they usually live up to the expectations of their church leaders.In Skillman’s retirement ministry all activities arise from three component parts—social, service, and spiritual. As these areas are developed in various ways, we end up fulfilling the Great Commandments of loving God and our fellow man, as well as the Great Commission of making disciples for Christ. The point, of course, is that retirement ministry IS the church at work; that is, re-engaging older members back into the live and functioning body of Christ.Social activities of Christian senior adults are both with their peers and with those in other age groups. Intergenerational activities include events like our yearly Sweetheart Banquet, where teens host a dinner for the older brothers and sisters and entertain them with a skit or some other presentation. Thursday Night Live is an activity for all ages where every-other-month a dinner and a performer highlight the evening. Older members schedule the show, prepare the main entrée, and host the gathering. Social activities with peers include events like Senior Game Day, which is a weekly bridge party and lunch at the Church, van or bus trips to interesting local and distant locations, and a monthly visitation of our members who now reside at Christian Care Center, which is twelve miles away in Mesquite.Service activities include ministry to older members by the church as well as senior adults serving others. Care Partners is a major ministry to our more than forty shut-ins. The goal here is to establish a relationship between our home-bound members and some of our more mobile church people. In addition, we have a retired physician and an experienced care-giver who serve shut-ins whose needs are greater. We encourage a wellness mentality among our older members by means of a number of events and activities. We have a three-times-a-week morning exercise program and a corresponding Parkinson’s class. Skillman also hosts a yearly wellness seminar and health fair and bi-monthly Sandwich Generation Luncheons that brings education to those who need it most.

The spiritual side of the ministry includes age related Sunday morning Bible classes, a Monday Bible study in a nearby retirement center, and a Thursday breakfast devotional in a restaurant. We make certain that home-bound members get Sunday worship audio tapes and the Lord’s Supper, if they desire. Currently, we are learning how to put the worship assembly on DVDs for distribution among retirement communities and the shut-ins. Several have made foreign mission trips to Romania, Eastern Europe, and Austria. Hospital visitation and funerals are seen as opportunities to deepen relationships and meet important needs. Relationships are being made with neighborhood people and organizations in hope of serving and sharing Christ. Some of our ministries are even targeted toward non-members. By meeting needs and demonstrating our love for others through these actions, we believe the gospel will be more readily received.

When we encourage people to be volunteers, we are not taking something from them; instead, we are giving something to them. In short, it is good for the Good Samaritan to be good. When people serve others as a lifestyle, it literally lengthens their lives, makes them hurt less, raises their spirits, and gives them a needed purpose in life. It also blesses the individuals they serve, the church family, and the community at large. Finally, it brings glory to our Heavenly Father. Imagine the sense of well being and the energy a congregation will receive if many of its older members develop close relationships as they serve one another and those in the neighborhood.

One last point—we have learned to network with others outside the local church and look for the triple win. For example, we network with a nearby retirement community.

  1. I recruit older people from our congregation to live there, and they receive a substantial discount each month.
  2. The retirement center has a never ending supply of residents.
  3. With twenty-plus members in one facility, they help each other, making my ministry with them easier.

Similarly, we network with a neighborhood senior health medical center to obtain personal trainers to teach an inexpensive exercise program, and the Emeritus Program at a local college provides our older members with computer training. We do the same with a home health agency, a sitter service, and area churches who have similar ministries. Networking broadens the base of services Skillman people receive. When these relationships are developed and trust established, it functions very much like a ministry of the Church, except non-members are doing the serving to our people and their friends.

The ultimate goal of retirement ministry is to stop functioning as a parallel older church and mainstream the work. In this manner all activities become a part of the local church’s ministry, with all generations working together for the common good and to the glory of God.

Humility—The Soil out of which Senior Adult Ministry Grows

June 22nd, 2009

A few years ago I was asked to speak on the subject, “A Guide to Motivating Senior Adult Volunteerism.” In my preparation it soon became obvious to me that church leaders can not with their own abilities motivate fellow Christians to long-term service, unless those individuals already have servant-hearts. Heart work is God’s work, not man’s. Individuals do have choice, i.e., whether to serve or not, but other-person-centeredness comes out of a heart that is humble before God.

This is basically what Paul said in Philippians 2. He began the chapter talking about inner incentives to serving others—

“If you have anyencouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion. . . .”

When we come to understand emotionally and intellectually who God is and how much God has done for us and how undeserving we are, it turns our hearts into moldable clay and allows God to be the potter, to shape us as he wills. In other words, pride and self-centeredness dissipate. To such individuals Paul says,

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition orvain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others

Lest there were any pride in “self” still hanging on, the Apostle writes that our attitude should be like that of Christ Jesus, who humbly

Jim Hughes Awarded Distinguished Alumni Citation from the ACU College of Biblical Studies

June 22nd, 2009

Dr. Jim P. Hughes was honored by receiving a DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI CITATION award from the College of Biblical Studies for the Year 2007-2008 from Abilene Christian University (ACU). This
year, only five recipients have been chosen from the approximately 90,000 ACU alumni.

This significant honor was presented at a reception which included the following speakers: Mark Lavender, Director of University Relations for ACU; C. E. “Doc” Cornutt, Chairman of the Board of
Trustees for ACU; Winston Brown, Member of Alumni Advisory Board for ACU; Dr. Charlie Pruett, ACU Professor & Director of Pruett Gerentology Center and Brian Hughes, Staff Chaplain at Baylor Hospital in Irving & son of Dr. Hughes.

ACU acknowledged they believe “Dr. Jim Hughes epitomizes all ACU hopes their graduates will become personally and professionally”.

The Generational Church

June 22nd, 2009

In the 12th chapter of I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul compares the church to the human body. He emphasizes that though there are many parts, each one has a role to play in order for the body to be healthy and capable of growth.

Typically, this passage is applied to individuals and the use of their gifts in the church. However, it is also applicable to generations because in some churches there are as many as five different generations trying to function together as one body. This poses a formidable challenge because each generation sees the world through a different lens and brings a unique set of expectations and preferences to the church based on their shared experiences. The result is that the generations co-exist in many churches but never really interact in a meaningful way or the tension between the generations becomes so intense that a church eventually splits. Neither of these responses is in line with Biblical teaching yet many churches simply don’t know how to respond to the diversity of thought that accompanies a multi-generation church. In order to help church leaders minister more effectively with the generations in their congregation, it is useful to have a working knowledge of the concept of a generation after which it will be possible to introduce the five living generations.

A generation usually covers a span of 15 to 20 years. Including the word “usually” is important because it is possible for a generation to extend beyond 20 years if certain conditions are present. When war, extreme famine, or a major shift in the economy occurs, individuals may postpone starting a family until the crisis has been resolved. In most cases, however, the 15 to 20 year range is accurate because it is during this interval that the oldest members of the preceding generation develop the ability to bear children and begin a new generation.

While the element of time is an important part of defining a generation, it pales in comparison to a second factor. A fundamental characteristic of a generation is that the members move through the life cycle together and experience significant historical events at approximately the same age. As a result of their shared experience, they develop a lens through which to see the world and a set of beliefs that are used to interpret subsequent events they encounter.

With a basic understanding of how a generational perspective develops, it is now appropriate to introduce the five living generations. The oldest generation in the United States is the Senior Adults. Born before 1927, Senior Adults are now in their mid 70s or beyond and represent 5% of the American population. Of the five living generations, Senior Adults have experienced the greatest transformation of their world. When they were children, the automobile was still in its infancy, the majority of Americans made their living on small farms, and only the most fortunate even dreamed of attending college. Despite being raised in these circumstances, Senior Adults have displayed an amazing level of resiliency as they have adapted to the challenges and opportunities of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Due to their longevity, Senior Adults are a living link to the past for communities of faith and can provide an exceptional level of stability to a church.

The second generation, known as the Builders, was born between 1927 and 1945 and has been referred to as the “greatest generation” by Tom Brokaw. Builders overcame a significant number of obstacles during their formative years since the bulk of this generation was born between the start of the Great Depression and the conclusion of World War II. They emerged victorious from the war and earned their name by creating the economic abundance that Americans enjoyed for years to come. Early in life, Builders learned the importance of self-sacrifice and loyalty to the institutions to which they belonged including the local church. As a result, they have remained faithfully committed to the mission and ministries of their home congregation for many years. Builders now range in age from the early 60s to the mid 70s and represent 14% of the American population. While many have entered the retirement years, some are still actively involved in the labor force and a significant number occupy leadership positions in their home congregations.

The Baby Boomers are America’s most powerful generation and represent 27% of the population. Born between 1946 and 1964, Boomers have had an extraordinary influence on American society due to their enormous size and propensity to share their views on a wide range of issues. They first displayed an emphasis on individualism during the 1960s but they carried this trait with them through the remainder of the 20th century. Boomers are now in their fourth or fifth decade of life and many have risen to leadership positions in their careers, communities, and churches. Their willingness to think and act in non-traditional ways is exerting a tremendous influence on churches and will continue to do so for many years to come.

The fourth living generation is Generation X. Born between 1965 and 1983, 27% of Americans are GenXers. A large and unique group that has been referred to as apathetic, cynical, and malcontents

1, GenXers are technologically-savvy because they were raised with cell phones, hand-held video games, and personal computers. As a result, they rely heavily on visual presentations for acquiring knowledge rather than the printed or spoken word. GenXers have been influenced by the rise of postmodernism and its insistence that a single, absolute truth does not exist. This presents a significant challenge to the church in light of Jesus’ statement that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The youngest of the five living generations is the Millennials. Born between 1984 and 2002, 27% of Americans are Millennials. Since the majority are still children, it is difficult to make definitive statements about Millennials but the information that is trickling in suggests that they are noticeably different from the generations that immediately preceded them. Millennials are focusing more on modesty in their appearance, respect for authority, and involvement in positive group activities.

2 In contrast to GenXers who were very cynical about the future, Millennials seem to have an optimistic outlook that is reminiscent of the attitude that guided the Builders after World War II.

As the pace of social change has quickened, the distinctiveness of each generation has become more pronounced which has resulted in a number of challenging issues for church leaders. Differing views on leadership style, proper attire in a church setting, and the manner in which the worship assembly should be conducted are but a few of the struggles whose roots can be traced to generational perspectives. Nevertheless, our God still expects His church to consist of multiple generations and to be characterized by positive intergenerational relationships. In both the Old and New Testaments, the process of passing the faith from older to younger generations is clearly presented (see for instance: Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, I Corinthians 12, and Titus 2). Even though our culture tries to separate the generations by proclaiming that a “generation gap” exists, the church has been commissioned to bring the generations together because our God values each and every member of His creation and wants all of us to be a part of the rich experience that occurs in an intergenerational community of faith. The challenge is to develop an understanding and appreciation for each of the five living generations and then to be motivated to action by the Word of God.

Dr. James L. Knapp is professor of sociology at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and author of The Graying of the Flock: A New Model for Ministry. He and his family are members of the Western Heights church of Christ in Sherman, Texas. You may contact Dr. Knapp at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


1 Flory, R. W., & Miller, D. E. (2000). Understanding Generation X: Values, politics, and religious communities. In R. Flory & D. Miller (eds.), GenX Religion (p. 3). New York: Routledge.

2 Howe, N., & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. New York: Vintage Books. p. 4.

A High View of God and High Senior Adult Living

June 22nd, 2009

A few years ago, I was driving back to Dallas, Texas, having made a trip to speak in Abilene. It was night, but there was a canopy of light over the city—a horrific thunder and lightning storm, that undulated and seemed almost to be alive. The storm reminded me of the immense power of God, far above that of man.

I was reading in Ezekiel this morning of how the priest of God in Babylonian captivity was called to be the prophet of God. It began with a vision of God in a

“windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, but each of them had four faces and four wings. . . . Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like ice, and brilliant light surround him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking” (Ezek. 1:4-6, 25-28, NIV).


This was a picture of the holy God bringing judgment on his people, because with their repeated sins they had become unclean and had polluted the temple in Jerusalem to such a degree that God had to leave. But even in judgment, he was with them while they were in captivity. In judgment, he was calling Ezekiel to serve him and them.

With such a high view of God, the prophet was able to function counterculture and do the work of God in a pagan land for 22 years. With such images of God burned on his mind, he felt compelled to do God’s work, even though most around him did not.

The wonder of scripture reveals that this holy God—so powerful and so different and so distant from man—is also our heavenly father, who loved us so much that he gave his son as a sacrifice to save us from our sins. All of this was so that he could be with us and we could be with him. Just as God called Ezekiel to do a work in his day, I believe God is calling his older people (whom the church has largely cast aside as unimportant) to do a great work in our day.

Today in the religious world, we value education, but not wisdom or spiritual maturity. James, the Lord’s brother, on the other hand, believes such wisdom has great value for the church. He writes:


Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. . . . But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peaceloving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness?” (James 3:13-15, 17-18).


Senior adults who have lived with God and under his will for scores of years, little by little, have been trained by God to be useful in the kingdom. Similarly, God had to wait for Abraham, Joseph, Naomi, Lydia, John, and other biblical persons to grow up to be his men and women of faith. Wisdom and spiritual maturity equal usefulness in the heavenly cause. Older adults do not have a monopoly on wisdom, but it is common among them.

We at PAR are calling for older Christians who know God and have seen him work in their lives to begin a grass roots effort to find their purpose in serving God, his people, and the nearby community. Let’s build an army of Christian volunteers across this nation and use our extra years, with our God-given gifts, to serve those around us. It will be a “wonder-full” four-fold blessing—for ourselves, God, church, and community. What a difference our world would be if we defined “older Christians” and “useful servants”! This can be a reality if we keep coming back to the Bible to see God as he really is and keep asking him what he wants us to do with our bonus years.

Jim Hughes

Seven Reasons for Having a Senior Adult Ministry

June 22nd, 2009

Having worked among older people in a church setting for more than twenty years, it appears to me that there are at least seven good reasons for establishing a Senior Adult Ministry. Consider the following as a rationale for having such a ministry.

1.  The Aging of America
America is getting older. We are experiencing for the first time in history a “senior boom.” In simple terms that means that there are more older people than there were a generation or two ago. In fact, the percentage of older adults is growing at a rate twice as fast as the population as a whole. A century ago, one in ten reached 65 years of age; today, eight in ten live past that age.

The aging of America has caused two major changes to our culture. First, a new period of life has been created — retirement. Thirty years were added to our life expectancy in the last century. In the past, people didn’t retire; they died. Today, the typical newly retired person can look forward to an additional one-third of his or her adult life. And many retirees live their latter years in pretty good health. Second, we are in the process of shifting from a youth-oriented society to one that focuses on the desires and needs of a middle-aged and older population. It is estimated that over half of all the people who have ever been 65 years of age in the history of the world are alive today.

Along with the aging of America comes the graying of the church. In the year 2000, 50% of the people in the mainline Protestant churches were 60 years of age or older.

2.  The Appearance of the “New Seniors”
Newly retired people today are healthier, wealthier, better educated, and more politically savvy than any previous generation. At no time in their lives are they in more control of their schedule than now, since they are generally free from the restrictions of a job, of rearing children, and of financial worries.

A burgeoning subgroup within the older adult cohort is what has been called “the new seniors.”[1] What makes these people unique is that they have adjusted to extended longevity and are determined to make the most of it. “The new seniors” have the following characteristics:

    • They have a much more active lifestyle.

    • They are goal oriented, hoping to benefit both self and society.

    • They would rather serve than be served.

    • They eat nutritiously and exercise regularly.

    • They feel 20 years younger than their age.

    • They see the present and future as a time of harvest, not the beginning of winter.

    • They enjoy friendships with all age groups.

    • They enjoy being part of groups that share common interests and concerns.

    • They have a sense of humor.

    • They view retirement as a time for work, study, service, and play.

    • They are flexible, caring, and giving.

    • They are able to take life’s “lemons” and serve up lemonade.

    • They have a higher energy level than other seniors.

    • They view life full of hope.

      “The new seniors” make having positive, vital, growing senior adult ministries in the churches across our land an exciting possibility. This growing subgroup of older adults encourages a new kind of ministry where the emphasis is not just a ministry TO older church members, but also a ministry WITH them.

3.  The Harmful Affects of Ageism
Ageism is a prejudice against anyone because of age. It can be directed toward any age group, but usually it is directed toward older people. In the United States, we live in a youth-oriented society where people want to be forever young, and conversely, do not want to be old.

For an unvarnished view of what our society thinks of older adulthood, go to a card shop and read the cards that are designed for people over 40 years of age. They are not very flattering.

What is fueling this negative thinking about older adults? A major contributor to the emotions behind ageism is a number of negative myths about older people. For example, some commonly held false beliefs about those in the latter stage of life is that most older people are poor, senile, powerless, miserable, lonely, depressed, sexless, neglected by family, and living in nursing homes. If these characteristics accurately described the majority of older people, who would want to be old? But they do not. While these characteristics do describe some older people, they certainly do not describe most of them. Unfortunately, the negative stereotypes continue to prevail, even among many professionals.

Ageism is all around us in our society. Older people are often considered to have less value, much like owning an aging automobile. There is probably not much we can do about it in society. However, we do have some control over attitudes and environment when we come together as a church. Let’s make sure that ageism is noticeably absent within our fellowship.

4. The Instruction of Scripture
The classic passage of Scripture of what God expects from his older people is found in Psalm 92:12-15. Notice the verbs. The verbs in this psalm tell us that God expects his older people to be active participants in his cause, not passive observers. The psalmist writes:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;

planted in the house of the Lord,

they will flourish in the courts of our God.

They will bear fruit in old age,

they will stay fresh and green,

proclaiming, “The Lord is upright, he is my rock,

and there is no wickedness in him.”

In Matthew 9, Jesus asked his disciples to pray for workers because “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Through the centuries that has always been our problem — too few laborers. But in our lifetime, it may very well be that God has answered that prayer and sent us a whole generation of workers — our older Christians.

5. The Waste of Older Christian’s God-given Talents
What are most Americans choosing to do in their retirement years? Tim Stafford, in a 1987, Christianity Today article, entitled “The Aging of America,” stated that the majority of older adults in our country spend their time mostly with leisure. He said that they spend year after year seeking to fill their lives with recreational activities, largely devoid of work and responsibility. Retirement is seen as a time to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor. He calls this way of life senior adult hedonism, i.e., the pursuit of pleasure by older people.

Many Christians follow this pattern and choose to retire from church activities about the time they retire from their jobs. Sadly, it is not uncommon for church leaders and church policies to promote this disengagement of mature Christians.

This view of retirement concerns me because it was not looked on with favor by our Lord. Remember the parable of the rich fool. Jesus described him with these words:

Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool!” (Luke 12:18-20a) NIV

When we as church leaders encourage our older people to retire from their church activities, is it possible that we are actually promoting a non-Christian way of life that God described as foolish? After all those years of taking up their crosses and following Jesus, could we be pushing them in the direction of hedonism?

One of the most encouraging trends in the United States is the increasing number of older people getting involved in volunteerism. One survey report [2] stated that 41% of senior adults volunteered to help others at least one-half day a week, and another 37% might volunteer if they were asked. The primary motive behind older adult volunteerism is “the need to be needed.” Think what might happen if a congregation began to promote and facilitate older adult volunteerism within and around the local church!


6. The Receptivity of older people to the Gospel
H. G. Koenig, in a 1994 book titled Aging and God, stated that recent research has discovered that older adults may be just as receptive to the gospel as any other age group. Some people believe, as I do, that many older adults in the future will be open to becoming disciples of Christ. There are several reasons for having this belief.

First, Flavel Yeakley, in his book, Why Churches Grow, teaches us that people are more receptive to receiving the message of Christ when they are going through some change in their lives. With retirement and all the losses that generally come in late life, no one experiences more change than our older people.

Second, with an ever-decreasing social network and the nagging pangs of loneliness, many older people have a great desire for making new and meaningful relationships with others. Such a need correlates beautifully with an active senior adult ministry and friendship evangelism.

Third, many senior adults are looking for something significant to do with their lives. They want to make the world a better place and to personally make a meaningful contribution. What greater contribution could be made than helping someone become a Christian? Typically, people with a common lifestyle and who have had similar experiences are the easiest individuals for us to bring to Christ. Thus, we promote senior adult peer friendship evangelism as a team effort at church. The older Christians bring their friends to senior adult activities, others welcome them and love on them, and a few months later someone comes along and shares with them the gospel in a private setting. A loving, self-sacrificial Savior is best communicated by a loving, self-sacrificial group of older Christians.

Fourth, people like Win Arn, Charles Arn, and the late Donald McGavran, who have spent a life time studying principles of church growth, believe that many of America’s unchurched older people will be receptive to the gospel.

7. A Personal Reason
If God blesses us, some day we too will be older adults. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the church where we worshiped had a senior adult ministry in which we were offered opportunities — along with our friends — to make a significant contribution for the cause of Christ? Wouldn’t it be comforting to know that this group of people loved us and would stand with us as we faced the final trials of life?

These seven reasons for having a senior adult ministry in the local church have been offered for your consideration. If you find them reasonable, it is my prayer that you will also consider beginning one in your congregation.

[1] W. Arn and C. Arn, Catch the Age Wave: A Handbook for Effective Ministry with Senior Adults, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993, pp. 29-30.

[2]R. Sneed, Marriott Senior Volunteerism Study, Marriott Public Relations, 1991.

“Preparing for the Graying of the Flock”

June 22nd, 2009

Written by: James L. Knapp, Ph.D.

Would you like to see the future?  If so, visit a typical Protestant church and the demographic reality of America in 2030 will be visible.  While 13% of the American population is currently 65 years of age or older, in many Protestant churches more than 20% of the members have already reached or passed the age of 65.  The “graying of the flock” is a precursor to the aging of society as a whole.  It is challenging religious leaders and laypersons to set aside their stereotypical views of senior adults and think outside of the box as they consider whether the demographics of their church are an obstacle or opportunity.

In my book, The Graying of the Flock:  A New Model for Ministry, I encourage church leaders and members to adopt a new way of thinking about senior adults built on the idea that older members are a wonderful resource for a church if they are engaged in meaningful forms of ministry.  At the heart of the new approach is an emphasis on ministry WITH senior adults rather than just ministry TO them.  While an effective senior adult ministry will continue to provide care for its older members who are in need, the new model seeks to move beyond traditional boundaries by empowering senior adults and allowing them to take ownership of the ministry.  This can be accomplished in a number of ways but the key component must be that the senior adults are actively involved in the decision-making and implementation of the group’s activities.              A second characteristic of the new model is its multi-faceted nature consisting of social, service, and spiritual components.  A quick overview of most senior adult ministries reveals that the calendar of events is full of social activities. To an outside observer, the abundance of social events is often interpreted as an indication that senior adults just want to “play.” However, social interaction in the later stages of life is extremely important in order to offset the risk of social isolation.  In combination with the social activities, churches must also work to more fully utilize the talents of their senior adult members in meaningful service to other seniors, members of the entire church, or even to the community at large. One of the key functions of the senior adult ministry is to help match senior adults who want to serve with individuals or projects that are in need of assistance.Social events and service projects may abound but without a strong spiritual emphasis the senior adult ministry will not serve its ultimate purpose. As is the case with all believers, senior adults need the opportunity to nourish their faith and grow in their knowledge of the Lord. As a result, the spiritual component is the foundation upon which the social and service activities are based.  In its absence, the senior adult ministry is simply a civic club that provides its members with opportunities for social gatherings and periodic community service.       

A third characteristic of the new model is that it is biblical.  Old and New Testament examples abound of individuals who did not disengage from their spiritual journey because of chronological age.  Abraham, Moses, Caleb, Daniel, Anna and Simeon are but a few examples of persons who maintained an active, living faith well into their later years.  The instructions of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 serves as a reminder that the church is similar to a body in that each part has a role to play.  One part may seem more important than another but each makes a significant contribution to the functioning of the whole.  Members of the youth group, young professionals, young marrieds, or empty nesters may seem to play a more significant role in the life of a church but all members, including the senior adults, should be encouraged and permitted to contribute to the vitality of the body.

Finally, the new model for senior adult ministry must be intergenerational.  Many senior adult ministries include a form of intergenerational programming such as senior adults mentoring a younger member of the church or a young family adopting an older member as a surrogate grandparent.  Efforts such as these are outstanding because they link the generations and allow a level of understanding, trust, and respect to develop.  However, far fewer senior adult ministries are reaching out to the generation directly behind it.  Baby boomers are rapidly approaching the age that has historically marked the entrance into the senior adult years.  Despite their chronological age, many boomers seem uninterested in senior adult ministry often labeling it as something for the “old people.”  The message being sent by boomers is that the old model is not appealing to them because they want to be involved in meaningful forms of ministry to which they can relate.  Maintaining a viable senior adult ministry hinges on the ability to develop social, service, and spiritual opportunities that are attractive to boomers without alienating those who are currently involved in it.

For many churches, the future of the American population is already being experienced within their membership.  In response, a growing number of churches are adopting the new model of ministry that seeks to harness the energy and wisdom of senior adults for the good of the entire group.  While the actual programs and services offered vary from one congregation to another, they are based on a belief that the presence of a large number of senior adults is a wonderful opportunity to develop innovative ways to minister with others.

Biographical statement:  James L. Knapp, Ph.D., is professor of sociology at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. James L. Knapp, Ph.D.1405 N. 4th Avenue PMB 4074Durant, OK  74701-0609     (580) 745-2016