Grandmother: “What are you doing?”
Grandfather: “I’m resting.”
Grandmother: “I thought you did that yesterday.”
Grandfather: “I didn’t finish!”
We do not hear much of this kind of talk these days. Most older adults are out and about at the fitness center, shopping malls, traveling, visiting grandchildren, and volunteering in their churches and communities! Certainly, there are those older adults who are the “slow-goes” and “no-goes”-those who, for physical reasons, are not able to be as active as they would like. However, churches throughout the country are becoming more intentional about providing volunteer opportunities for the folks in their second adulthood (those 50 years old and older). Here are a number of strategies that churches are using to incorporate senior adults into comprehensive ministry in their churches and communities:
1. Churches are taking Psalm 145:4 seriously: Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power. Churches that are taking seniors seriously are providing opportunities for both young and old to relate to each other through small group discussions, worship services, potlucks, variety shows, and retreats.
2. Church leaders have learned to ask seniors to volunteer for short-term ministry assignments rather than for long-term service. “We older folks will more likely agree to teach a 4-week course than a 13-week course. We’d rather serve on a think tank or advisory group than on a formal board which has elected us for 8-year terms. Think short-term and more seniors will respond.”
3. Seniors, just like any other age like to be asked personally. “Do not count on a news article in the church bulletin to bring hundreds of people running to your door to sign up to volunteer to usher or sing or plant flowers next Saturday morning. Ask people individually to volunteer their time and efforts. It takes a little longer, but in the long run, more people will become involved in more ministry areas.”
4. Asking people individually works even better if churches have developed a gift assessment survey where seniors can write down their interests and hobbies. “If you need two more people to bake cookies for Sunday’s event, check your files. If a new choir is starting and you’re looking for older adults, see how many of the 60-year-olds have marked that talent on their form.”
5. Make no assumptions. There is one major exception to asking people to volunteer based on their areas of expertise: If someone has been a CPA for 50 years, do not automatically think that this person is anxious to count Sunday’s offerings. If Mrs. Smith taught third-graders at school for 55 years, she may not be too excited about teaching Sunday school for 8-year-olds…at least not right now! Go where the talent is, but make sure there is also an interest in continuing to use these talents!
6. Churches that have developed significant older adult ministries have done so by first establishing an Older Adult Team or Task Force of three to five people. This team is given the responsibility to develop an Older Adult Ministry in their congregation. This is crucial! If everyone is responsible for older adult ministries, no one is really responsible. Church staff needs to hand-pick these leaders, train and equip them, and then let them loose to develop and involve older adults in all aspects of a church’s ministry.
7. Older adult ministry needs to center around the ingredients of healthy congregations-worship, witness, nurture, fellowship, care, stewardship, and wellness. As people of all ages become involved in these areas, ministry happens, because the Lord is at work in and through these people. It is the Luke 2:52 model of ministry: Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.
8. Church leaders need to be enthused about older adults. Church leaders need to see older adults as the church of today, not as the church of the good old days! I’ve heard it said that the only difference between a puddle and a geyser is enthusiasm! Older adults bring so many gifts to the altar of the Lord, such as experience, wisdom, finances, prayers, ministry models, and enthusiasm.
9. The Church of St. Arbucks. I have a challenge for you: In the next month, plan to take a senior saint or two out to Starbucks (or the coffee shop of your choice!) one-on-one. Spend an hour together just getting to know one another. Talk about the past and the future, talk about their grandkids and your kids, talk about a highlight in your church as well as a challenge. And even ask these older adults for their suggestions on how to deal with a specific concern you might have. Sit back, and watch the Lord at work. And perhaps next time they might even buy!
10. Pray! It is always amazing to me that Paul, in Ephesians 6:10-17, talks about putting on the whole armor of God to withstand the challenges of the day-the belt of truth, breastplate, helmet, sword, and so on. After all that, what else would we possibly need? Paul simply says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times!” The power of prayer is a powerful strategy for senior saints’ ministry.
Follow these suggestions to empower more seasoned-servants into volunteer ministry. Senior Saints, here we come!
Dr. Rich Bimler, contributor to Grand Days: Ideas for Sharing Faith Moments Between Grandparents and Grandkids, was president of Wheat Ridge Ministries before taking his current position as Ambassador of Health, Hope, and Aging (AH-HA!) for Lutheran Life Communities.
This article “Amazing Grays” written by Rich Bimler, was excerpted from: www.volunteercentral.com web site. July 2009. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”