GETTING SENIOR ADULT MEMBERS ON YOUR YOUTH TEAM
By Carl Pounds
Most churches in America are missing the greatest opportunity for recruiting, the growing population of senior adults.
“Most churches in America are missing the greatest opportunity in American history: the coming age wave,” writes Win Arn, president of L.I.F.E. International, a church-growth organization. While many congregations assume the future of the church is in its youth, Arn says, “Today, tomorrow, and well into the 21st century the more accurate description is ‘the future belongs to the old.'”
Today, 58 million Americans are grandparents. And 90 percent of those grandparents take an active interest in their grandchildren. In the year 2005, there will be more than 76 million grandparents in the United States. This group of adults is a gold mine of potential volunteers if children’s ministers can only learn how to mine them wisely.
Older adults are more faithful churchgoers than any other age group. Roper Starch Worldwide found that in the 60-plus group, church attendance has inched up to 50 percent from 49 percent in 1976, while attendance among those 18 to 29 has fallen from 35 percent to 27 percent.
These older adults are in your churches in abundance, but they may not be willing to get involved with your children’s ministry. What’s the secret to getting these available older adults to help in your children’s ministry program? We asked Mark Montgomery, a minister of Christian education in California, how he recruits older adults for his church’s large children’s ministry. Mark’s church membership represents the age wave—approximately 450 senior adults out of 1,000 people.
There may be more senior adults at your church, but church is just one part of their busy lives. Today’s senior adults are far different from their parents or grandparents. They’re living healthier, more active, productive, and longer lives. Many spend time doting on their grandchildren, but they also like to travel and enjoy their freedom. And many grandparents are super busy being moms and dads to their grandchildren. Because of these challenges, here are three major obstacles you’ll face as you seek to recruit older adults.
Mobility—”Most of the retired people in the church hesitate to make a commitment that ties them down 52 weeks out of the year,” explains Mark. “They’re looking for the flexibility to spend a month to vacation and to visit grandkids.”
Insecurity—Another problem is that older adults feel “too old.” They feel out of touch with who kids are and where they’re at. “Even though their grandchildren are tremendous and respond to them well, these older adults somehow think other kids won’t,” says Mark.
Apathy—Then there’s the “retirement syndrome” that Mark says is in our society. “When you reach a certain age, you get to quit working, and then you let other people work,” he says. “And sometimes that comes through in Christian service as well.” But Scripture doesn’t say that when we reach a certain age we can retire from Christian service. “Instead,” Mark adds, “think of Caleb and other great men in the Old Testament who did tremendous things when they were old.”
Despite the obstacles, Mark finds ways to get older adults involved in children’s ministry.
Flexibility—When Mark asks capable adults to help, he doesn’t want them to feel tied down. The church has to be flexible and can’t get upset when older adults want to be gone for a month. “If senior adults start sensing those feelings, then they won’t help,” Mark says. “It’s easier to find someone to take a month out of the year for you than to find someone to take the whole year.”
Mark also offers every-other-week responsibilities. “Some older adults don’t want to go away for a long time. They just want to take off for an occasional weekend,” explains Mark. “It also allows older adults to join their Sunday school class and social group.”
Alternatives—Mark involves older adults in his church’s Awana program. He asks senior adults to volunteer as listeners and not as leaders. Since Awana meets the same time as Wednesday evening church services, the older adults can join church after they listen to children’s completed assignments. “The kids love it,” says Mark. “It’s like having Grandma and Grandpa in there.”
Older adults also enjoy one-time activities, such as providing refreshments for kids or helping take them to a nursing home.
Small tasks—”Take it in little steps,” advises Mark. Sometimes he recruits older adults who have special gifts in crafts or drama to teach an interest center. “They’re making a major contribution in the Sunday school program, but they’re doing something they feel comfortable with,” Mark says. “It shows older adults they do relate and that kids respond well to them.”
Personal involvement—The best way to recruit, according to Mark, is personally knowing the older adults. Mark’s been a teacher for the senior men’s Bible study every week for four years. “The more I build relationships with the senior adults,” muses Mark, “the easier it is to recruit some of them for children’s ministry.”
Kids enjoy having older adults around. “You know most kids love their grandparents; their grandparents are going to spoil and listen to them,” says Mark. “Many times older adults want that same kind of interaction.”
Matthew, a third-grader in Mark’s church, loves Miss Geneva. She’s been there for so many years that kids have become attached to her and her grandmotherly ways. Mark says she seems to be a surrogate grandmother for many who don’t have grandparents close by.
Children enjoy connecting with an older adult. But that older adult has to be committed to children and excited about them. Kids will pick up on and respond to that excitement. Older adults can make a lasting difference in children’s lives—if we’ll only help them get involved.
Barbara Beach is a grandmother, a world traveler, and an active volunteer in her church.
DISCOVERING THE TREASURE
These common volunteer problems may find their solution in your church’s older adults.
Lack of dedicated volunteers:
Senior adults average two to three times as many available hours for church-related activities as any other age group.
Transience of church membership:
Senior adults change addresses an average of once every 12 years, compared to the national average of once every seven years.
Low institutional loyalty:
High institutional loyalty is a common characteristic of senior adults. When they join, they stay and they’re committed.
Baby boomers’ biblical “illiteracy”:
Most senior adult church members have been Christians for years. They have a wealth of wisdom to share.
“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.” GETTING SENIOR ADULT MEMBERS ON YOUR YOUTH TEAM. By Carl Pounds.