THE MINISTERING TO SENIOR ADULTS

THE MINISTERING TO SENIOR ADULTS
THE CHURCH’S CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY OF AN AGING AMERICA…

Article 1

John Naisbitt, futurist and author of Megatrends, calls the coming age wave, “the most important trend of our time.” If you haven’t noticed it moving through the American population, consider the following:

* In 1985, for the first time, the number of persons in the United States over age 65 years exceeded those under 18 years. This pattern will continue into the foreseeable future.

* Those persons over age 85 years are the fastest growing group in the country.

* In 1982, the census bureau counted 32,000 Americans age 100 years or older.

* Average life expectancy in 1950 was 68.2 years; in 1985 it was 74.7 years; in 2020 it will be 78. 1 years.

* Older persons constitute over 60% of all single adults.

* In 1980, there were 26 million Americans who had reached or passed age 65 — 11.3% of the population. By 1990, this group will number 32 million persons — 12.7%. By 2020, those over 65 years will account for 51 million — 17.3% of the population.

* By 2040, when the last of the “baby boomers” reach retirement, the over-65 age group will number 87 million persons, which will constitute approximately one-fourth of the population! By that year, 2040, life expectancy for males will be 87 years and for females will be 92.

* A new book Age Wave, by Ken Dychtwald, is skyrocketing to the best selling list. On the book jacket it states, “It will challenge your view of the future.” (This book is available only for the next several months from CHURCH GROWTH. See the enclosed “Material Order” card.)

How Seniors Can Help Your Church Grow

Seniors adults provide a unique resource to churches that see the possibilities and act accordingly. Here’s just a few reasons why…

1. Seniors have both the desire and time to serve in church ministry roles.

One of the most frequent laments of pastors is lack of personnel and/or volunteers for church activities. When challenged, trained, and motivated, senior adults can contribute to solving this problem. For example…

Central Baptist Church in Jacksonville, TX., has a comprehensive ministry for senior adults (called, “Live Long and Like It”), coordinated solely through volunteers. Thirty eight different people
serve on special committees and plan such activities as “Walk a Mile” club, “Snap, Crackle ‘n’ Pop” (an exercise group), Bible studies, a library interest group, a handbell choir, ceramics class, and a
genealogical workshop. They recently added a “Volunteer Service Corp” to help older persons meet needs of, and reach out to, other seniors in the community.

First Baptist Church, San Angelo, TX. has a GLORY choir of 113 senior adult members. The choir has significantly contributed to the growth of this church.

It is particularly true of seniors, however, that they do not seek or desire “busy work” … time is too precious. But meaningful “kingdom work” . . . yes.

2. Seniors can help your church grow spiritually.

Older adults have the wisdom that comes only through experience. Particularly among those who have devoted a lifetime to studying God’s word and endeavored to grow in the faith, these people are often “saints” in their own right. Involving these spiritually mature adults in such areas as lay counselling, leading Bible studies, sharing in panel discussions, working with new believers will tap a source unique in the church.

3. Seniors can provide “pastoral care.”

In our research we found that it is easier for those over 65 to say, “I love you” and to express Christian love than for any other age category. The older people are, the more loving they tend to be. And, as we note in the book Who Cares About Love?, “loving churches are growing churches.” The natural “loveability” among older adults can be particularly helpful as it relates to congregational needs for pastoral care. With training, the mix of love and experience that seniors can bring to a pastoral care issue can greatly lighten the load of the pastor, and extend the ministry of the church in new ways.

Programming For The Needs Of Seniors

As you consider how to effectively enlarge the senior adult program inyour church, the following needs should be addressed in your ministry…

1. Seniors have the need for respect.

In his book The Bible and Family Relations, T.B. Maston observes that throughout Scripture, both directly and indirectly, the importance of showing respect for the aged is common. Esteem for the elderly is a mark of a Christian church as well as a mark of a civilized people. How uncivilized we feel the accounts of Eskimo tribes who put their unproductive elders on a piece of floating ice and pushed them off into oceanic oblivion, or block them up in an ice and snow hut to die alone of cold and starvation. How civilized is your church in its treatment of the elderly?

2. Seniors need to see the mystery of death through “resurrection faith.”

The path for all of us leads eventually to the grave. Seniors face the immediacy of this destiny. Yet the Christian faith, in a resurrected Christ, provides a hope and a future which transcends the present. Dealing realistically and straightforwardly with these issues of life and death is important.

3. Seniors need to make a meaningful contribution.

Upon retirement, the question of “what do I do that is productive” soon becomes very real. The novelty of no work and all play quickly looses its luster. Those seniors who find that the “golden years” are indeed golden (and not rusted) are those who discover that real gain comes in giving, not receiving. Providing seniors the opportunity to give — and thus renew or find a sense of self-worth — is an important need the church can meet.

4. Seniors need relationships.

Families may not be immediately available. Even if they are, seniors (like all of us) want to be with friends who share common interests, and experiences. The need for new learning experiences, sharing of fears and joys, experiencing the value of friendship is common to all, but particularly to seniors.

5. Different seniors have different needs.

Older adults are not one homogeneous group. In fact, three categories are helpful when you consider ministry plans: 1) “active retired” are those who have control of their daily schedules and who are in relatively good health. This is the group that is often the most neglected, yet has the greatest potential contribution to the church; 2) “working seniors” who hold regular jobs. They frequently are as busy as they want to be and are not looking for another night out, or church project; 3) “confinees” are those who are shut-ins in their own homes or rest homes. This group may be sub-divided into those who are permanently confined, and those who are temporarily confined. Planning appropriate events for each group will be more successful than lumping all seniors into one group and trying to minister to their diverse needs through one program or activity.

Churches looking for opportunities to extend their ministry and the love of Christ to those in need will do well to consider this growing group of receptive persons. The “age wave” is here.

How Is The Church Responding To The Age Wage?

Today 12% of the population is 65 years or older. Approximately 20% of American church membership is in this age group. With such a significant number of persons in churches, and with the growing number of persons in the surrounding community in this age grouping, how and what is the church doing in reaching “senior America?”

Based on a survey of 200 churches, here are some interesting observations…

* 26% of those surveyed indicated no specific activities, programs, or ministries for senior adults. Some referred seniors to community service agencies.

* Of the 74% of the churches who indicated some services or activities for seniors, the following were most consistently listed:

seniors invited to attend regular worship services; public address system in the sanctuary (15% had hearing aids); hospital visitation by pastor; food distributed on holidays.

(One pastor’s comment, when looking at the above list, was, “big deal!”)

In our estimation, while such activities are helpful, they do not provide the basis for effective outreach to an aging America.

On the widely circulated “Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale,” which measures a person’s change in life activities and the stress associated with such change, seniors rate particularly high. Church growth research has shown that those who rate high on this scale are especially receptive to new life in Christ and new relationships in a local congregation.

Can we in the church afford to let this significant new opportunity go without a better response?

What are churches doing in response to the “age Wave?” A few churches have effective ministries. But in overview, for most churches, one would have to answer, “very little.” What could be done for effective ministry to seniors? The answer? “Quite a bit more.”

How Do You Know When You’re Getting Old?

You look forward to a dull evening.
You join a health club and don’t go.
Your children begin to look middle-aged.
You dim the lights for economic reasons, rather than romantic ones.
You sink your teeth into a steak, and they stay there.
Your favorite part of the newspaper is “25 years ago today.”
Your back goes out more than you do.

How To Have An Effective Older Adult Minister

(A personal note from Win Arn)

Most churches have an activity or tow for senior adults; usually a Bible study, Sunday School class, or a women’s circle. Yet, the senior adult ministry in most churches fall far short of responding to the needs and opportunities of an aging unchurched America.

To you as a reader of the Growth Report, and friend in our ministry, I would like to share what I believe is an exciting vision…

At the Institute for American Church Growth we are launching a major new ministry entitled “L.I.F.E.” It stands for “Living In Full Effectiveness,” and is a practical new approach to helping churches better reach the unchurched senior adult population in their community. At the same time L.I.F.E. will help a church be significantly more effective in ministry to and through the senior adults already in the congregation.

I believe that thousands of churches can and will benefit from this new approach to senior ministry — and that hundreds and hundreds of senior adults can be reached for Christ and incorporated into local churches as a result. Please read the enclosed brochure on the L.I.F.E. program. I want to personally invite you and your church to be pioneers with me in this new adventure of reaching senior Americans in your community.

For detailed information about the L.I.F.E. program write Church Growth, 2670 S. Myrtle Ave. Ste. #201, Monrovia, CA 91016

(The above material was written by the Win Arn Growth Report and published by Church Growth, in Monrovia, CA.)

DON’T FORGET SENIOR ADULTS!

By: Vicki Stamps

Article 2

Howard Willmoth, minister of senior adults at Ferguson, Missouri, believes that a church should be committed to the needs of senior adults.

NEEDS

In his ministry, Willmoth first established a monthly program, the “Golden Circle Fellowship.” As the Golden Circle grew, additional subgroups focused on senior adult needs. These needs can form the

Spiritual

* A Bible study for senior adults encourages a growing relationship with Christ through God’s Word–something that shouldn’t be neglected in the later years.

Offered three times a month, the Bible study group meets on a weekday so participants from other churches can attend without missing their own services.

* Vacation Bible School for adults also provides Bible study and worship. The VBS convenes for a week in the summer to help senior adults gain additional Bible knowledge.

Educational

* Special sessions to teach art, crafts, and other skills enable senior adults to learn from one another. Hobbies abound in any group of seniors, and sharing helps them feel needed.

In Willmoth’s group, three special sessions meet after the Bible study. The groups offer a choice of interests, and additional time for discussion about the Bible.

Physical

* Health screening services are arranged for the senior adult group. The screening includes an electrocardiograph reading, a blood pressure test, measurement of blood-sugar levels, and determination of the blood’s hemoglobin content. the senior adults in Willmoth’s group receive about $150 of free tests in a convenient, familiar location. The tests are administered by nurses from the church.

* The Home Services Committee comprises senior adults with maintenance skills learned on the job or from years as homeowners. This committee helps seniors maintain homes, save money, and enhance security.

Social

Seniors often live alone, so social activities supply conversation.

* Clubs for all men or all women take the pressure off the single seniors. The “Men’s Pep Club” in Willmoth’s ministry insists that all conversation be positive. Members are forbidden to talk about
politics or their ailments.

* Program topics for the clubs draw on community resources by inviting representatives from companies, local attractions, or historic sites to speak at the meetings.

* Other activities include short excursions, week-long trips, theme banquets and interactive events.

Ministry

Senior adults enjoy ministering to others, especially to those who can’t attend church activities. The group offers two avenues for service:

* The “Homebound Department” members visit shut-in seniors each month. The visits tie the homebound with activities of other senior adults.

* Telephone classes help the homebound senior adult study the Bible each week. In cooperation with the telephone company, phone lines link the Sunday school class with senior adults in their homes. The Sunday school teacher makes quarterly visits to distribute study literature.

ADVICE

To congregations implementing a senior adult ministry, Willmoth advises:

* Involve as many seniors in the program as possible. They should not just attend the activities; seniors should be planning, implementing, and leading the ministry.

* Spend time with seniors, listening to their needs. Their ideas can form a workable ministry plan.

* Sincerely love senior adults. It’s the only way to serve them.

WHY BE AFRAID OF AGING?

Why are we so afraid of age, and why do we lie about it? Whenever * am asked my age, I always flat out tell the truth. It’s beautiful to reach the age where you can quit pressing to prove yourself, where you can be your own self, the person God created, with no apologies.

If I only looked at the women’s magazines and fashion pages, I suppose I would become despondent about this relentless march of the years; however, I look to the Scriptures and find that aging has very high priority. That’s good news.

We cannot demand respect, but we should command respect because of our love and fear of Almighty God and our example of godly living.

The Bible says, “You shall give due honor and respect to the elderly, in fear of God. I am Jehovah” (Lev. 19:32).

How far we have strayed from Biblical principles! In the patriarchal times, the older people were the center of family life. They were the ones who gave the advice and led Israel in times of trouble. Look at the priests, the judges, and the warrior; they were admired and revered.

In Proverbs, old age is not a curse, it’s a prize. “White hair is a crown of glory and is seen most among the godly” (16:31).

Old age is not a burden, it’s a reward. (From Dale Evans Rogers)

CAST ME NOT OFF IN MY OLD AGE

By: Larry Ferguson

Article 3

Attention to these characteristics of older citizens reduces the feeling of being cast off in old age.

PHYSICAL CHANGES

It was 7 p.m. and getting dark when George left for the church. The glare from the oncoming cars was aggravating. He finally found a place to park two blocks away. The Bible study was on the second floor of the education building. There were no elevators. George’s legs got tired as he slowly climbed the steps. His heart protested. He found himself considering his excuses for quitting the study.

Characteristics

* Night vision becomes difficult as the eye does not adjust as quickly to changes in light. Receptors in the back of the eye also require more light just to see.

* Balance becomes a problem, muscles lose their resiliency, and bones become brittle. Climbing steps becomes dangerous, particularly at night when visual cues are more difficult to see.

Solution

* Consideration. Programs primarily involving seniors should be held on ground floor during the day.

HEARING LOSS

Arlene sat in church on Sunday morning. “I have been sitting in this spot for ten years,” she thought. “But lately it is harder to hear the pastor and special music. At times it is too loud. At other times I can hardly hear and have to strain to catch the message. Maybe I should stay home and watch the Sunday TV services.”

Characteristics

* The loss of high-pitch acuity, the possible presence of ringing in the ears, and overall decrease in hearing are common for the elderly.

*Seniors experience embarrassment and confusion when they can’t hear what is said.

Solutions

* Adequate sound system. Provide a sound system with a clear tone and little echo or mushiness.

* Consistent use. If you offer individual hearing devices that amplify the sound, be considerate enough to keep the system functioning.

BUDGET PROBLEMS

The rent was getting a little too high for Fred to pay from his social security. Everything seemed too high these days. Even the bus pass was expensive. He could only eat out once a week now. He thought he was doing everything he could to save money, but it just didn’t seem to stretch.

Characteristic

* Fred lacks the awareness of what’s available to senior citizens in terms of housing, activities, discounts, opportunities, and programs.

Suggestion

* Provide at least one person from your church who will keep up on what is offered to seniors locally.

LONELINESS

Eight months ago, Helen’s husband died. The church was very helpful the first few weeks. But now, unless she goes out and seeks it, no one seems to care about her loneliness.

Characteristic

* Seniors have extra emotional needs. Death is a greater part of their lives than other age groups, and it often leaves them alone with little chance of remarriage. Children may live in another city, and friends may be busy.

Suggestions

* Develop caring groups within the church. Some possible activities include: telephone assurance, visitation teams, discussion groups on grief, death, and loss.

* Designate a coordinator. The crux is the Sunday school teacher or leader who has a heart for seniors.

MAINTAINING DIGNITY

Mark was enjoying his retirement. Last weekend he went fishing. But when he returned to church the next week, he was confronted by the lay leader who questioned where he’d been. “You used to be so active here. What’s happened to you?” The question was a challenge, not an inquiry into his well-being.

Characteristics

* The greatest challenge for the senior is to maintain a sense of dignity and respect. Society is cruel and often overlooks the fact that seniors are worthwhile people. Questioning someone’s motives and making them feel guilty for not participating as we think they should is a put down.

* Not recognizing differing needs and interests is disrespectful.

Suggestions

* Listen to the opinions of the seniors when it comes to providing activities for them. Find out what they want.

” Tap their usefulness. Offer something for them to do, such as volunteering around the church. They can call, help others, fold letters, visit, and volunteer in many ways. They have the time.

Provide occasions when they can share the wisdom of their many years with younger people.

ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS

* Include at least one old hymn in worship services attended by seniors, or have one service a month with more traditional singing.

* Provide a transportation system for visits to the doctor, the grocery store, the pharmacy, or to church.

* Initiate and adopt-a-grandparent program. Pair up seniors with younger families and let them share intergenerational experiences.

* Offer large-print Bibles to those who can’t afford them.

SERVICE OPTIONS FOR OLDER ADULTS

Prayer Discipleship

The North Liberty Church of the Brethren in North Libert, Indiana, commissioned “Prayer Disciples” in a special Sunday morning service. These older adults, many of whom are not able to be as active in church as they once were, promised to spend each day in prayer for specific concerns. Those shut-ins who could not attend the commissioning were included in private ceremonies at their homes.

Prayer Disciples have an important ministry. Those in leadership have been challenged to remember that their busyness should not keep them from time with God in prayer. Children and young families have grown in a fellowship that stresses prayer’s importance and power. And the disciples themselves have felt an active, vital part of the church family.

Solomon’s Porch

The University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington, engages older members in ministry in various ways. One way is by meeting for lunch in a neighborhood hamburger restaurant. Once a week an older church couple coordinates the activity by simply making sure everyone is welcome and guiding discussion to a sharing of concerns, joys, and successes.

They are bringing up-to-date the kind of warm fellowship that existed in Bible times at the place described in the Book of Acts as Solomon’s porch. The result: the church family meets needs between Sundays.

Mutual Adoption Society

The Concord United Methodist Church in Englewood, Ohio, has an adoption program. Each of the adult Sunday school classes adopts one of the children’s classes, which in turns adopts that adult class back. They promise to pray for one another and keep in contact in other ways throughout the year. Children have presented songs and skits while adults have shared cards, Christmas presents, and ice cream with the children.

(The original publisher of the last two above articles is unknown.)

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