Alabama Baptist churches strive to reach senior adults of different agescomment (0)
June 7, 2012
By Julie Payne
A one-size fits-all approach to adults 50-plus probably has never worked but definitely will not work now.” This statement, made by national expert on gerontology Amy Hanson, was made in reference to effective church ministry for older adults. It is an ever-growing topic for many pastors as they examine ways to minister to specific age brackets and lifestyles of today’s aging population.
Hanson, author of “Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults Over 50,” categorizes adults older than 50 into three age groups: the “frail elderly” (physically limited), “senior adults” (older than 70) and “new-old baby boomers” (between 50 and 70).
Ronnie McCarson, associate pastor to adults 55-plus at Cottage Hill Baptist Church, Mobile, agrees wholeheartedly with Hanson’s statement, explaining that there is “no normal” in senior adult ministry anymore.
With 25 years of experience as a minister to senior adults, McCarson first began his ministry to older adults at Hillcrest Baptist Church, Enterprise, in 1987. He said that with the possibility of five generations now worshiping in church at the same time, intergenerational ministry work is increasingly important.
Mark Seanor, minister to experienced adults at First Baptist Church, Huntsville, noted, “The [baby] boomers coming our way are aging [in] a way that we’re just now experiencing.” Many of these adults do not want to be identified as “senior adults” or be associated with the same events their parents are involved in, he said.
Kenny Hoomes, associate pastor for spiritual maturity/senior adults at First Baptist Church, Montgomery, faced this reality several years ago when a man who had turned 65 did not want to advance to the senior adult department because his mother was in that class.
“It was an awakening for me to realize we didn’t have enough departments in the senior adult area, and those turning 65 at the time didn’t want to move up,” Hoomes shared, adding he realized the ministry needed to do more than just implement an “everyone doing the same thing” approach.
According to Hoomes, two main factors have affected senior adult ministry. The first is that life expectancy has increased over time and people are living much longer. The second is the population and the sheer number of senior adults.
Hoomes said for ministry programming reasons, he would break down Hanson’s three age categories — frail elderly, senior adults and new-old baby boomers — even further. In his expanded definition, the “new-old baby boomer” term would encompass those in the 55–65 age range. “Then
I think, because of the differences in the circumstances of life, as well as physical abilities, that it needs to be broken down into smaller groups,” he said, alluding to the idea of a 65–75 group, a 75–85 group, an 85–95 group and so on.
Like Hoomes, Seanor also categorizes senior adult ministry into more than three groups. “Here at [First, Huntsville], we’re building our ministry around four different life stages,” Seanor remarked. Those four stages are the “Builders” (almost retired), “Explorers” (just retired), “Pillars” (those who have been retired for a time) and “Homebound.”
“But not all homebound folks are elderly,” Seanor clarified, explaining that sometimes this can be a spouse or family member who becomes a caregiver for a loved one.
So what does the implementation of a multifaceted ministry approach for older adults look like to churches?
At Cottage Hill Baptist, the church is developing a baby boomer ministry and is examining how it can best minister to this particular group. McCarson noted that while concepts about baby boomer ministry are becoming more prevalent, carrying out those ideas in the local church are just beginning.
In addition, he believes missions can bridge the gap between the various ages. “I think missions is really going to be the place where [baby] boomers fit in and bridge gaps with the older group,” he said, adding that Cottage Hill recently sent a group of both baby boomers and older senior adults to Tuscaloosa.
McCarson also believes ministering to different ages within senior adult ministry requires a “full-time” effort. “If you’re going to minister to all three of these age groups, there is no such thing as ‘part-time,’” he said, adding that schedules and lifestyles vary between each group.
Seanor noted there is a need within churches both large and small to develop new ways to reach the baby boomer generation. He said many baby boomers are looking for significance and purpose, and he believes helping those adults find significance within the church is important. He shared that at First, Huntsville, several initiatives are planned throughout the next few months to reach this age group.
And for Hoomes, ministering to the whole person is an important element of senior adult ministry.
“We have realized that in our ministry, we have to … think about really ministering to all these age groups and minister to them in lots of ways,” Hoomes concluded. “It’s not just [about] eating and going on trips … we try to take a holistic approach to minister to seniors … ministering mentally, emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually.”