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Boomers reshape older adult ministries

Boomers reshape older adult ministries

Volunteers at Information Table
Beyond 50 volunteers like these from Community UMC, DeBary, are an important part of community outreach efforts.

Jerry Smith recently returned from a symposium in Nashville, Tenn., inspired to find new ways to reach out to older adults, while also building deeper connections between generations of church members.

Smith, the coordinator of older adult ministries at Killearn UMC, Tallahassee, said traditional programs aimed at serving the elderly don’t speak to the diverse needs of Baby Boomers.

The issue is so important that the General Board of Discipleship devised a set of strategies to address it. 

Last month, Rev. Dr. Richard H. Gentzler Jr., director of the GBOD’s Center on Aging & Older Adult Ministries, presented the priorities outlined in a comprehensive plan for the next four years at the Symposium for Conference Leaders of Older Adult Ministries.

The plan identifies three vital areas for leadership training and resources:

  • The New Seniors, aka Boomers: Exploring the spiritual well-being of Boomers who are joining the ranks of older adulthood. By 2016, leading edge Boomers will begin turning 70 years of age.
  • Old-age poverty: Examining issues of poverty, including financial exploitation, among growing numbers of older adults in late life and identifying ways churches can help.
  • Intergenerational: Living the legacy by learning, growing and sharing among young people and older adults to blur the lines of separation among the generations.

Just two years ago, about 40 million Americans were age 65 or older. Gentzler told representatives of 52 annual conferences at the symposium that those ranks are expected to swell to 72 million by 2030 based on U.S. Census Bureau projections.

Smith, who serves on the Florida Conference Beyond 50 Ministries Task Team, said the GBOD plan provides clear direction at a critical time. He believes his church has thriving older adult ministries that regularly reach people in their 70s to 90s with a multitude of activities. But Boomers don’t relate to those programs, he said.

 “‘Senior’ is not something that Boomers want to be called,” said Smith, who at 63 is at the upper end of the Baby Boomer generation born between 1946 and 1964.

While his church has not yet developed special ministries aimed at Boomers, it did target that audience with a speakers’ series based on the book “Boomers on the Edge,” by Terry Hargrave.

Community UMC, DeBary, volunteers
A.J. Hackshaw, left, and Camille Miller are among Beyond 50 volunteers from Community UMC, DeBary, putting on a back-to-school festival in their community.

Topics addressed by speakers included caring for aging parents, supporting adult children returning home and dealing with the reality of being unable to retire. The series, open to the public, was well-received and Smith envisions similar outreach events in the future.

Rev. Lisa Degrenia, pastor of Community UMC, DeBary, said Boomers typically have a heart for service, and churches may be able help them plug into organizations that combat human trafficking, protect the environment, help children learn, feed the poor or tackle other social issues.

Boomers represent a huge, untapped resource, Degrenia said.

“They can extend healing and help in Jesus’ name.”

Along those lines, her church has joined a network of organizations working to address community needs.

Recently, that network organized a school supply drive. She thinks the group will tackle other local causes in the future.

Rev. David Broadbent of Canal Point UMC, Palm Beach County, is another member of the Beyond 50 Ministries Task Team. He said he’s noticed the need to use different forms of communication to reach church members.

Some members are tech-savvy; others aren’t. So, when Broadbent wants to share helpful articles, he’ll text or email members to tell them where to find them and he’ll print copies to put in the church.

Both he and Smith think that their churches may be able to connect young members of their church with older generations, to bring them up to speed on technology.

Clearly, not all older adults are cut from the same cloth, said Nancy Metz, former chairwoman of the Beyond 50 Ministries Task Team and now an associate lay leader in the South West District. She was invited to speak at the symposium and said differences among age groups prompted the Florida Conference to change the name of its older adult ministry to Beyond 50 in 2006.

Like Smith and Broadbent, Metz wants to pursue closer connections between generations within the church.

“We’re all in this, and I really would hope that large numbers of United Methodists who are in older adult ministry would say, ‘This isn’t just about us. It’s about having a church for our children and grandchildren,'” she said.

She also believes that Christians in later life can transform lives in their own peer groups.

“Not every older person has been saved,” she said. “Who can reach them better than older adults?”

*This story includes information from the General Board of Discipleship communications staff.