As Christians, and especially as United Methodists, we are all too often painfully aware of our differences. Our socioeconomic backgrounds, gender, race, sexual orientation, professions, interests, and beliefs may separate us. Even attitudes and beliefs about aging and the elderly can fragment us. We all age differently.
But we do have a unifying factor we cannot afford to overlook: we are all aging. We do not all go to college, engage in military service, marry, have children, or have exciting careers, but we all age. We cannot escape it. Aging is a part of God’s design for all living things, including human beings.
Granted, old age is often associated with negatives—growing frailty, declining independence, the loss of loved ones, and the approach of our own death. COVID-19 has rendered life difficult for all ages but also particularly for older adults where isolation and loneliness have often penetrated normally active lives.
In spite of the coronavirus crisis, how might your church reach out to older adults in your community? The following steps can help your church plan an effective and intentional older adult ministry.
Step 1 – Gather information about your situation
Identify and know your audience by collecting as much information as possible on the older adults in your church and community. Survey older adults and ask questions such as:
- How many live alone or in a family?
- What are their needs and interests?
- Who are Go-Goes, Slow-Goes, and No-Goes?
Step 2 – Organize a team on aging
A team or task force should be comprised of senior adults representing older adulthood in your community: married, single, widowed, active, non-active, new and long-time members, men and women, retired, and employed. The number of team members is determined by the size of your church membership and the development of your overall older adult ministry.
Step 3 – Identify existing programs
Identify existing programs and ministries in your church and community that already engage and empower the lives of older adults. Do you have Sunday school classes, a women’s circle, Congregational Care ministry, or other programs involving older adults? What older adult ministry opportunities are neighboring churches using? What are local agencies and organizations such as a senior citizen center or public library doing on behalf of older adults?
Step 4 – Determine the area of responsibility for your church
Encourage your team to gather and study all the data collected on older adults. This information will help identify needs or problem areas. Through active prayer, ask the team to invite God’s vision for ministry by, with, and for older adults in your church. The team can then select the needs the church can handle.
Step 5 – Identify other churches and agencies with which you can combine forces
Avoid duplication. Some things can be done better as a community effort. For example, several churches working together can provide the volunteers, finances, and other resources needed for an effective adult day care ministry. To be intentional in older adult ministry, even large-member congregations need to reach out to other churches and agencies for resources and ideas.
Step 6 – Identify key leadership in the church and community to champion the ministry
Know who your leaders are and what their skills and interests are. By championing, I mean that the leadership takes responsibility for, manages, and guides the specific area of ministry to its fulfillment or completion. Also, know who in the aging field can be called on for information, guidance, resources, and training.
Step 7 – Set goals and objectives with a timeline for accomplishment and evaluation
Goals and objectives may be thought of as targeted outcomes within a specified time period. A goal will help identify those you want to involve or help in a task, the program you want to have, and the date it is to happen. Objectives are the tasks or outcomes you want. Write an objective for each goal. Set checkpoints to evaluate each goal or program and invite leaders and participants to evaluate the goal or program.
Step 8 – Set action plans into motion
An action plan is a general description of how to achieve an objective. The action plan will include a written description of the program, assign responsibility for championing and implementing the program, and indicate resources needed for implementation.
Effective congregations will find creative ways of engaging, equipping, and empowering an aging population. Reframing aging and ministry with older adults should be more than a sideline ministry. Faced with the reality of an aging society, growing congregations will not get bogged down by negative attitudes about aging. Instead, effective and vital congregations will empower older adults in all phases of ministry.
For more information read An Age of Opportunity: Intentional Ministry by, with, and for Older Adults by Richard H. Gentzler Jr., (Discipleship Resources, 2018) and visit www.encoretnumc.org.