Rev. Dr. Richard Gentzler, Jr.

Church leaders who are intentional in older adult ministry realize that there is no older adult population. Rather, there are multiple older adult populations. And each one is very different.

No one ministry type reaches all the older adults in a congregation or community. Not only are there many different age-cohorts, from 55 to 105, but there are very different needs and concerns as people age and grow older. Older adults have different socio-economic, health, educational, career, and lifestyle experiences. Plus, older adults can be married, widowed, never married, divorced, healthy-active, frail-elderly, homebound, grandparents raising grandchildren, working full or part time, and residents of continuing care retirement communities.

Older adults are perhaps the least homogenous of all age-cohorts—no two older adults are exactly alike. Their needs, concerns, abilities, likes, and dislikes are all vastly different from one another. Yet for some church leaders, planning ministry with older adults is viewed through a single lens as if all older adults think, act, and behave alike or that their needs, concerns, and abilities are the same. Imagine if we grouped all children between birth through high school as having the same abilities and needs. We would think that ridiculous. Yet, some leaders use this same thinking when envisioning, planning, and budgeting for older adult ministry.

We can equate these differences in elderhood as we reflect on Paul’s example of the gifts of the Spirit. Paul wrote, “There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit, and there are different ministries and the same Lord, and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

Intentional congregations and savvy leaders recognize these differences and plan ministry accordingly. Churches that are intentional in ministry by, with, and for older adults realize that the wealth of experience, wisdom, and faith that often abounds in older persons should not be lost or underutilized. These churches see the challenges and opportunities for intentional ministry and build upon this awareness.

Many congregations intentional in their ministry with older adults use the S.E.N.I.O.R.S. Ministry Model. This model, briefly described below, identifies seven key areas for ministry: spirituality, enrichment, nutrition/fitness (health & wellness), intergenerational, outreach/evangelism, recreation/socialization, and service. It is a highly effective tool for making certain congregational ministry with older adults is intentional and comprehensive.

S.E.N.I.O.R.S. Ministry Model

S – Spirituality: Plan and develop Bible study groups; prayer groups; adult religious education classes; life review classes; spiritual retreats; guided journaling classes; worship participation; rituals to acknowledge life transitions dealing with change, separation, loss, and new commitments; healing services; and seminars on end-of-life issues.

E – Enrichment: Plan and develop classes and small groups relevant to the specific learning needs and concerns of older adults. You might focus on community issues and current affairs; computers and technology; financial, legal, and health concerns; wills and advance directives; fine arts such as painting and music; writing one’s life story; travel and field trips; and literacy programs.

N – Nutrition/fitness (health & wellness): Plan and develop a parish nurse ministry (Faith Community Nursing); congregational health-care ministry; low-impact aerobics and other physical fitness classes; health fairs; and cooking classes.

I – Intergenerational: Plan and develop opportunities for coaching, mentoring, and tutoring future generations. Involve all ages in worship, study classes, and spiritual life retreats. Encourage participants of all ages in service and mission projects.

O – Outreach/evangelism: Plan and develop ways for older adults to reach out to other older adults who do not have a church home or those living in continuing care retirement communities; start adult day-care ministry; provide respite care and meals; and offer minor home maintenance ministry.

R – Recreation/socialization: Plan and develop social activities for health and fun living; conduct golf, fishing, and other sports outings; attend ball games and the theater together. Encourage walking, hiking, and camping/RV activities. Invite older adults to participate in gardening, flower arranging, and card and board games.

S – Service: Plan and develop opportunities for older adults to engage in service projects, including short-term mission projects, community service projects, respite-care ministry, prison ministry, meals on wheels delivery, visitation ministry, transportation ministry, home ramp construction, and home chore ministry.

Next month ENCORE Ministry Matters will include part 2 of Intentional Older Adult Ministry and examine the various stages of aging and elderhood in our congregations.

For more information on the S.E.N.I.O.R.S. Ministry Model read An Age of Opportunity: Intentional Older Adult Ministry by Richard H. Gentzler, Jr. – Discipleship Resources, 2018.

This article appeared in the March 2021 issue of ENCORE Ministry Matters. To receive this free monthly enewsletter, contact emmatters@encoretnumc.org.