Rev. Dr. Richard Gentzler, Jr.

Many congregations are graying! Due to medical technology, scientific discoveries, better health care, nutrition, job safety, and a host of other variables, more people are living longer than ever before. As a result, congregations are enjoying the blessing of increasing numbers of older adults.

Growing old is no longer synonymous with dying and death. For many older adults, old age is not a disability nor a disease. Instead, it is a time of great opportunity for learning, growing, serving, and reimagining one’s life. As people live longer, the post-retirement period can last 20 to 30 years or more. We are witnessing a historically unprecedented expansion of life.

Gerontologists like to classify late adulthood or old age into three periods: from age 65 to 75 sometimes called the young-old; from age 75 to 85 sometimes called the old; and age 86+, sometimes referred to as the old-old. The division of old age into three periods highlights the reality that old age can conceivably extend 30 or more years—from age 65 to 95+. Over that potential 30+ year span, the wants and needs of older individuals change.

Rather than using a chronological construct for older adulthood in ministry, I believe it is helpful to use phases of aging and old age. Years ago, I identified Three Phases of Aging for churches developing intentional ministry by, with, and for older adults: Active Phase (Go-Goes), Passive Phase (Slow-Goes) and Final Phase (No-Goes).

  • Active Phase: Go-Goes
    Retirees pursue a variety of interests (e.g., volunteering, extensive travel, leisure activities, mission trips, part- or full-time employment, and continuing education). Healthy and active older adults of any age make up this phase.
  • Passive Phase: Slow-Goes
    Energy and health begin to ebb for retirees. They may be providing primary caregiving for a spouse, aging parent, or grandchildren. They are not as active in the church or community as a result of their own health or caregiving responsibilities. Extensive travel is replaced with shorter visits to family and friends.
  • Final Phase: No-Goes
    Health problems may limit or even eliminate most activities outside the home. Mobility is restricted and home health care services or alternative housing may be sought.

When designing an intentional ministry by, with, and for older adults, consider each of these phases of aging and identify how your ministry is reaching each phase. Remember, older adults of any age can fit into any of the phases. For example, a 95-year-old adult might be healthy and in the Active Phase while another 65-year-old adult might be dying and in the Final Phase.

What are ways your older adult ministry can make use of the Three Phases of Aging? Can you identify various ministry opportunities that meet the needs of all older adults in each of these three phases? How could you use the S.E.N.I.O.R.S. Ministry Model (described in part 1 of this article) with the Three Phases of Aging described here? This helpful grid might serve as a useful guide for planning intentional ministry by, with, and for older adults.

Intentional Older Adult Ministry Assessment

Identify the specific ministry programs of your church in each area of the S.E.N.I.O.R.S. Ministry Model for the Three Phases of Aging

S.E.N.I.O.R.S. Ministry AssessmentActive Phases Go–GoesPassive Phase Slow–GoesFinal Phase No–Goes
S – Spirituality   
E – Enrichment   
N – Nutrition/Wellness       
I – Intergenerational   
O – Outreach     
R – Recreation     
S – Service     

For more information on the Three Phases of Aging, read An Age of Opportunity: Intentional Ministry By, With, and For Older Adults by Richard H. Gentzler, Jr. – Discipleship Resources, 2018

For information on 51 Older Adult Ministry Ideas (best practices) click here.