By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
ALEXANDRIA – To engage today’s older adult, churches must respond to the diversity among the older adult population.
“We have to respond to the fact that this is a diverse group,” Amy Hanson said. “This isn’t a neat package. We’re talking about two different generations – builders and boomers.”
A speaker, writer and consultant on reaching older adults, Hanson was the keynote speaker at the Reaching and Unleashing Baby Boomers and Beyond conference at the Baptist Building in Alexandria. Thirty-seven Louisiana Baptists from throughout the state attended the one-day conference.
Hanson said older adults fit primarily in two groups – builders and boomers. Born before 1945, builders are loyal to an organization, dependable and commit to long-term endeavors, she believes. Born between 1946 and 1964, boomers are committed more to a cause, entrepreneurial and commit more to short-term endeavors, Hanson has found.
Hanson said that churches wanting to reach the boomers must create ministries that help people age well, make evangelism and spiritual growth priorities, emphasize service and integrate older adults into the entire church.
“Why are older adults receptive,” Hanson said. “They are experiencing many life changes, desiring meaningful relationships and seeking a life purpose.”
Hanson said reaching the baby boomer age group is a big challenge but also presents a big opportunity in regards to ministry. When considering ministries to the baby boomers, churches must match their needs and interests and rethink possible service opportunities for this generation.
Some ideas on how to reach out to boomers include:
• Enlist them in discussion and planning on ministry, such as a Dream Team. Similar to a focus group, this team of 10 people makes a short-term commitment for meaningful discussion about possible ministries.
• Emphasize small gatherings but also plan larger events. Hanson said boomers enjoy attending large gatherings but many times may want a meaningful follow-up event, such as a Bible study or service project they can participate in together.
• Create ministries that respond to their current needs and life issues. Hanson said aging parents, strong marriages, adult children, physical and mental health and retirement are among the top needs of boomers that she has discovered.
• Engage them in ministry. Since boomers want to know how they can make a difference, Hanson said churches should combine serving with learning, utilize small groups as an avenue in which to serve and rethink service opportunities.
In her final session of the day, Hanson said that sometimes bridging the gap between the boomer generation and a younger generation, such as Millennials that were born between 1984 and 2002, can be difficult at times. To overcome this, Hanson said churches should create ways for generations to serve together such as a building a Habitat for Humanity house and delivering meals to the homebound.
“It doesn’t always have to be something big,” Hanson said. “Let’s bridge the gap.”
Other ideas include starting affinity groups that are topic driven, planning strategic intergenerational events, making worship services intergenerational, encouraging the young and old to tell stories to one another and forming prayer partnerships.
Citing Psalm 71:17-18, Hanson said the author of this chapter emphasized passing on God’s power to the next generation. Hanson encouraged those in attendance to do the same.
“He passed on faith to the generation behind him,” Hanson said. “We have to create an opportunity for our people to do that – to build those relationships.
“We need our people to be bridge builders,” she said. “And we need to give them an opportunity to build bridges. There’s too much at stake for us to ignore it.”
Keith Johnson, a member of Christian Harmony Baptist Church in Clarence, said the conference opened his eyes to the needs of all older adults.
“It’s changing my perspective on how I view things and helped me understand to be more aware of ways to minister to this group,” Johnson said. “I learned also that we don’t need to forget our senior adults because they are still useful and we can learn a lot from them.”