A VALUABLE RESOURCE
Churches spend a great deal of energy and resources in efforts to
lure young people. But Sparks hopes to see more congregations paying
more attention to the fastest-growing segment of America’s
population. There are more people over 65 than under 18 today in
the United States.
“Pastors have a
gold mine sitting in their congregation,” Sparks says. “Seniors
can do more than fold bulletins and stuff envelopes.”
At too many churches
the only opportunity for the older crowd is an age-segregated Sunday
school class. “Senior adults don’t want to just be ministered
to; they want an opportunity for ministry,” Sparks says.
Ray Horwege, seniors
pastor at Calvary Temple in Concord, Calif., says age groups shouldn’t
separate adult churchgoers. He notes that the 120 “Prime Timers”
at Calvary Temple include choir members, office helpers and home
visitors to newcomers.
Horwege, 79, is a perfect
example of an active senior. He has been in ministry for 55 years.
In addition to his three days a week in the office he makes numerous
hospital calls. “I couldn’t sit around and do nothing,”
have more time than the rest of us,” Sparks says. “But
they do have more available time.” That available time can
be a great benefit to churches, including opportunities to be role
models for younger people.
For instance, at Calvary
Temple in Concord older women act as mentors at a weekly young mothers
meeting. One senior sits at each table as a resource person ready
to answer questions. The seniors group annually sponsors a picnic
for youth, which helps bridge the gap between the two age groups.
The young people learn about the careers, families and ministries
of the elderly among them.
“The biggest need
in the church right now is intergenerational ministries,”
Yannatone says. “At First Assembly, we’re trying to
give a sense to senior adults that they have something to contribute
to the generation behind them.”
A church needs to remind
each member that he or she is an original creation of God, according
to psychotherapist Margie Jenkins, who helps people prepare for
the end of life. “We often don’t realize how significant
we are,” she told Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
“When we die we leave a void in the lives, hearts and souls
of people who know us.”
Jenkins, who has served
roles from Sunday school teacher to elder at a Presbyterian church
in Houston, says congregations need to involve older people in decision-making
processes because seniors have the advantage of long and varied
A TIME FOR SERVICE
adults have been driven by success during much of their lives, and
that is reflected in their giving. They have blessed their churches
financially as their careers have prospered. As a result, world
missions ministries have grown tremendously in the past generation.
But career and economic
accomplishments alone don’t drive this age group. Realizing
their time is limited, many want to make a difference in the world
and do something that is spiritually significant.
“I hear guys say,
‘How much golf can a person play? What can I do with the remaining
years of my life?’ ” says Yannatone. At First Assembly
in Fort Myers, 40 percent of the congregation are seniors, many
of them retired after successful careers.
“Part of retirement
is kicking back, watching TV and playing golf, but after you do
so much of that, like anything, it becomes boring,” says Koenig,
who last year authored Purpose and Power in Retirement: New
Opportunities for Meaning and Significance. “It doesn’t
provide much fulfillment.”
a season to refocus,” Sparks says. “It’s a time
to re-evaluate your life and to take inventory of your God-given
The notion of “I
did my time” is a less frequent rejoinder these days as older
adults nurture their spiritual gifts. Seniors can interact with
the rest of the congregation in such roles as greeting at the door,
holding babies in the nursery or heading up a food bank. They also
can be active in behind-the-scenes ministries such as writing to
missionaries that the church supports, delivering cassettes of sermons
to shut-ins and reading the Bible to the visually impaired.
for seniors to help other seniors, such as providing transportation
to services for those unable to drive or meals for those unable
to cook. They can be a companion and supporter of the many older
adults who have chronic illnesses or provide relief to the family
caregivers of the infirm aged.
“Time, talent and
energy are resources most of us have,” says Yannatone.
“Seniors may not
have the energy, but who has more talent and life experiences that
can be a blessing to people inside and outside the church?”
Outside the church, one
way to reach others is through lifestyle evangelism. The elderly
who dwell across the hall or next door in the apartment building
or condominium often have more contact with neighbors than younger
families spread out in suburbs. “The challenge for those engaged
in playing golf or fishing every day is to do those recreational
activities with a purpose beyond relaxing,” Yannatone says.
“It’s a great time to build relationships with unchurched
Koenig, 51, says living
in proximity should stir concern for others. “We may be able
to avoid starving people in Africa, but when it’s actually
our neighbor who needs help it’s hard to ignore in a Christian
context,” he says.
Likewise, often a senior-adult
ministry starts because a senior adult senses a calling.
Guy Worsham, 73, says
he always loved old people and when he became one he made it his
full-time passion. After retiring as a sales manager for an industrial
supply company, Worsham for the past five years has been a full-time
staff member at Humble (Texas) Assembly of God. Starting from scratch,
he and his wife, Naomi, now send a monthly newsletter to the 700
people in the church who are 50 and older, plus a weekly newsletter
to the 150 who are 80 and older, whose spouses have died, or those
who are homebound. The Worshams, who have been married 53 years,
know the addresses, birthdays, wedding anniversaries and hobbies
of all the seniors in the congregation thanks to computer records
they collect. They hold a monthly “Servant Keeper” lunch
and a weekly devotional coffee club gathering. Group members go
to concerts, take tours and are part of a prayer chain.
just about a potluck luncheon,” Worsham says. “We’re
a ministry. We need to keep folks active and their minds alert and,
in the process, bless them.”
Koenig contends that
service can keep older people healthier. He encourages retired people
to spend a year pursuing their dreams, whether it be traveling,
going to the beach or playing golf. But after a while leisurely
pursuits for personal satisfaction cease to be fulfilling, he says.
People need to develop a plan on how to make life more meaningful,
which usually means investing their abilities and talents into the
lives of others.
Koenig believes deeply
spiritual people live longer because of what he calls a “helper’s
“When people are
kind and helpful in meeting the needs of others, not expecting anything
in return, it produces a euphoria that we know we’ve made
a difference in the life of another,” Koenig says.
Multiple studies indicate
that people who provide support to others not only have a more purposeful
life themselves, they also have better physical health and suffer
less from depression.
Jenkins says it’s
important for the elderly to remain active in various ways in order
to keep their minds active. “Like the rest of our body, if
we don’t use our brain we’ll lose it,” she says.
“And if we are interested in other people we talk less about
ourselves. We become more lovable and less irritating.”
Jenkins, 80, authored
her first book, You Only Die Once: Preparing for the End of Life
with Grace and Gusto, last year. She has no plans to retire. “When I get old I might
think about it,” she says.
John W. Kennedy, 45,
is news editor for Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
His three sons who attend college consider him old, but now he knows