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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,” he says.

“Seniors don’t 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 experiences.

A TIME FOR SERVICE
Many 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.”

“Retirement is a season to refocus,” Sparks says. “It’s a time to re-evaluate your life and to take inventory of your God-given gifts.”

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.

Opportunities abound 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 seniors.”

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.

“We’re not 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 high.”

“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 better.

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