Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Not ready to slow down

Lyngblomsten senior ministry conference addresses the “new old”

You know them: 50 years old and beyond. Your congregation’s stalwarts. They always bring something for potlucks. They fix things, sing in the choir, sweep up and empty trash, join committees, and help everywhere.

Moreover, they are, no doubt, your most generous givers. Aren’t they just great? God bless ‘em and end of story. Right?

Wrong. Your stalwarts — and emerging stalwarts — are the subject of discourse at Lyngblomsten’s annual Senior Ministry Conference October 1-2.

In particular, the conference will address how to involve what presenter Amy Hanson calls “the new old” — those at or near retirement but who even after retiring aren’t going to sit still for long.

Those who are 50 years old and beyond no longer think of themselves as old, suggests presenter Hanson, an author, speaker, and consultant based in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “Congregation leaders are not realizing this group is different,” says Hanson. “They are projected to live so much longer.”

Amy Hanson

“Sometimes, in people’s minds, senior ministry means potlucks and card clubs,” says Ethan Cook, Lyngblomsten’s ministry and media specialist.

Hanson, who has a master’s degree in gerontology and a doctorate in human sciences, turns just 39 years old in September but has been studying seniors’ involvement at church for 20 years.

What the present cohort of seniors wants to do at age 65 is much different than seniors of a generation or two ago, Hanson argues. Moreover, Baby Boomers, she says, are “more willing to be activists.”

So pastors and lay leaders may have some catching up to do, adds Lyngblomsten’s Ethan Cook, about how to engage Baby Boomers at retirement. “Sometimes, in people’s minds, senior ministry means potlucks and card clubs,” says Cook, Lyngblomsten’s ministry and media specialist, “and although those things are good, there’s a lot more that can be done.”

To wit: What about people 50 years and older who never had a church home, or who have left the church? Can your retirees and near-retirees help on that front?

Meanwhile, notes presenter Hanson, your “new old” church activists may be just right for visiting and otherwise ministering to much older members and shut-ins.

Wrong way

In recent years more than 100 persons have attended Lyngblomsten’s annual senior ministry conference at Wilder Center, 451 Lexington Parkway North in St. Paul. Lyngblomsten’s website says the conference will cover these points:

* How to reach those older than 50 years and engage them more fully in the life of the church.

* What retirement means for people and how congregations play a role.

* How to grow your congregation by welcoming those who are 50 years and older.

* How to change your ministries for maximum impact with older adults.

Hanson points out what she calls a wrong way to do it: One church welcomed people to activities for seniors by publishing a list of who is a senior: Are you retired? Do you get the senior discount? Do you have grandkids? Gray hair? And so on.

That won’t work, Hanson writes in her blog, cautioning that “we are never going to be able to convince the new old that they are seniors and therefore should join the current senior adult ministry.” Rather than trying to draw such members into an existing senior ministry, she asks, “why not start something new and fresh to reach this unique group?”

The old approach was to assume that retirees and other seniors want to slow down and take things easy. That is not so for the recently retired, she suggests. Give them an assignment and accountability — a big project or a full program to run.

What about trying to plant a church inside a 55-plus living community? Or launching a worship service specifically targeting unchurched people 50 years of age and older?

The Bible has many examples of seniors doing great work: Abraham and Sarah in Genesis, Anna and Simeon in Luke. Who knows what your own seniors might accomplish?

Tags: , , , ,