A Part of Re-Thinking church from my corner of the world is thinking about what Older Adult Ministries programs will look like once the current crop of Boomers hits their Middle Age. Ok. haha. That was designed to be funny. Pay attention. We Boomers expect to never grow old or up, so we are trying to age without growing Old. This is the first lesson in trying to plan for the 70, 80, and 90 year old Boomers of the future. Predictions of lifespans aside (many scientist think that most of the current Boomers will live to 85-95 year range), predicting what Older Adult Ministry with the Boomers will look like is not Rocket Science. No it is social science. This is because the mindsets Boomers exhibit were pretty much set in the mid 1960’s for early Boomers and the early 1970’s for late Boomers when we were kids. How this mindset will affect spirituality, aging, and dying of Boomers and Older Adult Ministry is simply a matter of the church understanding it and incorporating it into our work.
So what is it going to look like? I think we can borrow a great deal from the industries that currently cater to Boomers a great deal. One such industry is the Travel Industry, because it reveals much about Boomer choices and lifestyles but also about work style so therefore about retirement style. Here goes a rundown of some things that can be learned from the Travel Industry about Boomer Ministry. 1. Boomers are experienced and comfortable with Travel–This should alert us that Boomers are easy “joiners” but also they are easy “leavers” as well. This means that they may be easier to attract but only in a limited way so there always has to be opportunities to “buy in” over again. 2. Boomers consider themselves forever young. Older Adult Ministry recognizes the child in them and the desire to be seen as youthful, energetic, and not old. Boomers in retirement will attempt to have the same lifestyles as before which results often times in cluttered, busy lives. They are very slow to give up on their dreams. If they dreamed of having a Plymouth Barracuda as a 17 year old they just might buy the old clunker one behind a neighbor’s house just to say they fulfilled the dream, even if they never do anything with it. What this means for Older Adult Ministry is an emphasis upon self-help classes, wellness, and fitness. 3. Boomers want to have fun. Activities that have companionship or fellowship mean fun for Boomers but do not mix Great Generation Older Adult Activities with Boomer ones. Fun that is hard work to obtain is not fun for Boomers too btw. If it is too much like work forget about it, Boomers will tell 4. In a word Instant Gratification. Do not expect Boomers to sign up for anything until the last minute and make it very easy for them to participate with their time strapped schedules. 5. Boomers want choices and control so Boomer Ministry gives them both. Simultaneous activities for Boomers which allow them to customize their church experience works well. One Sunday a Boomer may attend Contemporary and the next Blended Worship that takes place at the same time. That is the kind of control they enjoy. 6. Boomers think they are special which means they want to be appealed to by their uniqueness and recognized for their contributions. Cater to this in doing Older Adult ministry with them. Provide opportunities for service that is public, help them feel like they are valued especially when they are visiting for the first time. Do not put Boomers in large groups where they become anonymous but in small groups where they can shine. 7. Boomers love comfort and convenience. Look for both in Older Adult Ministry with them. quick parking, plush decor of buildings, many amenities attract Boomers. One local church has a Minister of Fitness and an onsite Fitness Center open 24 hours a day with saunas. That’s what I call comfort but they have attracted a number of working Boomers who are in pre-retirement phase of life who work out, stay awhile for a discussion groups or to catch the new and then off to work they go. This church has seen many of these same professionals both men and women join other groups (such as a divorce recovery group) and return to worship, to the point since they named a fitness minister they have seen a 5 % increase in attendance at worship and have had 40 new members who came out of this before work program.
I am not going to cover everything that the Travel Industry is discussing about Boomers and how such things teach us about Older Adult Ministry in a short blog. The point is that the church should be investigating how to design its Older Adult Ministry to incorporate ministry with Boomers. It is being pro-active instead of being reactive and allows us to concentrate upon how that looks spiritually, how it looks in terms of good aging, and how it looks for the Kingdom of God. More to come in this arena.