Five strategies for engaging senior adults in ministry
As pastoral candidates, my wife and I attended a series of meetings the church board arranged with various groups from the congregation. During one of those sessions, we met with the senior adults.
Two things stood out to me. First, I was impressed by the number of seniors who attended the meeting. We had noticed the many young families, children and teens in earlier meetings. But this wasn’t just a church for young people; it was a healthy mix of all ages.
The second thing that made the meeting memorable was a question I suspected was coming: “Bob, we love our old gospel songs and hymns. Any chance we could sing some of those on Sundays again?”
Yes, worship wars were upon us. I knew I would need to navigate this concern carefully and wisely. Thankfully, an 80-year old man spoke up and said, “Hey, folks, I’ve learned a secret. I just borrow one of our old hymnals, take it home, and occasionally pull it out to sing some of my favorites. You should do the same!”
Senior adults have much to offer the local church. As with any age group, pastors need strategies for connecting with them, engaging them in ministry, and utilizing their gifts. Here are five ways to do that:
1. Build relationships with them. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the senior adults in your congregation. It would be a mistake to spend all your time with just your peer group. Go out to lunch or coffee with some of your older congregants. They will be thrilled you’re spending time with them. And that older gentleman or lady could become the Aaron or Hur you need to provide support (Exodus 17:8-16).
2. Encourage them in your preaching or teaching. When sharing illustrations in your messages, include inspiring stories about senior adults. This is also an excellent way to encourage them to stay involved.
Senior adults can become some of your most faithful and generous givers, both in tithes and missions support.
Why not preach from Psalm 92:12-14, a passage that talks about the righteous flourishing like palm trees? Verse 14 says, “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” I love to remind our seniors they still have a vital role in God’s kingdom, and one of those roles is to stay “fresh and green” — gracious and filled with God’s love.
3. Provide opportunities for them to serve. Yes, some are unable to serve because of physical limitations, but many of the senior adults in your church want the opportunity to do something. They want to feel needed.
Assuming they have a cheerful disposition, you could invite seniors adults to serve as greeters at the front door. You may even have a senior adult who could step up and lead that crucial ministry.
Those who have a teaching gift might enjoy leading an adult class, helping out in the children’s area, or even rocking infants in the nursery. Some children in our churches don’t have Christian grandparents in their lives. These kids need the influence of godly older adults.
Many senior adults are committed to intercessory prayer. Have them serve on prayer teams, perhaps helping generate a weekly prayer list for the church.
Utilize those who are physically able to work two to three hours each week when the weather is mild to spruce up the landscaping or pull weeds.
4. Organize a group for them. Find someone who can lead the seniors, connect them to ministry opportunities, and support them. Show your support by attending their events. Your presence at the seniors’ Christmas Luncheon will let them know you care.
And in case you weren’t aware, senior adults can become some of your most faithful and generous givers, both in tithes and missions support. Time invested in them can help grow the Kingdom in more ways than one.
5. Be creative in how you approach the “worship wars.” One of the best things we did at the last church I pastored was starting a quarterly Sunday night hymn service. We brought back the older piano that had been moved aside, passed out the hymnals, sang eight to 10 hymns and gospel songs, prayed together, and enjoyed refreshments.
We sometimes called it Hymns and Ice Cream. Other times, it was Hymns and Soup. Either way, our seniors loved it. And when a grumpy older adult approached us about the new songs on Sunday morning, we could offer assurance that we did believe in hymns and provided opportunities to sing them.
Pastor, your senior adults can be your best allies. Work hard at staying sensitive as to how you can encourage them and utilize the gifts they are to you and the church. Love the little children ... but also love those “silver saints.”This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 edition of Influence magazine.