Reaching and ministering to people in the local church in the United States today is more complex than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. This is true from at least three perspectives: the diversity of people's spiritual backgrounds, the varied cultural backgrounds, and marital backgrounds.
One of the realities the church now faces is that there are more senior adults than there were thirty or forty years ago. Included in this growing group is the senior single adult.
Who Is the Senior Single Adult?
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) says that a senior adult is anyone over the age of 50. (Have you received your card yet?) Not many adults that age in the church seem to agree. In fact, neither does George Barna, the well-respected researcher of church statistics and trends. In Strategic Adult Ministry Journal, Barna 1 qualifies the oldest three age-groupings as
- Seniors: Born 1926 and before
- Builders: Born 1927 to 1945
- Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964
In my experience, I would tend to agree. Adults who are only 50 to 65 years old do not usually want to come into the "seniors group." They say, "Those people are older than I am." (Some are, some aren't!)
Additionally, senior single adults fall into one of the following categories:
- Never married
Why Target Senior Single Adults?
1. There are now more senior single adults in the church than ever before. Men and women are living longer. Divorce is more common among all adults, even senior adults. The older a woman is when she becomes single again, the less likely she is to remarry. Some senior adults have chosen not to marry at all.
2. Senior single adults (as well as senior married adults) have much to offer the church. Many have lived for God much, if not most, of their lives and have a rich heritage of experiences to draw from. Their life experiences have produced wisdom, knowledge, insight, and understanding that can come only from trusting God through the ups and downs of life.
Many of them bring talents and abilities developed and used over a lifetime of service. These saints need not just stuff bulletins, clean the floors, or sort mailings, although they usually are willing to do so. Often, these greater talents and abilities go unused. These people are in the latter part of their life and desperately want to make their life continue to count for God.
3. Senior single adults generally have greater time flexibility due to retirement. We cannot and should not overlook senior single adults when recruiting volunteers for ministry opportunities.
Ways to Minister to and with Senior Single Adults
There are many ways to minister to and with senior single adults today. I emphasize the word "with" since many senior single adults desire to be used by God to fulfill purposeful ministry. Some churches have begun senior adult ministry groups with regular meetings, classes, activities, and even training opportunities. These groups comprise both married and single senior adults and have people involved in ministry opportunities in the group itself.
Other churches, usually larger ones, have specialized groups for senior adults who are single by chance, change, or choice (theirs or someone else's). These specialized groups include
- Regular, ongoing meetings: Including music, teaching designed for the senior single adults' specific needs, discussion, refreshments, and fellowship.
- Activities: Focusing on events and activities designed specially for senior single adults. Examples include potluck meals, eating out, theater, movie nights, concerts, hikes, etc.
- Grief recovery and growth groups for the widowed: Scheduled for a limited period of time or as an ongoing study/support group for people recently widowed (participants may enter and leave at any time).
- Divorce recovery groups: These groups meet for six to twelve weeks, with teaching and discussion targeted to the specific needs of those going through a divorce. Some churches also organize a follow-up support group.
In addition to providing specific groups for the senior single adult, remember the many opportunities for them to be involved in ministry both in and outside the church. Many times senior single adults are not considered as quickly as married senior adults, due to a church's emphasis on marriage and family. Terms such as "family night" and "the family church" do little to encourage or include the single adult who is usually single-again due to the death of a spouse or the death of a marriage. These people are part of the church and need and deserve to be involved in the various ministries of ushering, teaching, event planning, choir, maintenance, and serving on boards and committees of all types. Senior single adults are important to the full development of every church's ministry.
1 George Barna, Strategic Adult Ministry Journal, Issue 138, 4.
By Dennis Franck