How to Start a Senior Adult Ministry in Your Church, Part 3

In the first two articles, we discussed how to start and develop a dynamic ministry that targets the mature adult population. We looked at some of the initial steps to take in beginning a ministry, as well as what to look for in selecting a leader or leaders to develop the ministry. In this article, I would like to discuss some of the obstacles or barriers a church may face as it steps out to form a new ministry.

Outside organizations that target senior adults may show some resistance, but the primary obstacles a new ministry will face will be from within the congregation. Attitudes reflected by comments such as "We don't need another ministry," or "The old people can look after themselves," will hinder a new program. However, every church must deal with a far greater danger. This enemy that the church faces I would like to refer to as ageism.

We live in a society that treasures its youth.

The youthful look is sought after through health clubs, appearance makeovers, and even plastic surgery. By contrast, old age is often ridiculed as being "over the hill" and something to be avoided. People make jokes about growing old, and many view the limitations that come with age as a detriment to society. However, this concept of age is primarily a western idea. In many eastern nations, people see old age as a sign of knowledge and wisdom, and they revere and respect the elderly! In those countries, some may even say they are a little older than they actually are so that they will be seen as wiser. This would seldom, if ever, happen in America, where being old is seen as being out of touch with reality.

The idea of judging people negatively on the basis of their age is called ageism. Just as racism and sexism are based on a negative attitude toward a person's race or sex, so ageism is becoming an issue that society, and especially the church, must come to grips with. Although it would never be spoken, ageism is practiced in many churches and may be keeping the church from reaching the world for Christ! At the very least, practicing ageism can render the church ineffective and unable to reach its potential.

Let's take a checkup and see if your church is guilty of ageism. (We are indebted to Chuck and Win Arn's book Catch the Age Wave, and we include some of the following information with the authors' permission.)[1]

The church can practice ageism in many ways.

  1. Does your church include seniors in the general life of the church? Do seniors serve on the board or on any important committees? If not, what is the church subtly saying by this action?
  2. Is your building senior friendly? Does it have senior parking? (Don't call it handicapped parking because that is very offensive to mature adults.) Do too many stairs make it difficult for some to walk easily through the facilities? Are bathrooms accessible to all? Does your building say to seniors, "Stay away; it's only for the young"?
  3. How are the lighting and sound in your church? Can seniors see and hear what is said?
  4. Does your church have programs to help mature adults transition from working to being less active and retired? If not, your church may be guilty of ageism. Seniors face many issues, and the church can help prepare them for these challenges, as well as reach out to other seniors in the community.
  5. Helping every believer to be involved in the ministries of the church is an important part of the church. Does your church have meaningful opportunities for seniors to serve that will make use of their time, talents, and treasures for the growing of God's kingdom? If all of a church's programs are aimed at the youth, the church is guilty of practicing ageism!

Well, how did your church do on this checkup? Before a church can develop a dynamic senior adult ministry to its own seniors and to unbelievers, it should first address the obstacles that can hinder or stop a promising ministry. Every barrier, including ageism, can be overcome, and you will see lives changed! The church can be strengthened and can become a shining example of how Christ cares for and has a plan for every individual, regardless of the person's age.

[1] Charles and Win Arn, Catch the Age Wave (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press, 1999).