If you’re an (older adult) leader in an (older adult) congregation, you want your congregation to stay strong and vital. Here I’d like to share with you the possibility that your congregation could continue to exist—even thrive—precisely because of the presence and passions of older members. To say that another way: Just as fullness of years is possible for each of you personally, so this reality may be true of your church. What’s good, true, wonderful, exciting and blessed about being old (as a person) might just be applicable to being an old congregation. These few observations….
Count your (older) assets.
Old persons can hold onto or discover unique capabilities and characteristics at this stage in life. Those useful gifts include not only what’s always been true, but also what is no longer true. (Example: Older persons may still be parents, but they’re not engaged fulltime in that vocation anymore.) Assets can also include long-latent yearnings, varieties of experiences, dormant skills, financial holdings or extensive personal networks. Gathered together in one place—a fellowship of God’s people—these assets can be useful. Where they fit together, assets determine actions, programs and identity. And when assets don’t exist for a particular function or task, it’s likely that the work will be difficult at best.
Count on your (collected) wisdom.
It’s possible that your congregation is especially blessed by wise (older) people—folks whose life experiences, education, skills or relationships are saturated with good judgment. This gift of collected insight might just be your congregation’s greatest asset
Simplify your ideas about “church”.
A fundamental question to ask: What do older folks really need, want or expect from being a gathered body of believers? The answers to that question may suggest paring down the scope of congregational governance, programs/events or outlook. This could result in being known for one or two things you have chosen to do well—“We ‘re the folks who find pets for returning veterans!” or “Here’s a place you won’t be judged.”
If most of your members live on fixed incomes, adjust the major focus of your funding efforts from weekly offerings towards bequests, gifts of personal assets (proceeds of insurance or annual Required Minimal Distributions on investments), extended use of your property or a growing endowment.
Reconsider pastoral ministry.
Perhaps your congregation doesn’t need a full-time pastor. Much of a pastor’s work can be assumed by dedicated lay leaders, leaving Word and Sacrament—and perhaps Bible study—as the core of your pastor’s calling. If a candidate is willing, you might call a “bi-vocational” pastor, someone whose calling includes both secular and pastoral careers.
Think beyond former boundaries.
It’s possible that you are still chained to former ideas of what’s possible, what’s church-like, what’s ministry. If you can let go of what used to be necessary, you may find yourselves creating new and exciting ways to celebrate, serve, worship and support one another. Start with your assets, not your problems.
Take care of each other.
Social relationships are good for mental, physical and spiritual health. As you dial back your congregation’s vision and purpose to what’s doable, you may have more time and energy for each other. Being known by and knowing others well might just be an attractive feature of your congregation—something that might interest others, maybe even younger families.
Because of the Spirit’s gifts in older folks, your congregation can be renewed!
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