David Apple, Adult Ministry Specialist; LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, TN
More older adults are living now than ever in history. These include the oldest of the Greatest Generation (those who led in conquering Axis threats to democracy and building the infrastructure of modernity). These also include the Silent Generation: these brought on the most expansive social reforms in our history. Besides that, we are on the verge of experiencing the largest group yet to emerge as older adults – the Baby Boomers, born between the end of the Second World War and the assassination of President Kennedy.
Today’s older adults have moved from setting the stage for expansion in most every area of life and at the same time have seen the criticism, reinventing or dismantling of many programs built throughout their lives. Today’s older adults need hope and good news more than at any time in history. This group wants to believe there is something greater than themselves and that real freedom can be experienced. The message of the gospel has oftentimes been scrutinized by many of these adults and their peers, yet these adults realize there is a limit to their own time and influence. If ever there is a time to focus on helping a group hear and encounter the Good News of Christ, it’s for today’s older adults!
Let’s briefly investigate some important practices, knowing we can and must allow a massive number of unsaved older adults to hear, respond to and experience eternal hope. Be prepared to use a simple memory tool (the letter “P”) to focus on and recollect important actions and attitudes.
Practice the P's of Reaching Today’s Older Adults
Salvation still is and always will be the work of the Holy Spirit. He uses available and clean vessels to do His work of grace. Pray that God will use you as His instrument among those who are without faith. Compile a list of at least 10 older adults you know who are unsaved. Pray specifically for these adults (consider this as a “10 most wanted” list). Pray that God will bring unsaved persons into the lives of your Sunday School class members who will lead them to encounter His Word. Pray that class members will go out and share their story of ways the Gospel of Jesus provides hope and assurance. Pray that God will allow you to see lost persons saved through an intentional strategy of your older adult classes and ministries. Many older believers are prayer warriors – enlist and engage these adults in praying for unchurched and unsaved older adults and their family members.
Prime the Pump
Place a priority on enrolling, cultivating and involving unsaved and unchurched older adults in Sunday School classes. Every "open" class should have at least one person who helps the class focus on discovering, contacting and assimilating unsaved persons. Every open Bible study class has the opportunity to have at least one person (preferably a team of three) trained in sharing the gospel and committed to making evangelistic and ministry contacts to prospects and members of the class. Oftentimes, unsaved persons will not start connecting with a Sunday School class until and unless they are included in social or ministry opportunities. A stark reality is that the longer a class has been together, the harder it is for an “outsider” to fit in. With that understanding, every church sincerely must start additional Bible study and ministry groups targeting older adults.
The Holy Spirit provides opportunities (call them “Divine appointments”) when He orchestrates the lives of believers to connect with a non-believer. God’s Spirit also orchestrates opportunities when the gospel can and should be shared. Be sensitive to opportunities when older adults would be open to hearing and responding to the good news of God’s gift. As older adults experience transitions (including but not limited to health, finances, family, care giving and receiving, etc.) they are more open to talk about and make life-and-death decisions. Look for older adults in the community who are experiencing a significant life change, and look for opportunities to connect with these adults and family members. For example, because life expectancy gets longer, more and more adults will experience the need for home and professional health care. Oftentimes, this gives opportunity for a ministry with these adults as well as with their care givers. Prepare to minister to and share the gospel of hope with these adults.
Plan to Share the Gospel
Many older adults enjoy being with others their age and those who relate to the same kinds of hobbies, interests or life experiences. Train your adults to share their stories of faith and ways they are experiencing benefits of God’s forgiveness and hope. Many older adults do extremely well when they have something tangible to give someone in order to talk with him or her, so plan for opportunities to take gifts (books, magazines, food, tapes, hand-written notes, etc.) to individuals. Always look for the opportunity to build relationships and build bridges to share the gospel.
Older adults know extremely well the consequences of making right as well as wrong decisions. They need to know there is still time to experience real life that will never be taken away. Look for intentional and spontaneous opportunities for a person to hear and respond to the message of salvation through faith. Many would respond readily to the invitation of the pastor at the end of the worship service. Others would respond to an invitation to accept Christ while sitting with a teacher or another class member in the person’s home or even one-on-one following a Bible study. Still many older adults will respond to a personal invitation from a friend or other caring person who invites them to pray, hear about and accept God’s Good News for their own life. We must be ready to share the truth. Older adults can handle it!
Today’s older adults have always had a strong sense of strength in numbers. It appeals to them to be part of the winning side. They have joined groups and been part of significant movements throughout their lives. They still relate extremely well to a personal, individualized approach. Does anyone notice me? The power of the gospel is indeed for the masses. But it relates so remarkably to the fact that God sent Jesus for you. We have an opportunity to learn about the individual stories of success and challenges as well as dreams achieved and dreams lost. As we focus on the value of the individual and share the appeal for individuals to trust Christ, we will experience one of the great challenges and opportunities of relating to today’s seniors.
Are you ready to focus on connecting with today’s older adults?