Aging population presents challenges and opportunities for
By Christina Quick
Until his retirement last month, 60-year-old Dave Maracle of
Andover, Mass., helped build surface-to-air missiles as a military contractor.
These days the former electrical engineer is building
churches through the Assemblies of God U.S. Mission America Placement Service
RV Volunteers program.
Maracle is one of millions of baby boomers who have retired
or will soon leave the workforce. Many of these individuals are looking for
ways to do something positive with their free time.
“Boomers do not think of themselves as old or declining,”
says Dave Weston, Assemblies of God national director of Senior Adult
Ministries. “For the most part, they feel and act younger than their
chronological age. They have time, skills, energy and resources, and are eager
to make a contribution to meaningful and significant causes.”
Maracle’s wife, Linda, a former bookkeeper, was so excited
about their new undertaking she requested an unconventional gift for Mother’s
Day: a cordless screwdriver.
“It’s for installing drywall,” she says. “We’ve been looking
forward to this for a long time. We plan to stay on the road until our physical
bodies just can’t take it anymore.”
The Maracles, who have three grown children, are selling
their home and many of their possessions. They plan to live out of their RV as
they move from one volunteer church project to another. The couple insists it’s
no sacrifice. They view it instead as an opportunity to make retirement the
most fulfilling time of their lives.
“This gives us a future and a purpose,” Linda Maracle says.
“People I’ve seen who go out into retirement and have a reason for being live
longer and happier lives.”
This year is a significant milestone — the year the
first group among 78 million baby boomers born from 1946 to 1964 become
eligible for Social Security. News commentators have expressed concern over
what it will mean for the economy as this large population bubble becomes
dependent on an already burdened Social Security and medical care system. But
some inside the church are beginning to consider the vast mission field and
untapped potential represented by the coming wave of retirees.
“We’re excited when we come across these baby boomers who
want to participate in our ministry,” says Jerry Bell, director of U.S. MAPS.
“That has become our target audience as far as recruiting is concerned. They
have flexibility with time, resources and many years left to serve.”
More than 37 million Americans are 65 and older. That number
is expected to nearly double during the next two decades, according to the U.S.
“Everything in society is going to be impacted by the exponential
growth of this segment of our population,” Weston says. “That includes the
church. Christians must seize the opportunity to influence this new community
of senior adults and be both intentional and relevant in ministry to them.”
John Heide, the first Assemblies of God U.S. missionary to
senior adults, is trying to raise awareness among pastors and congregations of
the importance of reaching this post-World War II generation.
“The age wave is hitting America,” Heide says. “A lot of
churches are ignoring or neglecting this group. They aren’t prepared to deal
with many of the issues unique to this crowd.”
Heide has traveled to several AG college campuses to
encourage students to consider ministry to senior adults. He says not only do
churches need to place more emphasis on this growing mission field,
congregations also need to adapt methods for reaching boomers, who are not as
traditional or trusting of institutions as previous generations.
“They’re not going to be content with sing-alongs and
potlucks,” Heide says. “And they’re not as likely to come to a revival meeting.
But they might go on a guys’ camping trip or a girls’ night out.”
They are also busy. Many baby boomers will work well past
retirement age, either as a matter of personal choice or financial need. In
addition, some are raising grandchildren or caring for elderly family members.
“They’re open to genuine relationships and finding a place
of significance,” Heide says. “They’ve done it all, and they’re looking back
and saying, ‘What else is important?’ ”
An AARP survey indicates many are thinking about spiritual
matters. In last year’s poll of people 50 and older, 73 percent of respondents
said they believe in life after death. Yet only 17 percent expressed a belief
in Jesus Christ as the only way to God.
“This is a mission field on our doorstep,” Weston says. “We
cannot afford to miss the opportunity to reach these individuals for Christ.”
For boomers who are already part of the church, the
challenge may be keeping them engaged.
Wes and Judy Wick of Scotts Valley, Calif., became concerned
a few years ago after noticing an exodus of people in their 50s and 60s who
felt they no longer had a place in church.
“They felt they were being shelved as they got older and
their children left home,” says Judy Wick, an Assemblies of God minister. “They
had given everything to the church but were no longer sure where they
In response, the couple recently launched a ministry called
YES!, an acronym for Young Enough to Serve. The program, which is being
launched from Christian Life Center, an AG church in Santa Cruz, Calif., seeks
to connect older Christians with ministry opportunities in the church and
“We always look to the young as being our future, but the
truth is our immediate future involves a lot of older adults,” Wes Wick says.
“We need to reach them, but we also have to think about how we can include and
involve them. It will be tragic for the church if we miss this opportunity and
lose a generation.”
CHRISTINA QUICK is staff writer for Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel and blogs at Refrigerator Art (cquick.agblogger.org).
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