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Boomer explosion

Aging population presents challenges and opportunities for the church

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. Census Bureau.

“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 belonged.”

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 community.

“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).

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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