The midlife challenge:
Baby boomers pose challenge,
opportunity for churches
By John W. Kennedy
Wes and Judy Popineau Wick believe congregations are wise to
invest in children and youth ministry. But they advise church leaders not to
ignore the nation’s fastest-growing demographic: those at midlife and beyond.
A year ago, with endorsement from the Assemblies of God
Northern California-Nevada District, the Wicks started Young Enough to Serve
(YES), a ministry reaching “midlife-plus adults.”
“Many adults in the traditional retirement years feel
neglected and marginalized,” says Wes Wick, 54. “Sometimes it’s because of
church culture; sometimes it’s their own choice.”
YES, which is based in Scotts Valley, Calif., helps both
pastors and “elder travelers” overcome a mind-set that ministry is somehow over
once a person hits a certain age.
“Some people say, ‘I’m retired; it’s time to let the next
generation take over,’ ” Wick says. “Others believe they must run the race to
the very end, and they won’t release the baton until they die. Neither of these
is a true picture of what Christ wants from us. We should pass the baton
throughout our lifetime.”
Wick likens the Christian life to a four-person Olympic
“After passing the baton, the runner is still on the track;
he doesn’t jump in the stands or leave the stadium,” Wick says. “He’s still
part of the team, cheering on the others.”
One of the chief goals of YES (www.yestoserve.org) is to
challenge church leaders to adopt a more deliberate serving model for
Christians at midlife and in later years, guarding against clichéd, unbiblical
attitudes toward retirement and ageism. YES also strives to encourage laypeople
to refrain from living in the past, from isolating themselves from younger
attendees, to watch out for self-centeredness and arrogant self-sufficiency,
and to branch out from the familiar.
In visiting churches and trying to change attitudes, the
Wicks have witnessed misunderstandings on the part of both congregants and ministry
“Some pastors say, ‘Our older people just want to be
entertained,’” says Wick, who formerly served as registrar and vice president
of advancement at Bethany University. “From the other side we hear a lot of,
‘Our pastor doesn’t get it.’ ”
Churches that ignore older adults risk alienating a
burgeoning population, according to the Wicks. In another decade, one in four
Americans is expected to be over 60.
And unlike those people now in their 70s and 80s
— who tend to be loyal to congregations and denominations
— baby boomers are likely to go somewhere else or stay home if they
don’t feel connected.
The Wicks are working in conjunction with a national
interdenominational organization — Christian Association Serving Adult
Ministries (CASA) — which helps pastors to equip adults for ministry in
life’s second half.
“We’re living longer than any previous generation,” says
Ward Tanneberg, the executive director of CASA, which is based in Aurora, Ill.
“We believe God has a purpose for keeping us around awhile.” Tanneberg calls those in their 50s and
60s “Generation Plus.”
“Midlife is when the kids are gone and the dog is dead,”
says the 71-year-old Tanneberg. “Our desire is to motivate Christian men and
women with fresh meaning and purpose in the second half of their lives.”
The huge numbers of people living at midlife and beyond is a
new and unprecedented opportunity for the church, Tanneberg believes.
“Longevity is a relatively recent development,” says
Tanneberg, a former senior pastor. “From the church’s perspective, we really
haven’t grasped that yet.”
Older laypeople often are sidelined from church
responsibilities, particularly if the pastor is under age 50, according to
Tanneberg, who has retired three times.
Wick says aging baby boomers aren’t interested in being
lumped into a group of older senior adults where gatherings typically range
from potlucks in the church basement to field trips to a local quilt show.
“Unless they are actively engaged in ministry, empty nesters
will actually be driven away from church before they reach retirement,” Wick
Dave Weston, national director of Senior Adult Ministries
for the AG, agrees that people in their 50s don’t like to be called “senior
“We’re exploring ways to be more effective in reaching this
younger segment,” says Weston, 70. “We need to rethink our strategy. Someone
who is 55 may have parents in the same fellowship group.”
The Wicks have received multiple invitations from pastors to
speak in church services and in senior adult classes. Yet there has been some
“Some tell me, ‘No, we’re a family-oriented church,’ ” Wick
says. “Senior adults are off their radar.”
While various industries — ranging from cruise ship
lines to drugstores — continue to ramp up for the growing older
adult population, that segment is overlooked in many churches, Wick contends.
Judy Wick, after raising four children, became interested in
ministry to older adults while working in the regional donor relations office
of AG Financial Solutions.
“I saw a lot of older people who felt neglected and not
valued,” she says. “They had given a lot of time, talent and resources. And
they still had so much to offer the Kingdom.”
One AG layperson showing no signs of slowing down is Paul
Dennis, a retired building contractor who attends Capital Christian Center in
Sacramento, Calif. He has been on 25 overseas Missions Abroad Placement Service
(MAPS) trips, most of which he has led himself.
“There’s just so much work to be done,” says the 71-year-old
Dennis, who operated a heating and air conditioning business. “As we age and
have more time — and the Lord continues to give us good health
— it’s well for us to give back to Him as much as we can.” Dennis
notes that Capital Christian has a plethora of ministry opportunities for
seniors, ranging from feeding the homeless to doing home repairs for single
“Gerontology is a field that’s never going away,” says Judy
“Our congregations are going to age,” echoes Weston. “We
need to be intentional in reaching them and making them feel they are of value.
Some feel as though the church has passed them by. We need to utilize their
gifts, talents and abilities. They want to feel as though they are making a
“The future of the church is really with the older adults,”
Tanneberg says. “The church has to come to grips with this age wave that will
continue for years to come.”
JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel and blogs at Midlife Musings (jkennedy.agblogger.org).
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