Five ways to care for the aging in your congregation
A developing trend in recent years has been the aging of our society. In 2007 the first of the baby boomers began to retire. This shift in the landscape of America will change the face of the congregation of the 21st Century. Pastors must become more aware of the needs of the aging population and how to better care for the aging in their church family.
In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau, in a March 13, 2001 press release, projected the doubling of the nation's population by 2100. In the release, it stated that in 1900 there were 3.1 million older Americans living. In 1999 that number grew to 34.6 million and by 2050 the number is estimated to reach 85 million people.
These numbers are quite alarming and remind all us to reach out to those who are aging in our congregations. James 1:27 says that, "Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (HCSB)
How can a pastor care for the aging in his church family?
1. Program around the Aged in your church.
Create programs targeted for retirees and the older population of your congregation. Most programs today in churches are targeted towards the young. Consider the aging trends in society by focusing more on connecting older people and their friends. Events such a lunches and special trips appeal to this age group and allow them the opportunity to share in the fellowship of the local church.
2. Provide assistance through younger members.
You may find that older congregants need help driving to the doctor or to the grocery store. Arrange partnerships with other members of the church who are willing to help the seniors with these weekly tasks. You will help solve a major problem for the aged, but in so doing will help create lasting friendships, while bridging the gap between varying age groups.
3. Preach on topics that are important to the older members.
A sermon that I gave on the topic of worry received more comments from the aged in my church than any other. The older members in your church have specific spiritual challenges as they face the sunset of their life. As their pastor, help them to navigate these challenges by preaching some sermons that speak directly to them.
4. Pay attention to their life's story.
Pastors who care about the aged will spend time visiting and listening to the members of their church. Specifically, pastors will need to carve out time each week to visit members and just listen and learn from their lives' wisdom. The truths and wisdom that can be learned from the lives that these older Christians have lived can provide wonderful stories to guide the younger in your church from making the same mistakes that have caused grief and guilt in the aged lives. Learn to listen to their story and implement it in every aspect of your ministry.
5. Plan for specific events in their life.
While this may sound morbid or morose, there are many issues that you can expect and plan for which happen to the aged in your congregation. Issues such as sickness and death, grief over a lost loved one or rejection from children are events that can be planned for ahead of time. The pastor who is aware can plan ahead for how they might minister to a family during those times.
I keep a folder of some of my oldest members and I ask specific questions to them while they are living that I know I can use in a funeral sermon or in a conversation with the family. I ask about family members, or their favorite passage of Scripture or even a favorite song. I have found that these conversations bring joy to the aged while they are living and comfort to the family in a time of sorrow.
Many times the aged in our congregations feel neglected and forgotten. Taking the initiative to move forward on focusing on the aged in our congregation will make a difference not only in their life, but also the life of your church.