VIDOR, Texas (BP) — America’s Baby Boomers are aging. In 2014, the last of the Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — crossed the threshold into their 50s; and whether they liked it or not, they received their first invitation to join AARP and entered the ranks of “senior adults.”
Aging Boomers present new challenges for churches, who now must balance ministering to younger Boomers, who often do not consider themselves to be seniors, and their Builder Generation parents, many of whom are still active and involved in the same churches and ministries as their own children.
In his 21 years of ministry to seniors at First Baptist Church of Vidor, Phil Burnaman has seen huge changes in senior adult ministry.
For years, senior adult ministry was a “silo” ministry, according to Burnaman. “All our ministries — preschool, children, youth, adults and senior adults — were separate and competed for people, time and budget.
Our senior adult ministry was activity- and fellowship-centered. It was set up like a youth ministry for 60-70-year-olds.”
However, about 10 years ago, FBC Vidor rewrote its mission statement and shifted how it does ministry in all areas, including senior adult ministry.
“Here, we eliminated ‘silo’ ministries,” Burnaman said, adding, “All our ministries (now) work together as a team.” Part of the shift included changing the name of senior adult ministry to “Encore Adults” — saving the best for last.
That reorganization, in addition to the dynamic of having both Boomers and Builders involved in senior adult ministry, fueled a significant change in how FBC Vidor views ministry to and by older members. “Our senior adult ministries don’t focus on activities but on how Boomers and Builders can be effective in serving and in growing in our walk,” Burnaman said.
Burnaman also noted that everything in the Encore Adult ministry has been brought into alignment with the church’s ministry statement: “First Baptist Church of Vidor exists to make disciples who worship God, grow in Christ, serve others, and impact the world.” Every activity of Encore Adults must fall under one of the four tenets of this church mission statement.
For example, The Glory Singers, a choir of Builders and Boomers, minister inside the church and fall under the worship component of the mission statement, while The Glory Band, comprised of younger Builders and Boomers, goes into the community to minister, so it is part of the church’s impact strategy.
Even as Encore Adult activities support the mission statement, they are also grounded in the church’s small group program. Currently, 145 Baby Boomers are enrolled in Life Groups, which are divided by age and stage of life.
With the structure firmly in place, Burnaman is then free to minister to both Baby Boomers and the Builder Generation, striving to meet each group’s unique needs. “If you want to be effective, you have to be creative and strategic to provide ministry opportunities for two different generations,” he said.
“Baby Boomers do not want to be called ‘seniors.’ Baby Boomers are not interested in doing the same things as their parents. The main thing with Boomers is how they serve, impact society and socialize.”
The Builder Generation, on the other hand, is more interested in clubs, game nights, day trips and luncheons, but these activities are not priorities for Baby Boomers.
“Boomers couldn’t care less to get together for a program,” Burnaman said. “They like large group meetings for a cause. They also like conferences or forums with things to help them enjoy life better, such as ‘how to be a better caregiver.'”
Boomers are also facing additional challenges that don’t plague Builders. Boomers are “the sandwich generation” — caring for their elderly parents while many continue to raise their own children. Due to the number of single parents raising children alone, Boomers are also being called on to help raise the next generation.
“Many are focusing on taking care of their grandchildren,” Burnaman said.
While Builders and Boomers are both considered “seniors,” Burnaman has also noticed that Boomers themselves can be divided into two groups — those who grew up in the church and those who did not.
“Boomers who grew up in the church have been mentored and see the importance of long-term projects and are willing to mentor long-term,” he said. Therefore, Encore Adults is currently involved in a spring mentoring program for students in grades 1-12, teaching them how to become godly young people.
On the other hand, Boomers who grew up outside the church see everything from the point of view of the “Me Generation,” according to Burnaman.
“They are willing to do short-term projects but want freedom to fulfill their social needs,” he said. “They will participate in projects, such as mentoring young people, if it’s worth their time and is self-satisfying, making them feel good.”
Over time, Burnaman noted, these Boomers can move away from their “Me Generation” upbringing and learn to worship, grow, serve and impact their communities.
“We have to be patient with Baby Boomers who did not grow up in church,” he said. “They are at a stage of life where they are thinking about spiritual things. However, they see things through their anti-establishment filter. You must earn their trust, and once they accept Christ as their Savior, they put everything into it. They are a valuable asset.”
As Boomers age and people in general live longer, their impact on the church will continue to be felt for some time.
“Baby Boomers have had an impact on the world,” Burnaman said. “They bring that experience to the local church. Boomers have vast experiences that will help the younger generation, if they will listen.”