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Growing senior adult population needs recreation, leader says

GLORIETA, N.M.(BP)–Rarely are senior adults seen on basketball courts shooting hoops.

But if Rodger Oswald had his way, seniors playing basketball, hitting softballs, backpacking, camping or hiking wouldn’t be something to gawk at.

Oswald is affiliated with Church Sports International, a sports evangelism ministry headquartered in San Jose, Calif. He not only believes senior adults should stay active as long as they live, he also thinks they should use recreation as a ministry tool to reach other senior adults for Christ.

Oswald led seminars during two conferences held Feb. 27-March 2 at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center — the National Senior Adult Leadership Summit for senior adult leaders and Rec Lab for ministers of sports and recreation. LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention sponsored both conferences.

“Sports ministry is for both genders and it’s age-inclusive. It’s not only for children, teens or the really young at heart,” Oswald said.

It can be used to serve God, serve the church and reach the lost for Jesus Christ, he said. “We are to have a heart for the lost, yet when we create programs that only serve the church internally, we have failed.

“Senior adults are the largest segment of our population today, and in another couple of years, seniors will double the number of teenagers. Churches are getting grayer, and what are you going to do about it?” Oswald asked.

A recreation program for senior adults can include almost all the activities younger people participate in, he said.

Elements of a program can include competitive team sports; competitive individual sports; recreational sports, both non-competitive and adapted; leisure activities, such as crafts, music, drama, retreats and outings; wilderness activities; and health and fitness, he said.

“At what age does somebody have to stop competing in competitive sports? We make a mistake when we put ages on a sport. Age doesn’t mean you have to stop playing; it means the game has to be modified,” Oswald said.

For example, he said basketball nets can be lowered to eight feet from 10 feet or softball rules can be altered to accommodate older adults. Competitive individual sports might include swimming, golf or tennis.

“The only reason seniors give up golf is because they can’t play long courses. Who says you have to tee off at the tees?”

Leisure activities, such as board games or cards help keep seniors mentally alert, he said.

Oswald said he is unsure why people feel they must give up some activities when they reach a certain age.

“Don’t ever get out of shape. The older you are, the harder it is to get back into shape. And when you try, it hurts.”

Health programs for seniors at church should help them understand the importance of nutrition, rest, aerobic activity and flexibility, he said.

“Seniors should understand the whole focus of a balanced life.”

Oswald said an overall strategy for a senior adult recreation ministry should include building bridges from the church to the lost; forming friendships among the church members; developing relationships outside the church; and building a platform to minister and serve the lost by “meeting people’s emotional, spiritual and physical needs.”

To better insure success of the program, Oswald said senior adult leaders should:

— educate the pastor and ministry staff and get their support.

— motivate the people of the church using the “aida” principle (get their attention, peak their interest, move them to desire and prompt them to action).

— inform church members and the community using newspapers, newsletters and word of mouth.

— equip, recruit and train people of like mind to assist in the ministry.

About 167 senior adult leaders from 24 states attended the National Senior Adult Leadership Summit, and more than 100 attended Rec Lab.

    About the Author

  • Terri Lackey