SBC Life Articles

Senior Adult Church Plants Churches for All Ages



None of the 220 people who participate on a regular basis in Sunday morning worship at First Baptist Church of Sun City, Arizona, is under age nineteen. In fact, children under that age may not live in the city, and the number of days they may visit residents is restricted to ninety per year. But that doesn't stop the church from reaching out to young people.

First Sun City just starts churches that young families would be drawn to, including one in neighboring Youngtown, Arizona, a short one and a half miles away.

"I don't think the people in our church see themselves as elderly, at least not until they're in their late 80s or 90s," said Scott Williamson, pastor for the last three years of the church located at a major intersection in a planned retirement community. "Our church is full of people who want to be active for the Lord."

After all, they moved to Sun City to be part of what was started by developer Del Webb in 1960 as the "first planned active retirement community" in the nation. The unincorporated town was designed to be a self-sufficient community for retirees over the age of 55; but God-dependent people began to move in and in 1966 started a Southern Baptist church.

One way the congregation is active is in its giving. In 2011, more than 56 percent of undesignated offerings–$241,749 out of $428,397–were part of the debt-free church's Great Commission giving, and 12.95 percent of that is allocated for the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists' way of supporting global missions and their respective state Baptist convention.

"Our people are very committed to the Cooperative Program," Williamson said. "CP is in their lifeblood. . . . It allows every church of any size to say, 'We support 10,000 missionaries,' and there's a sense that we're all in this together."

Building on that "togetherness," part of the church's total mission giving is allocated for church plants. Over the years First Sun City has had a part in starting seventeen churches, most of which have a full range of age-graded outreach ministries. Youngtown is just the latest. Why does First Sun City—where no member is under the age of 55—start churches?

"We've all come here as senior adults, and as active Christians we still are interested in seeing people come to know the Lord," Williamson said. "One of the ways we can do that is by starting churches where they are.

"We have quite a number of 'dyed-in-the-wool' Southern Baptists," the pastor continued. "Our church gets to reap the benefits of people who have been . . . growing in the Lord" before they moved to Sun City and joined the church.

They continue to grow at First Sun City. Average Sunday School attendance often equals worship attendance, despite the fact that the community offers seven recreation centers, eleven golf courses, sixteen shopping areas, and classes and other opportunities for people to engage in a variety of leisure pursuits.

"One of the things we stress is getting involved in some of the hobby clubs where you can make contact with lost people . . . to have an open door to talk about things of the Lord," Williamson said. "Many people don't want a knock on the door after dark, but we've hung doorhangers at certain times—Easter, Christmas cantatas, prayerwalking—as just some ways to say, 'We're here; we're interested in you.'

"We always have a good number of people who pass away, so we are constantly needing to visit to bring people in, because people are graduating to heaven," the pastor continued. "We know there are a lot of senior adults in our community who don't know the Lord."

The person-to-person outreach works. Nine senior adults were baptized in 2011.

First Sun City's music program helps draw people, Williamson acknowledged. "This church has a professional electric organ, . . . our instrumentalists are top-notch, and our people like to sing. I think what we offer is spiritual community. If they have been an active Christian, they want to continue that.

"The fellowship becomes very important for seniors," the pastor continued. "People are here at five fifteen for a six o'clock church meeting. The Wednesday night meal starts at five o'clock and people are here at four fifteen. . . . We continue to provide the same—fellowship, worship, missions—that other churches provide. We don't have youth programs, but we do have senior programs.

"Grief—lose your spouse, lose the ability to do stuff you've done all your life, lose independence—these are things our people deal with," Williamson said. The Widow's Mite Bible study for women and Men Walking Forward Bible study for men help people deal spiritually with the changes in their lives. A homebound committee ministers to those unable to get out as they once did. A group of Gleaners shares the bounty they gather with those in need. Four in the church are trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers.

"We have come here to enjoy the weather, to be in a community with people like us," the pastor said. "Young people look at senior adults and say, 'They're old people,' but we don't think of that [here] because we're all the same. . . . We enjoy having in our church things that are made for us. When you have kids, you go to a church that ministers to them. Now that they're grown we can ask, 'What do I want in a church?' I think that's one of the things this church is: it's people saying, 'This church ministers to me.'"

Because First Sun City members understand the desire to have "a church that ministers to me," they start churches—such as the one in nearby Youngtown—to meet the needs of the families who live in that community of about six thousand people.

When people with young families visit our church, they "realize we're really not a church that can minister to their children," Williamson said. "We felt we could plant something multigenerational so that now when they come here, we can tell them, 'We can't meet all your needs, but let us tell you about a church that can.'"