I recently met The Rev. Brad Hales who is working in the area of church revitalization in the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), which is a Common Ground Ministry Partner with us in the Anglican Church in North America. Pastor Hales has had success bringing renewal to congregations. I was encouraged by his story and think we should learn and apply these principles that will help our congregations revive. Below is an article from Pastor Hales.
– The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge
Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching,
American Anglican Council
What can we do in eight seconds? Tie our shoes? Turn on the television? Use the microwave? Make a cup of coffee with a Keurig? Eight seconds is very quick, isn’t it? But there is one thing that is happening every eight seconds in our country, and it’s going to continue for the next thirty plus years. So, what is it? Every eight seconds an individual is turning 65 years of age in the United States. Our country is aging at a rapid rate, and the church is no exception.
The average age of a Lutheran is sixty or better. In most of our congregations we are now accustomed to a sea of gray hair rather than the laughter of children. Some may come to the conclusion that an aging church signals stagnation, decline, and eventual death. But instead of thinking negatively about this condition, have we ever thought that this is a blessing instead of a curse? God has provided us with the asset of older adults to renew his church, to grow disciples, and to evangelize for the Lord’s Kingdom. Are we equipped and prepared for this challenge?
In Isaiah 46:3-4 it is written,” Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” Throughout Scripture, there are several examples of older adults being used by the Lord. Genesis 18:9-15 tells us that even at an advanced age, Abraham and Sarah would bear a child to fulfill God’s covenantal promises. In Samuel 17:27-29; 19:31-38 we’re told of an older man named Barzillai who intentionally served King David. Both the aged Simeon and Anna are discussed in Luke 2:22-38, as they witnessed and worshiped the new-born Savior. And in Titus 2:1-5, both older men and women are instructed on how to conduct themselves and mentor those who are younger.
Some in the church might think that when they age, ministry has to “cease and desist” (Rocking Chair Theology). But this is not God’s plan! The Lord still intends to use older adults to grow in their witness of Jesus Christ to future generations. As it is written in Psalm 71:17-18, “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”
So, how do we begin to build a mature adult ministry, and literally “reach out” to the aging since the “fields are white unto harvest?” I would like us to consider the 5 S’s of Senior Adult Ministry- Spiritual, Support, Social, Service and Self. In the spiritual, we intentionally need to help older adults grow in their discipleship of Jesus through worship, bible study, prayer, retreats, adult VBS and study. Support may mean starting support groups, grandparenting, visitation, aging in place, and specific evangelism to older adults. In Social, this might include sponsoring meals, programs, and educational trips. Service may encourage using talents and abilities in the church or community. Self may introduce exercise, nutrition, counseling, family relationships and health care. Anything we do to help the aging grow in the faith, share the faith, and live the faith will be beneficial for the congregation.
Yes, the Church is aging at a rapid rate. Will we see this as a threat or an opportunity? God has blessed us with the asset of aging to literally renew and revive Christ’s Church. Let us focus on “engaging the aging,” helping mature adults strengthen their discipleship and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Brad Hales is the pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church, Culpeper, Virginia. He presently leads the North American Lutheran Church’s Senior Adult Ministry Team.