Mission among the Elderly
Not an area many of us immediately turn to when we think of outreach – yet the truth for many churches is that our church contain largely (sometimes wholly) old(er) people.
The question is this:
Should we actively engage in mission opportunities for the elderly?
Here are a few thoughts to get you thinking – get back to me if you would like to explore this aspect of mission further.
The Revd Malcolm Raby
Diocesan Adviser in Mission & Evangelism
“In an ever expanding ageing population where youthfulness is fashionable and trendy, older people must be given a higher profile …”
- They make up a significant percentage of our existing church congregations and so we have a responsibility to nurture and develop their spiritual life. Nationally there are 200,000 more older people in church than teenagers and children.
- We are not keeping up with the massive population growth of older people in general. In the next 20 years older people will represent a significant percentage of the population. Where are the “specialists” in work with older people? (There are some 7,000 salaried youth workers in the Church of England)
In 1951 there were 13.8 million people over 50; now it is 20 million, which is a 45% increase. We certainly don’t have 45% more older people in church than was the case in the 1950’s. The fact is that we are falling behind in ministry to older people and so are colluding with the undervaluing and overlooking of this part of society.
- Because older people are a significant percentage of church attenders, they represent a huge asset in terms of people resource. Many older people are not passive receivers, but people with gifts, wisdom and skills to share with others.
- Older people do not represent one single “group”, but at least three cohort groups – and our strategies will differ for each cohort:
- Pre-Senior (55-64)
- Working independent
- Senior (3rd Age) (65-80)
- Retired independent
- Older Frail (80+)
Increasingly we will be ministering to “younger-old” who have never had any meaningful contact with church in their lifetime. Research carried out by Peter Brierley (2001) showed that across a century of steady decline, by 1940 only one-third of the nation’s children were attending Sunday School regularly.
Some possible ways forward:
- A presentation (lasting 30-40 minutes) for PCC, Deanery Synod etc.
- A half-day conference
- Encourage churches to run training course. For example, Church Army has produced a training course on working with older people. Each stand-alone module is intended to span four or five weeks for church groups:
- Ageism and attitudes towards older people (5 sessions)
- Engaging with older people (4 sessions)
- Practical evangelism in partnership with other agencies (5 sessions)