A View from the Pew: Senior Adult Ministries by Any Other Name are Just as Sweet

Now that I qualify for senior adult ministries in most churches, what churches name them has caught my attention.

What a church calls its senior adult ministry says a lot about who they are as a church. The names can be playful, serious, spiritual, frivolous or just plain corny. I don’t think there is any malice in the cringiest of them, churches sometimes lose sight of the point.

Here are just a few names I’ve encountered over the years:
Young At Heart
Xtra Years of Zest (XYZ)
Jim Dandies
The Joyful Hearts Club
Prime Timers
Golden Agers

As the demographics of our congregations continue to shift older, ministry by and for senior adults is rapidly becoming the most vital component of congregations.

When I was in my teens, our church in Central Florida began a senior adult ministry. A Christian ministry in our town had included a weekly senior adult program each Monday called “Keenagers.” Its slogan was “You’re not getting older, just keener.” It met at a local historic downtown hotel ballroom each week.

The hotel ended up changing hands, and the ministry was forced to relocate. Our church became its new home and our gymnasium, a holdover from the days our church had a K-12 Christian school, became the Keenagers’ new venue. The move also included a new staff member for our church, an energetic senior adult minister who ran Keenagers and served as assistant pastor to our congregation.

Keenagers lived into its motto: “Can do, will do. If you don’t do, you mildew.” The saying was even painted on the side of its bus, a greatly used motorcoach frequently in need of repair, which the Keenagers took on day trips and overnight excursions.

I was a preacher’s kid, which meant my brothers and I were often enlisted as “volunteers” to participate in the Keenagers’ Monday lunch programs as either servers or even part of the entertainment. We were always setting up tables or taking down tables in the gym, depending on our basketball or volleyball schedule, and we were frequently recruited to help a Keenager move. Keenagers wasn’t a separate ministry of the church, it was simply church.

We even went on trips with the Keenagers, and I have fond memories of Keenagers now, reciting the motto with relish. I can see more clearly now what Keenagers accomplished. It didn’t just give old folks a place to go and have lunch once a week. It was a lifeline.

For many of the retirees who came to Florida either for the winter as “snowbirds” or lived there full time, Keenagers became their place of service where they could stay active and contribute meaningfully to something larger. For some, it introduced them to a life of faith.

I was struck by how much younger and robust those Keenagers seemed who put a lot of time and energy into the ministry. It was not unusual for people in their 90s to be cooking and distributing food at the lunches or going on the trips. I don’t have a regression analysis of the longevity of seniors who participated in Keenagers versus those who didn’t, but I can tell you anecdotally that Keenagers tended to be happier, healthier, and more active than their non-Keenaged counterparts.

All of this reflection makes me think Keenagers can bring something important to today’s churches. Depending on your context and your community, senior adult ministry might be a new outlet for service to meet the needs of a significant population in your area.

I would encourage you to look closely at the makeup of your congregations and rethink who your church is for and what your church needs. All too often churches default to reaching young families because they believe their future depends on it.

But if your church is like mine, seniors aren’t just a group within the church, they are the church.

As far back as the New Testament epistle from James, believers have recognized that taking care of “widows” is inherent in “religion that is pure and undefiled.” Whatever churches call it, we would do well to recognize the importance and impact of senior adult ministries, giving them the resources and attention they deserve.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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