Dealing with Older People in a Young Church

Are you a church planter, or maybe a young leader in your first pastorate? If so, you probably work well with a young congregation but feel a little confused about what to do with the older members of your community.

 

Face it, old people have lots of experience… and they like to talk about it. Talk that can be intimidating. It may also be boring. However, in its proper place, it can also be useful. So how do you dodge the unnecessary parts while enjoying the good stuff?

Let’s start by understanding three very basic needs an older person has if they choose to identify with a young congregation.

Before we go further, I have a confession—I am an old person attending a young church (our congregation is less than five months old). Also, my pastor spent his high school years hanging out with my own children at my house. It doesn’t get much stranger than that.

My first need is to hang out with people who are going somewhere and helping change the world. That’s why my wife and I would follow our pastor anywhere. Our church is doing fantastic things in the larger community and already involved with overseas missions. We’re there because we need to support people who make a difference.

Second, old people like us need what everyone else needs, to be noticed, heard and understood. Our new friends surprised us. Every week a host of 20-somethings not only welcome us, they engage us. The highlight of my week is the few hours I get to spend with new friends—all of whom are young enough to be my grandchildren. This is in strong contrast to two megachurches we tried to attend where no one noticed us other than to hand us a bulletin or pass the bucket.

Third, I need something to do. Anyone who truly cares about your church wants to serve in some way. In days gone by, we arranged jobs in churches I pastored that were tailored to our “Timesetters,” or senior citizens. I think I found a job that I can do which would support our pastor, and it is a job best done by an older person. I recently asked my pastor to introduce me to anyone over the age of 50 that he speaks to on a Sunday morning.

My goal is to befriend the “gray-hairs” who visit our church. People like to worship with people like themselves, which is why many older people attend a younger church just once. I want to help the older folk understand all that our church has to offer them. I even introduce them to my young friends. It is something that I can do which is unique to people of my generation—at least in my church.

So there you have it:

  1. People like me are in your church because we need people like you. We may be old and creaky but we still want to be where the action is (you’ll notice that most of my peers attend that gray-haired church down the street). We’re with you because we need to support someone like you.
  2. We need to feel welcomed and accepted for who we are. If we get to blowing smoke about the good old days, just remind us that this is a different day and we’ll get the picture.
  3. We need meaningful tasks. This may take some brainstorming on your part, but you’ll find a place for us to serve if you give it a shot.

That’s all pretty simple. If you welcome us and find a place for us to serve we’ll be loyal, put money in the offering that you may need to survive and we may have some useful information to help you over roads we’ve already traveled.