A new series by longtime Adventist Review writer Monte Sahlin, Church Trends shares action-oriented information about the Adventist Church and the world in which it works.
Church and Culture—No. 3
The median age for the Seventh-day Adventist community in North America is 51, about 15 years older than the median age among the gen-eral population. It is called “the graying of Adventism.” Most local churches have a large percentage of older people, and this lopsided demographic will continue to grow as 70 million baby boomers retire throughout the coming decades.
We get concerned about the lack of youth, but plentiful numbers of retired people is not a bad thing! People who have worked long hours all their adult life now have time to invest in Christ’s mission and the church.
From the surveys I have conducted over the past two decades, I have found that about half the children in the baby boomer generation who grew up in Adventist families have dropped out of the church. There are indicators that many of them will return to church. As people approach the end of life there’s a tendency to think again about fundamental values and foundational truths. This leads some back to the spiritual home of their childhood.
It also leads others, who had no religious upbringing, to begin to search for spiritual answers. A number of recent studies of religion in America show evidence of this pattern. At the same time that there is a decline in organized religion, there is an upsurge of interest in spirituality.
What Does This Mean for Your Church?
Local congregations need to have an effective strategy for engaging retirees. Retirees have time to get involved, to study things that they have put off all their adult life. What does your church have to offer them?
Do not jump to the conclusion that older people are more comfortable with traditional patterns. The baby boomer generation has reinvented North American culture at each stage of its life, and will probably reinvent retirement, too. Boomers likely will respond best to ministries that use the values of their generation: participation, not preaching; flexibility, not rules; relationships, not answers.
Examples: The Redlands Adventist Church has for many years had a Bible study for older people that meets midmorning on a weekday. A pastor leads out; the group suggests the topics and can ask any question they wish. The Cincinnati Village Church in Mason, Ohio, has more than the average number of young adults, but they also have a seniors club that plans monthly outings and activities. Mount Pisgah Academy Adventist Church has a retirement community next door and has launched a health outreach built around dinners for cancer survivors.
Here are some key questions for your next church board meeting: (1) Do we have any ministries specifically targeting people over 55? (2) Are we actively recruiting the newly retired and those planning for retirement to significant roles in local ministries? (3) Are we prepared for people who dropped out of the Adventist Church and have come back years later? (4) Do we offer anything for the person who has had no involvement with religion but now has spiritual questions?
Tools and Resources
Pacific Press Publishing Association recently began a journal specifically for Adventists who are at or near retirement. It is published on the Web, and you can access it at www.renewedandready.com.
The Senior Adult Ministries Quick Start Guide is a great tool to begin planning and development. You can get a copy from AdventSource at www.adventsource.org or (800) 328-0525.
The Retirement Years is a compilation from Ellen White’s writings that is available from your local Adventist Book Center at www.adventistbookcenter.com or (800) 765-6955.
The Center for Creative Ministry provides a number of resources for reconnecting ministry at www.creativeministry.org or (800) 272-4664.
Monte Sahlin is director of research and special projects for the Ohio Conference and a senior consultant at the Center for Creative Ministry. Questions and suggestions can be sent to him at [email protected] ministry.org. This article was published April 15, 2010.