Five-Implications-for-Churches-as-the-Boomers-Retire

They are the children of the 60s. There was a time they said you couldn’t trust anyone over 30 . . . until they turned 30 themselves. Until the Millennials were born, they were the largest generation in America’s history with over 76 million live births.

They are the Baby Boomers, or the Boomers, as they are typically called today.

On January 1, 2011, the first Boomer turned 65. In fact, on that day, 10,000 of them turned 65. And that pace of aging will continue until 2030, when every Boomer is 65 or older.

The implications for churches are staggering. This generation is not of the mindset of previous aging generations. According to a Pew Research study, the typical Boomer does not believe old age begins until age 72. And the typical Boomer feels nine years younger than his or her chronological age.

So what are some of the implications for churches? Read these carefully. There are very few churches that will not feel the impact of retiring Boomers.

  1. They will have less money to give to churches. Their predecessor generation, the Builders, have been the most generous to churches and other charitable organizations. But that oldest generation is fading quickly from the scene. Churches are already feeling the pain of the loss of income from that generation. And now another challenge is taking place. Boomers are retiring, which typically means lower income. And lower income means diminished giving to churches.
  2. Some will have more volunteer time. But their retirement will break previous patterns. Many of these Boomers will continue to seek atypical retirement opportunities. There will be few “rocking chair” retirees among the Boomers. How can churches attract those Boomers who will have more discretionary time? Perhaps the next implication can answer that question.
  3. Most of the Boomers still want to change the world. Many of them may be disillusioned after four decades of work that was not meaningful and life changing. But they still have the spirit of the 60s, a spirit that desires to be different and to make a difference. If congregations can offer retiring Boomers such opportunities, there could be a surge of Boomer church adherents.
  4. Many of the Boomers will be traveling more. So some of our churches’ most faithful attendees will be conspicuously absent as they have this new discretionary time. They will be traveling for pleasure, visiting grandchildren, and traveling to places where they believe they can make a difference.
  5. Retiring Boomers will kill traditional church senior adult ministries. The primary reason is that most of them don’t like to be categorized as senior adults. The secondary reason is they would be bored silly with some of the potlucks, travels, and activities of churches that attempt to keep their current senior adults happy.

Church leaders are confronted with many challenges in culture and in changing church practices. The pace of change can be frustrating. In the midst of all these changes, a huge generation is retiring. The implications for churches are nothing less than staggering.

What do these implications mean for your church? What is your church doing today to reach and minister to retiring Boomers?

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Comments

  1. says

    I think that church leaders might benefit from engaging this generation in international missions. That would appeal to their desire to travel and change the world. Once they experience first-hand the impact of poverty that might change their perspective on giving.

  2. Grant Hignight says

    My prayer is that we be even more intentional in encouraging and promoting personal, growing relationships with Jesus Christ for this generation. My greatest desire is that this Boomer generation would be great examples of simply following Jesus daily.

    All of this is not news to our Lord. The Church must be viewed as both the local expressions we call local churches and the Body of Christ fulfilling the specific roles and assignments of God’s design in making disciples of all nations. We have yet to run out of lost people.

    BTW, I am a Boomer.

  3. Ralph Juthman says

    I am one of those boomer pastors who will be retiring in about fifteen years. ( the Canadian government has graciously increased the age of retirement to 67).
    A couple other implications. While this group will be healthier and have more time to offer, it will not be for the church. My generation is the generation raised with the mentality if you want something done, pay someone else to do it so you can do what you want to do. This will put a further financial strain on churches and pastors a lady strapped for time and finances.
    Also, as a boomer pastor in my fifties, the stark reality is churches do not want me because I am too ‘old’. There is an irreversible trend today of younger pastors looking for ministry in the larger urban centres. What does the smaller, rural church do for pastoral leadership? Could another trend be that some older boomer pastors will be coming out of retirement in order to serve these under served areas of God’s kingdom?

      • Gena says

        You are on the tail end of the boomers. It has been my experience that most of us have always been the first to volunteer. I hate paying someone to do what I am capable of doing myself. I realize it may depend on environment. I was part of a start-up church where we did everything ourselves. When we are deprived of using our gifts, we are deprived of worship. That means anything from singing, to fixing the AC. That Church has expanded to 3+ campuses. They still have once-a-month work days and hands-on community mission activities. That’s what most of us want. We don’t want to just sit on our hands doing nothing. We would really be thought of as old if we did that ;-)

    • Allan Pearson says

      Sorry Ralph but you comment about the Canadian Government changing the retirement age to 67 is not correct. What the government did was to change the minimum age for a social assistance program known as “Old Age Security” (OAS). OAS was never intended to be a pension plan nor any other kind of “retirement” plan. It is entirely a social assistance plan that only low income Canadians may qualify for, and as such is not even available to many Canadians even though they may meet the minimum age requirement.

      The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) (which is accurately named as a pension plan) allows the pensioner to begin collecting their pension benefits as early as age 60. Most individuals decide to wait until age 65.

  4. Mark Lindsay says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Great summation! I wonder what is going to happen in 10 years, when the youngest Boomer is 60 years old and the youngest GenXer is 45 years old, and there are few, if any Millennials present. In a way, it is a good thing that Boomers desire to work longer and continue to volunteer! Your point three above constitutes a major connection with the Millennial generation who bought into their parents’ (Boomers’) values. My prayer as Boomers retire is that they will rekindle that connection and draw Millennials back into their churches.

    Press on, brother!

    Mark

  5. Mark says

    Semi retired people still do quite a bit of good work these days. Also, you need the boomer people to talk to the younger about surviving the tough times. Look, many younger people see boomers as the big problem. (The boomers lecture us about not having good jobs, but they got theirs easily. They lecture us about not owning houses, but their got theirs cheaply. They lecture us about not forming families, but they had things easy very early in life. They tell us we need to be active leaders in civic organizations and churches, but they keep us from having leadership positions.) I could go on but you’ll get the point. The times like the dark days of Vietnam and 70s inflation need to be discussed. They have much to offer so long as they remind the younger people that things were not as easy as everyone today thinks they were back then.

  6. Mark Dance says

    You are so right about the retiring Boomers’ resistance to assimilating into our current “Senior Adult Ministry.” Honestly, we have not figured it all out yet. Our Sr Adult Pastor has been to a couple of conferences lately that affirm your implications and have brought us back to the drawing board.

    One area that is resonating with these Boomers is adventure travel (Holy Land tours, Mediterranean cruises, overseas mission trips). I am hoping that our new local Ministry Center here in Conway, AR will be a local hub for the Boomers who really want to scratch that itch for significance.

  7. Russ H says

    #4 is very true. Our SS class attendance is down at least 30% if not more. Couples retire now earlier than the previous generation and move away or travel every weekend.

  8. Gerald Wolfe says

    Boomers are very opinionated. If you want to know what they’re looking for, or expecting, as far as Church goes… just ask. They’ll tell you.

  9. says

    I am a retired Boomer. I took early retirement after a more than 25 year career in child welfare work (foster care, child protective services, family services, youth services). I do not believe that I had things easy early in life. I certainly did not have an easy time finding a job. I don’t own my home. I can empathize with a lot of younger people who must work at two or three jobs to make ends meet. Many businesses offer only part time work because they do not have to pay their part-timers the same wages as full-time employees nor offer them benefits. I don’t travel except to visit relatives in Louisiana or to drive foreign exchange students to the airport in Nashville or to shop at Whole Foods in Nashville. The last time I drove to Louisiana was to attend my mother’s funeral. Today is the anniversary of her death.

    Since I retired, I have been involved in a number of church plants, small group ministries, and worship ministries in four different denominations or networks–Anglican Mission in America, Assembly of God, United Methodist, and Southern Baptist. I was a licensed minister in the Episcopal Church for 17 years. My pastor asked me to surrender my license because he saw a conflict of interest between my open sympathy for the Anglican Mission, a conservative Anglican church planting movement, and my role as a church leader. I had been involved in the planting of our church in the late 1980s but found myself in a denomination in which those interested in reaching the lost with the gospel and enfolding them into new churches are an increasing rarity and declining and dying churches are all too common.

    Since 2004 I have been publishing a blog, Anglicans Ablaze, on the Internet. Despite the name the blog is not particularly directed at Anglicans. The vision that I seek to implement is summed up in these words, “Committed to building up Christ’s Church in North America and beyond.” Christ’s Church is not confined to any particular denomination or network.

    One of the developments in the American churches that concerns me is the tendency to segregate people by age. I do not view this as a healthy development. When an individual has little contact with another generation, he is not likely to develop much empathy for that generation, its particular concerns, needs, and problems.

  10. Tom Covington says

    As pastor of a smaller church, this excites me because I see many of our boomer members who have expressed a desire to serve and minister more as their “discretionary time” increases. I am excited about the possibilities of ministries and missions that are led by our boomers and reach others instead of maintaining ministries that are simply social activities. I think churches should embrace this and equip these folks to serve. I can imagine a day where leadership of certain ministries and activities that smaller churches cannot afford staff for could be handled by boomers who desire to actively serve in the church.

  11. Jana White says

    When my husband took an early retirement package at age 56, I told him I wanted to quit my public school teaching position, as well. He was shocked, but said OK. I started teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to adults. I had been an English and ESOL teacher in a junior high school. After coordinating the ESOL ministry at my church for two years, I left to take a part-time position in an Adult school in town. I was hired to teach ESOL, but we now include the American GED candidates in our English class. This is my ministry and God’s mission for me! This year we moved our evening classes to an elementary school is a largely Hispanic area. Our ESOL classes have grown to over 100 adults! I wish others knew how wonderful these students are.

    If the church is going to survive, we are going to have to quit just sponsoring programs within our four walls and join God where He is working in the local communities. Foreign mission trips are good and needed, but we need to be working for our Lord everyday. Each of us has a talent or special gift that a volunteer agency needs.

  12. Di says

    I am a boomer. It wasn’t as easy as some believe. Getting a job was easy? I sent out over 100 resumes/applications and received two interviews. I also paid for my own education, balancing work and school…. but I made it. Housing? After renting we finally bought a little 4 room house, and gradually built up from there. Easy early in life? Not exactly. My family was on welfare; my dad worked two jobs. My husband and I also each worked two jobs. No leadership chances? Leadership is earned, and learned from the bottom up. I agree that there are some who should step aside for various reasons, but no one should automatically be promoted to leadership. So please don’t make the generalized statement that boomers are a problem.

    There is a great deal of wisdom to be tapped from boomers, just we tapped the wisdom of the Greatest Generation before us. Boomers are finding themselves sandwiched between aging parents, who need them, and children/grandchildren, who need them. Yes, there are jet setting boomers, but I believe that the majority of us are just hard working, family oriented, ordinary people.

    In some churches, boomers find that they can no longer connect with the music and worship styles that they have known from childhood. Boomers are finding that they are the ones to staff the nursery, staff the VBS, staff the Sunday school….. after staffing it for our own children. As boomers lose their hearing and mobility, they find that churches are not user friendly for them. These are some of the problems that I am seeing right now. And if the younger generation decides to write us off, then those problems are just going to intensify. It can be discouraging.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing this, Di. I agree with you. I, myself, am caring for my mother-in-law in our home (with Alzheimer’s) and have grandchildren. We do need to be accessible. And something I experience is that yes, the boomers are doing most of the work. Somehow our children didn’t learn by our example how to give unto others of our time. I’m not sure how that went wrong or why. That’s something I’d like to learn more about. How to influence the younger folks to be givers of their time.

  13. says

    We keep a group of our boomers engaged with a motorcycle club. I’m on the other end of the boomer spectrum age-wise so I’m curious to learn about how others keep them engaged as well. Great post!

  14. says

    Wow! While attending my Association’s Senior Luncheon I had a conversation with the head of the president of the ministry to seniors and he touched on several of those points, especially the last one. Perhaps he also read this. Very insightful as always Dr. Rainer. I just began my second month as a Director of Missions and this is one of the most pressing issues I see our churches needing to prepare for in the years ahead.

  15. Tammy Garrison says

    Isn’t there another part of the equation in that the next generation will be the church leaders while the Boomers are out there traveling? How they lead or shape the church will also have an impact.

  16. Alethea says

    Thom, I agree totally with your assessment of the current situation regarding Boomers. My husband and I minister to the seniors in our local church, and we are both Boomers. We are constantly trying to figure out how to engage more of the younger seniors, and so far the only real success we have had is mission opportunities with church plants. Very few of them are interested in monthly suppers with entertainment or bus trips, and many of those who were doing those things are “aging out”. We have a wonderful groups of loving, older adults and they keep us busy. However, we have real concern for the future and wonder what that ministry will look like in five to ten years. I believe we as leaders must be willing to think outside the box and accept the differences that we know exist. Perhaps a perceived lack of interest or commitment is really just our signal to be creative with the activities we offer. We don’t want to miss out on that ever-present zeal to make a difference in the world. Sounds scriptural to me!

  17. Jim Dooley says

    Yet another opinion concerning the boomers and seniors. An interesting view of these generations is the two are still family and as such the boomers are now fast becoming the care givers for their parents. The Walton TV series depicted “how it should be” in families taking care of families. And the care giving families of Christ certainly want to be of help to their moms and dads. OK they are challenged with raising their children, working hard each day and now working full time as care givers. Remember the newest boomers are the 50 + crowd. The front side of boomers are now 68. And yes, there are more than 70 million strong.

    An interesting factoid is these new care givers are not educated to do what they do. Even if they be doctors or nurses they still have a deficit of knowing how to administer care for elderly parents. As a result, the task at hand with all the duties involved in caring for mom and dad are daunting. This is very stressful work and in some cases impossible to deal with. God has the answers and if you listen closely enough you will hear Him say – GET HELP! We all deal with multitasking but this can be crushing..

    I suggest that after council from your pastor, finding out all you can about the task of giving care, soliciting all help possible, you drop to your knees and pray several times a day. I can assure you it won’t be difficult to drop to your knees during these challenging times. Your Father will assist you in raising back to the upright position.

    An over looked financial assist for many will be the multi billions in wealth transfer from the seniors at large to their boomer children. The transfer is now underway so the church may have more opportunity to maintain coffers than we think. That is if we become more pro active in ministering to these families. I don’t mean ministering with our hands outreached for God’s needed funding. Rather, if we begin now with genuine love and deed to assist in this time of family need and gut wrenching anguish, not only will we have done our part in maintaining the Church family, we will have a genuine opportunity of refilling pews. By the way this is a multi year commitment and requires coaching and training by healthcare professionals so we will be pulling the galleasses back upon our shoulders for some stooping and bending. But God’s plan for us isn’t always a walk through the park.

    The Concord Association begins serious education on boomer – senior opportunities through Christian care giving education in a few weeks. This is after a 2 year construction period and bathed in prayer.

    Granted, the boomers are a different bunch but the Bible deals with that from Genesis to Revelations. God has a distinct and inspired plan for us all. Even the boomers. Exciting times are ahead. You’re not really worried – are you?

  18. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    One of the positive aspects of aging baby boomer pastors is the availability of retired and semiretired pastors available to serve smaller congregations in need of revitalization.
    Will be an opportunity for missional baby boomers to serve, and keep some teachable small congregations alive and open for business.

  19. Bill says

    Number one and number four seem to be in conflict. They have less money to give but money to travel. This may be an indication of priority.

  20. says

    Some/many of us who work with “master elders” (Ward Tannenberg’s term) have concluded that we have to be prepared to minister to two different groups of retirees–older retirees and younger retirees.

    I have not found our younger retirees to be as interested in service (in any context) as some experts say they should be. This could be a geographical thing. For example, maybe on the west coast younger retirees say that’s what they want. I find that most of the younger retirees are running after their grandchildren a lot of their free time. I don’t begrudge running after grandchildren because I do it too.

    Secondly, I’ve read that many (maybe a majority) of boomers are ill-prepared financially and their resources are severely limited. As a result, they may want to take exciting trips overseas, but their finances say otherwise. I’m surprised at how many boomers have to save for years to take a trip to Israel, for example.

    In our ministry, we try to have a balance between events, seminars, and service with service as our smallest emphasis. Frankly, we’ve gotten the least interest in our service opportunities. Maybe we could have better service opportunities, but I don’t think that’s our problem. Most of our young retirees and our older retirees are perfectly happy to let the younger people do the service. “It’s their turn now!” Fortunately, we have a fantastic service ethic among our young families in their 20′s through 40′s.

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