|Richard Gentzler Jr. autographs one of his eight books, on aging and spirituality, for Phyllis Poston of Wagoner at the "Fully Alive, Fully Mature!" training event April 30-May 1 in Oklahoma City.
I don’t know why God keeps me here
By Holly McCray
Churches must become intentional in helping older adults to grow spiritually and to find purpose in their lives. That’s what Richard Gentzler emphasized when he led the seminar "Fully Alive, Fully Mature!" in Oklahoma.
The training with Dr. Gentzler, a ministry specialist in the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), was sponsored by the Older Adult Ministry Council. The spring workshop drew about 100 participants from across the state and was hosted by OKC-First Church.
"When we think only young people need to hear about God’s love and saving grace, we are sadly mistaken," Gentzler said. "Today less than 50 percent of older adults are active in a congregation of any kind."
Other statistics also reinforced his rally call to develop Older Adult Ministries. The average older person watches 45 hours of TV weekly. Increasingly, couples married 35 years and longer are divorcing. Within The United Methodist Church, nearly one-third of the membership is age 65 and older.
Older Adult Ministries stretch across four decades: from age 60 to the centenarians—and across distinctive populations: the G.I. Generation, the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers. Life experiences vary widely because of that extensive timeline.
"With that kind of gap, one ministry type does not reach all," Gentzler said. Older adults "are aging in different ways and expect different things from their church."
So what do they want in a church? Gentzler responded.
Help to deepen their relationship with God.
Freedom to seek, doubt, and ask questions related to faith.
Opportunities for relationships with others (multigenerational).
A place to deal with the tough issues of love and death.
Opportunities to learn and to serve.
A community that values their wisdom, experience, and faith.
A place accessible and free of physical barriers.
To design effective ministry with older adults, begin by establishing a task force and surveying that demographic in your church, Gentzler said. Sample survey questions and other resources are available both online and through his office, the GBOD Center on Aging & Older Adult Ministries.
Among many practical suggestions from the center: employ a director of Older Adult Ministries ("just like we do for the kids"), senior theater, short-term mission trips, telephone reassurance, respite care, lunch partners, "Mutt Ministry," nursing home VBS, homebound Sunday school class, foster grandparents, fitness classes, recording living histories, and home maintenance.
Gentzler urged creating rituals to mark milestones for people as they age, such as a ceremony "for folks moving." Children receive Bibles when they complete Confirmation, and graduating high-school students are recognized in worship. May is designated as Older Adults Month, and the GBOD offers free resources for observances.
A single purpose unites the plethora of ministry ideas.
"I do not see Older Adult Ministries as a senior citizens center," Gentzler explained. "We are here to make disciples. Do we believe we have a message for all eternity? These people are closer to eternity. We’d better be getting the message to them."