Where have all the boomers gone?
Largest U.S. generation is missing in churches
While United Methodism has been intensely focused on becoming younger and more diverse, people in the largest U.S. age group need attention, too, leaders told participants at Boomerstock, a recent national conference.
Many baby boomers aren’t part of local church life.
Among those at Boomerstock was Derrek Belase, the Oklahoma Conference’s director of Discipleship.
Boomers — born between 1946 and 1964 — “represent the single greatest opportunity for evangelism and outreach for the church,” declared William Randolph at “Boomerstock: Launching a Ministry Movement,” held in Nashville, Tenn.
Boomers “are not only as large as our youth and young adults but they are a bridge generation,” which will offer unprecedented opportunities to also reach their millennial children and their grandchildren, said Dr. Randolph.
He directs the denomination’s Aging and Older Adult Ministries, part of Discipleship Ministries (formerly the General Board of Discipleship), the event sponsor.
Priorities for boomers
Speaker Brent Green said he studied boomers with an eye toward marketing to them, but after his sister’s lengthy illness and death from cancer, he began to see boomer life through the eyes of faith.
He suggested six priorities for boomers that could be addressed by local churches.
Self-care and the “compression of morbidity” is at the top. Green said boomers want to stay healthy as long as possible and then die quickly.
Grandparents raising grandchildren and dating after divorce are some big changes they face.
Travel is important, with a focus on creative experiences and celebration vacations.
Philanthropy also is important, as boomers have money to donate to worthy causes, but only 28 percent of them are actively connected to a church.
Finally, Green described a return to spirituality as important for boomers. Many of them are “searching for tribes” — providing a great opening for potential outreach by churches through activities such as spiritual retreats.
Changing the world
Rev. Belase said the speakers emphasized that boomers are looking for ways to give back and make a difference in the world.
“Think about boomers who populated the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the feminist movement, and gave us Earth Day,” Randolph told those at the conference.
He offered some useful principles for teaching and educating people in this age group.
Boomers appreciate options and choices in life, he said, so churches must offer many opportunities without the expectation that any one thing will work for everyone.
Boomers are results-oriented, so practical application of learning is important. They prefer to learn in informal environments with shared leadership.
Here are resources
To engage boomers, several tools are available, Belase shared after the conference.
• MissionInsite provides demographics to identify the types of boomers in your community. Among them are people identified as Booming with Confidence, Thriving Boomers, and Blue Sky Boomers! The Oklahoma Conference makes this tool available to any local church, and it is funded with Apportionments. To learn more, contact Chris Tiger at the United Methodist Ministry Center, 405-530-2005, email@example.com.
• “Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life” was just published by Discipleship Resources. Author Craig Kennet Miller, also a presenter at the conference, examines seven values at the spiritual roots of boomers: brokenness, loneliness, rootlessness, self-seeking, godliness, supernaturalism, and wholeness. A seven-week study guide is available. Go to the website https://boomerspirituality.org
• Connect boomers to worship and liturgies. Sue Nilson Kibbey writes that churches miss the opportunity to formally recognize people who are retiring. She suggests “retirement commissioning” services followed by a connection to further “engagement in service and contribution … providing spiritual and prayer support.” Other services relating to boomers include National Grandparents Day (in September) and the denomination’s Older Adult Recognition Day (in May).
Local churches can provide great venues for connections to happen for boomers, Belase summed up. Offering practical, relevant opportunities for engagement are paramount, and the new year is a great time to begin.
To contact him: 405-530-2144, DBelase@okumc.org.
5 tips for ministry with boomers
Baby boomers are complaining that 2016 was cursed. The list of U.S. celebrities and public figures who died during the year is long and includes actors Alan Thicke, Patty Duke, Gene Wilder, and Carrie Fisher; PBS news anchor Gwen Hill; author Pat Conroy; legendary basketball coach Pat Summit; and musicians Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael.
What makes this particular list so stunning is that these well-known people were baby boomers — born between 1946 and 1964. Their passing is rocking the boomers’ world.
What then can the church learn about this unique generational group that will benefit church health?
Boomers typically don’t like to talk about aging and dying. But the reality of deaths among their celebrity peers provides great opportunity for the church to engage boomers in conversation.
1 First, church leaders must have a basic understanding of what makes boomers different from their older counterparts and why it’s a mistake to try to force boomers into traditional, existing older-adult ministry models. Ken Dychtwald’s documentary “The Boomer Century” is a must-see to understand this and is available online.
2 Church leaders should accept that even the most faithful boomers are not likely to attend church regularly. They will be traveling to see grandkids or RVing across the country. The church must be willing to adapt ministry and discipleship opportunities for them.
• Offer more short-term opportunities. Create three-week Bible studies in addition to long-term studies.
• Invite boomers to usher or greet when they are available.
• Engage them through one-time opportunities for mission work.
• Even though they often are away from the church building, they want to feel connected. Utilize technology and social media to make them feel a part of church life even when they are away.
3 Many boomers are struggling emotionally, physically, and spiritually as they care for aging loved ones. They desperately need the support and encouragement of the church as they deal with the challenges of journeying alongside their aging loved ones.
Some boomers have aging parents nearby; others are trying to care for parents hundreds of miles away. Some have healthy relationships with their older loved ones; others are snagged in a mire of family dysfunction. Offer caregiving workshops and support groups that provide practical eldercare information. My book “Voices of Aging: Adult Children and Aging Parents Talk with God” was written as a resource for helping boomers and their aging parents stand in one another’s shoes.
4 Not all boomers are alike. In fact, they are a fiercely independent group. Fighting the stereotypes while also embracing the realities that come with aging, Carol Orsborn provides insight at http://FierceWithAge.com.
5 Building relationships is key. Boomers covet relationships with their grandchildren and are willing to invest great resources of time and money on those. Churches can help boomers value their role as mentors to younger generations — not just to their grandchildren. Rick Moody has radio broadcasts on topics of boomers and legacy at http://JewishSacredAging.com
Missy Buchanan is a nationally recognized older adult advocate, writing and speaking on aging and faith. Her works are top sellers for Upper Room Books. Website is http://missybuchanan.com/