Several years ago, we had the first ever Generations…The Unbroken Chain: Ministry Through the Ages training event. It was such an eye-opening experience. One of the highlights was the “top ten” for each generation represented. The breakout leaders provided what they thought were the most important things for leaders to know about each generation.
Our senior women’s track was led by Ann Rice who worked with senior adults at First Baptist Church of Little Rock, Arkansas for over 35 years. She’s been teaching Sunday School since the age of 13, and she continues to teach and speaks to women, senior adults, retreats, and conferences. I have said many times, I want to be just like her when I grow up! Of course, since I am a boomer, I’ll never be a senior, but I will be her age one day! Here are Ann’s thoughts about seniors and how to reach them.
1. Change your perception about senior adults. In the past we thought of a senior woman as a little gray-haired lady in the rocking chair, knitting with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Seniors today look different. They are better educated than ever. Because of financial planning, IRAs, and social security, many are financially independent. Because of modern medicine, seniors are living longer, feeling and looking better, and loving it.
2. Enlist them on your team. If you are the women’s ministry leader, enlist a senior woman to serve on your team. She will be invaluable getting the word out to other seniors and praying for you. She has been around and knows the ropes. She completes assignments and wants to be included.
3. Know your target audience. The more specifically you can define your focus group, the more effective you will be in reaching them. You know certain characteristics about them, and these characteristics are important, but dig deeper! What are they passionate about? What are their interests?
4. Find a common cause. Establish connections around common interests. Buzz words today are “connect” and “involve.” Know in advance that most senior women will not join you in August at a swim party at high noon, but if you plan a mission trip or project, call on them! They have come up through the ranks of missions organizations. They grew up studying about, praying for, and giving to missions. Identify those in your group who care deeply about a particular area and want to do something about it.
5. Senior women love to learn. Just because they are older, they should never stop learning; and the new senior adult woman loves to learn. Health care professionals agree learning and keeping senior minds engaged and active help keep minds sharp. Women’s ministry can help! Senior women love Bible study. Most have been in Sunday School all their lives and long for in-depth Bible study. And senior women can still teach.
6. Age is irrelevant. Dr. Charles Arn, director of the Institute for American Church Growth, Monrovia, California, says that right now all of us are experiencing our chronological age (actual birthday), our biological age (Do you feel 73 or 37? How is your health?), and our psychological age (How do you think of yourself?). Some women half my age think of themselves as older.
7. Everyone can make a difference. Older adults long to make a difference—to leave a legacy and evidence their lives mattered. Ask them to reflect on their lives, events, things they accomplished, people they touched, and their memories. What do we want to leave behind? Perhaps a record of prayers for children, families, stories, shared memories and experiences, good character (see Prov. 22:1), a legacy of faith, a Bible written in through the years.
8. Mentoring is key. We generally think of mentoring as older women teaching the younger. “A wise man will listen and increase his learning, and a discerning man will obtain guidance” (Prov. 1:5). What if we identified seniors who have been through chemotherapy, divorce, widowhood, or difficulty with children and paired them with young women experiencing the same events? Meet together as groups and formulate lists of needs and how to meet them.
9. Start small and expand. How can we involve older adults in a way that leads to intergenerational participation? How can we maximize their involvement so programs are meaningful and make an impact? Where is the blueprint for an intergenerational infrastructure? History offers some answers: In the early days of our country, informal helping systems were essential for survival. Education included everyone. Older adults taught young people their skills; little ones learned by doing chores, taking responsibility, and realizing they were important links to family and community’s survival. We may never return to those days, but to establish the intergenerational link, we must make changes. How do we begin? Start small and expand. Build on existing organizations. Bring women together to form a stronger effort that links, crisscrosses, uses many touch points, and includes all individuals. Envision a future with an intergenerational infrastructure where older adults play a prominent role and all who wish to participate are welcomed. It should match needs and people, connect people to tasks they enjoy, applaud them for successes, and guide them to greater successes.
10. Discover a second wind. The dictionary defines this as renewed strength or energy, as during a competition. It is seen in marathon runners whose every muscle aches, whose lungs are on fire, whose breath comes in short pants. The runner is in agony, the finish line seems unreachable. Then the runner gets a second wind—a surge of renewed strength and energy that takes the runner to a successful finish. Think of older adults you know who caught their second wind and went on to great achievements in later years. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of England at 65 and served off and on in that position until he was 81. Missionary physician Albert Schweitzer practiced medicine well into his 90s. The point is this: You can help senior women catch that second wind. And as they do, their lives will be enriched, and your women’s ministry will be too. How are you investing in your senior women, and how are they influencing others for Christ?
What would you add to this list? How are you ministering specifically to senior women in your church and community?