Pastors Knute Larson, Jeff Bogue, and Jim Brown talk about how to encourage and utilize seniors in your church.It was the first four-letter word we ever said, and it is one of the largest sins of the pastor, and it is often the attitude behind church problems and wars.
On paper, we would all write that the church is our Lord’s. And no older person in the church would remember having that attitude when approaching a church change or goal; nor the young. But often the attitude is behind disunity.
How do we honor our Lord at church by focusing on His directives for all of us? How do we help seniors, people over 60 let’s say, celebrate hopes to connect with outsiders, and younger, rather than say “someone is stealing my church?” And, how do we honor them more for what they have already invested in this place?
This one is about the olders, or the unofficial elders, as the Bible calls them. Mostly we would like to major on honoring them for all they have done and continue to do for the church.
The church of our Lord.
Helping you to show it is His,
Knute, with Jeff and Jim
Download the PDF
Listen to the audio
Watch the video
Why they are easily neglected?
- Many times the older generations do not complain :), so they will often be supportive and go along to get along.
- They are much less particular, as a group, about styles and methods than the average young person. I know that sounds funny but it’s true.
- Older people will tolerate music “not their own,” for instance, much more than a younger person. An older person is much more likely to sit through a service and allow the music to reach the young people, than a young person is likely to sit through a service and allow the music to communicate to an older person.
- They are less visible. Especially as they get older and may start to have health problems and may:
- Be in their homes more or a nursing home or assisted-care bound.
- Not drive in the winter—simply not as mobile, harder for them to get to us, so as a church we have to go to them.
- Many have chosen to humble themselves and their own personal needs so the younger generation can be reached.
- They are some of the most precious people you will ever meet. Wisdom and maturity have allowed them to care for others more than they do themselves, so they aren’t the squeaky wheels that need to be oiled.
- Some choose to see them as helpful and beneficial, yet they have so much wisdom and insight to offer.
- Sometimes it is because they are no longer able to get to church. They stay at home so a church can easily forget to touch them unless they have a good calling ministry.
- Because we want to get younger. Books and friends and common sense about the future put that pressure on us. And some make it either/or rather than both/and.
- Because some younger pastors and other church leaders think they do not know how to talk to old people. They perceive that olders think in another dimension—same way we think about teenagers sometimes.
- Type A pastors—many of us—think time spent with or on olders does not accomplish anything. What do you check off on your list of church growth goals when you visit a shut-in?
- A few of them are disgruntled about church or changes, and we don’t know what to say to them. Some of those drop out of a lot of church meetings.
What are some ways to honor them, in all sizes of churches?
- One of the greatest ways is to tell the stories of how they invested their lives for the Lord.
- Very important to me at Grace: that the younger generations know and don’t forget that the older generations have sacrificed deeply for the church.
- Telling that story again and again, not only honors the older generation but teaches the younger.
- A great example the older generation leaves us is not their methodology (methodology will always go out of style), but their willingness to sacrifice, submit to the gospel, and reach out to the next generation.
- The pulpit is the most powerful location from which to honor them for their service. I love to use illustrations that lift them up.
- Recognize them with special awards.
- Give them areas to lead and a voice to share.
- Honor them in blogs and social media, with photos and stories.
- CE National offers a faithfulness award that recognizes people for their years of service.
- This month I read Jim’s and Jeff’s before I wrote this, and I urge you to practice what they have done. Good ideas!
- Interviews, where you get out their feelings about Christ and the church, not just history and stories. It isn’tust that they built this place with time and prayers and money, but that they loved doing it and are grateful.
- Do not skip them for the pastoral prayer once in a while. Some olders pray like they know the One they are addressing.
- Mention them as a group in the pastoral prayer in the morning worship service, with thanks to God for they still contribute to the ministry there. Thank them in sermons when faithfulness is mentioned.
- Do not replace them in strong oversight teams or the board just because they turned 65 or were asked to retire at work.
- Do not axe their Sunday ABF or community group if you go to only home groups. Many churches have hurt them by taking away a good habit and a place of love and connection for them. Some of the oldest do not like to drive at night for the winter home groups.
- Do not expect them to do discipleship or accountability as some younger adults can. But, boy, are they good at Bible study and care and praying and having fun together—many of them.
- Assign a ministry manager to care for the shut-ins and assign a family of the church to care and check in on each of them.
- Appoint a part-time director of seniors and care. This says more than words.
- Remember to tell the 24-year old director of communications that there are still a lot of people over 65 who do not do email or media. 🙂
- Honor them as you mention them in sermons. Jokes about seniors should go the way of “blond jokes” and “Polish stories” and stories that put the unsaved down.
What can I do to thank and honor them personally?
- Look them in the eye, hear their story, and then thank them for it.
- Listen to their story, their history, and realize as a pastor you’re part of it, not the focal point.
- Ask for their insight and help. They often have years of experience.
- They may not know how to reach young people with the cutting edges of technology, but they may have great insight on people in general and be able to pass along good “horse sense.”
- Write them thank you notes.
- If possible, honor them publicly. We have done this with two key families in our church who have been here for almost 50 years.
- For one family, we bought a mantel clock, and told the story of how the man, Craig Christner, was the interim pastor of our Bath Campus three different times. We honored him and his wife publicly, applauded them, and gave them the gift to remind them (and others) how proud we are, and how much we love and appreciate them.
- More recently we honored the Kear family, who have faithfully served for more than 40 years. We worked with an organization called CE National to give them a Faithfulness Award.
- Call them and write them a note of encouragement.
- Go out to breakfast, lunch, or coffee with them and share with them how much you appreciate them.
- Sit down with them before and after services. I love to walk through the auditorium before the service starts and sit down and check-in with them and thank them. They are usually the first ones in the room.
- Give them a stage moment to share their experiences. We just recently began another capital campaign and brought up an elderly couple to share how they had sacrificed in the previous campaigns and how God had provided. It was powerful!
- Thank them personally. Sometimes with handwritten notes. Set a goal of writing 3-5 each week.
- Tell them you love them—individually but also in their Sunday ABF, and for their monthly luncheons when you visit them.
- Visit their groups and give a five-minute update on the mission of the church. They love to be in the know, and deserve to be. Stop at one of their activities just to say hello.
- Ask about their wheelchair or cane or walker. People need to tell their story of what made such things necessary. Too many of us pretend we do not see the cast or the walker.
- Touch them and look them in the eye….Pray for them right there on the spot….Thank them with notes and words….Call them by name….Thank them for their prayers….Smile at them even when you are in a hurry to get to the pulpit….Thank them again.
Pastorpedia is a ministry of CE National, a church effectiveness ministry. To receive an email when each Pastorpedia is available, signup for ON MISSION Insights at cenational.org/omi_signup.
The three experienced pastors in these videos are Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years. Pastorpedia is brought to you by CE National. Visit cenational.org/pastorpedia for more issues and to read the bios of our contributors.