Dealing with Older People in a Young Church

Are you a church planter, or maybe a young leader in your first pastorate? If so, you probably work well with a young congregation but feel a little confused about what to do with the older members of your community.

 

Face it, old people have lots of experience… and they like to talk about it. Talk that can be intimidating. It may also be boring. However, in its proper place, it can also be useful. So how do you dodge the unnecessary parts while enjoying the good stuff?

Let’s start by understanding three very basic needs an older person has if they choose to identify with a young congregation.

Before we go further, I have a confession—I am an old person attending a young church (our congregation is less than five months old). Also, my pastor spent his high school years hanging out with my own children at my house. It doesn’t get much stranger than that.

My first need is to hang out with people who are going somewhere and helping change the world. That’s why my wife and I would follow our pastor anywhere. Our church is doing fantastic things in the larger community and already involved with overseas missions. We’re there because we need to support people who make a difference.

Second, old people like us need what everyone else needs, to be noticed, heard and understood. Our new friends surprised us. Every week a host of 20-somethings not only welcome us, they engage us. The highlight of my week is the few hours I get to spend with new friends—all of whom are young enough to be my grandchildren. This is in strong contrast to two megachurches we tried to attend where no one noticed us other than to hand us a bulletin or pass the bucket.

Third, I need something to do. Anyone who truly cares about your church wants to serve in some way. In days gone by, we arranged jobs in churches I pastored that were tailored to our “Timesetters,” or senior citizens. I think I found a job that I can do which would support our pastor, and it is a job best done by an older person. I recently asked my pastor to introduce me to anyone over the age of 50 that he speaks to on a Sunday morning.

My goal is to befriend the “gray-hairs” who visit our church. People like to worship with people like themselves, which is why many older people attend a younger church just once. I want to help the older folk understand all that our church has to offer them. I even introduce them to my young friends. It is something that I can do which is unique to people of my generation—at least in my church.

So there you have it:

  1. People like me are in your church because we need people like you. We may be old and creaky but we still want to be where the action is (you’ll notice that most of my peers attend that gray-haired church down the street). We’re with you because we need to support someone like you.
  2. We need to feel welcomed and accepted for who we are. If we get to blowing smoke about the good old days, just remind us that this is a different day and we’ll get the picture.
  3. We need meaningful tasks. This may take some brainstorming on your part, but you’ll find a place for us to serve if you give it a shot.

That’s all pretty simple. If you welcome us and find a place for us to serve we’ll be loyal, put money in the offering that you may need to survive and we may have some useful information to help you over roads we’ve already traveled.

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12 thoughts on “Dealing with Older People in a Young Church”

  1. Pastor Ralph,
    Well written and simple. I turned 55 and attend a big church on Oahu. The Pastor and leadership team do a great job incorporating us older guys to connect with others and serve.

  2. Great points! Everyone deserves to feel loved, accepted, and appreciated at every age. We can all learn from one another. We learn so much from people of all ages in the Bible, and I think that is what set the precedent that we all are commanded to follow. Thank you for all the wisdom you’ve shared. I look forward to more of it! Aloha!

  3. Douglas Schnitzer

    Thanks Ralph for building a bridge here. God is a bridge-builder. He calls us to be bridge-builders. Bridge-building is a part of my destiny and you Ralph lead me in that walk. Like you said, it’s not just old people, it’s many kinds of people: it’s minorities it’s ‘weird’ people, it’s people who don’t have all the answers or have it all together. I represent people with different thoughts and perspectives when it comes to church. I represent the unconventional, the once secular guy who was being led by God to a Christian space, a church.

    If you’re reading this does your church make room for those people? Does the community make them feel welcomed? Do they follow God’s mission to not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him? Would these people God is pursuing be given a chance to see the Lord through relationship (by meeting them where their at) and not only instruction?

    1. Thanks for your comments and questions. I’ve always thought that it is God who changes people from the inside out. Having said that and believing that everyone is welcome, that doesn’t mean that I would agree with every person in the name of pluralism or diversity. I will accept every person, but not every argument. In churches I pastored, we always promised, “to love you… as is!” And we meant it.

  4. Hi Pastor Ralph, I like your blog about our being useful in our age bracket. I will turn 82 next month and an active member of New Beginnings Assembly of God Church in Waimea of about 75 people.

    Recently, we had several older new people come to our church, a couple of those are parents of the members which encouraged me to begin knowing them so they can truly feel comfortable to truly be a participant in the fellowship of believers. I believe I am the oldest member here so far. I am living now what you have shared. Thanks Pastor Ralph

    1. Thanks Lianne and thanks for all the energy you put into Hope Chapel Kaneohe Bay. You and George were among the first people to partner with us. Such a blessiing!!!

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