In 2009 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. This is the sixth in a series of “top 10s” in which I’ll share what the breakout leaders thought were the most important things for leaders to know about the generation they represented.
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, 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. Truly, the “old gray mare ain’t what she used to be.” In the past we thought of senior adults women the little gray haired lady in the rocking chair, knitting with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Seniors today LOOK different: we go to Curves, we know Botox, Jenny Craig and Preference by L’oreal! Senior women are better educated than ever before. My mother never went beyond the eighth grade, I have the privilege of a college education and even some graduate work. Because of financial planning, IRA’s, and social security many of us are financially independent. Because of modern medicine we are living longer, feeling and looking better, and loving it.
2. Enlist seniors to serve on your team. If you are the Women’s Ministry Leader in your church enlist a Senior Woman to serve on your team. She will be invaluable in getting the word out to other Seniors, and praying for you. They have “been around and know the ropes.” These are women you CAN count on to come through on their assignments, and WANT 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 that group. Think outside the box: yes, you know certain characteristics about this audience and these characteristics are important but dig deeper! What are they passionate about? What are their interests? What “turns them on?” Remember the current terms: Medium Adults, and the New Senior.
4. Find a common cause. Establish connections around common interests. Realize with me that the buzz words of 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 are planning a mission trip or project of any kind, call on us! These are women who have come up through the ranks of missions organization in the church such as offered by Woman’s Missionary Union. They have grown 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 we are in our senior years we should never stop learning; and the new senior adult woman loves to learn. Health care professionals agree that learning and keeping our minds engaged and active is one of the best ways to keep our minds sharp. Women’s ministry can help with this! Senior women love bible study. Most of them have been in Sunday School all their lives and long for more 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, CA says that in fact right now all of us are experiencing our chronological age (your actual birthday), our biological age (how do you feel? 73 or 37? How is your health?), and our psychological age (how do you think of yourself?) I have known some women half my age who thought of themselves as older. “As a man thinketh in his heart…”
7. Everyone can make a difference. Older adults long to make a difference, to leave a legacy, evidence that their life mattered. Whether we realize it or not every one of us leaves a legacy, a reflection of who we are and what our life was all about. Reflect on your lives, the events of your life, the things you have accomplished, the people you have touched and the memories you’ve left behind. What are some things we want to leave behind? Perhaps a record of the prayers we have prayed for our children, our families, stories, important events, shared memories and experiences, a good character (Prov. 22:1), a legacy of faith, our Bible, written in through the years
8. Mentoring. We generally think of mentoring as the older women teaching the younger women. Prov. 1:5 says “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” What if we paired older adult women who have experienced life-changing events with persons who are going through the same events? Identify those seniors who have been through chemotherapy, divorce, widowhood, difficulty with children and pair them with young women who are experiencing those same events in their lives. Have them meet together as groups and formulate lists of needs and how to meet those needs
9. Start small and expand. How can we involve older adults in a way that leads to intergenerational participation? How can we maximize the involvement of older adults so that programs are meaningful and make an impact? Where do we find 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 and little ones learned by doing chores, taking responsibility and coming to the realization that they were important links to the survival of the family and community. We may never return to those days, but clearly, in the light of establishing the intergenerational link we must make changes. So how do we begin? Start small and expand. Build on existing organizations, bring women together to form a stronger effort, one that links, crisscrosses and uses many different touch points and includes all individuals. Envision a future in which we have such an intergenerational infrastructure where older adults play a prominent role, all are welcomed who wish to participate, matches needs and people, connects people to tasks they enjoy
and applauds them for successes and guides them to even greater ones.
10. Second wind. The dictionary defines a second wind 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 an unreachable distant goal. Then it happens. The runner gets a second wind – there is a surge of renewed strength and energy that takes the runner on to a successful finish. Think of the older adults you know who caught their second wind and went on to great achievements in later years. My point is this: You can help your 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?
How are they influencing others for Christ?
Here’s what First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, SC does to reach out through the generations.