Boomers: The New Senior

Richard H. Gentzler, Jr.

January 1, 2016, leading edge Boomers started turning 70 and nearly half of all Boomers will be approaching or in their sixties!  The generation that didn’t trust anyone over 30 is now becoming the new seniors.

Boomers, a post-World War II generation, were born in the years 1946-1964.  There are approximately 78 million Boomers in the US.  Every 8 seconds a Boomer turns 65, roughly 10,000 per day.

With such a large generation, Boomers don’t fit every description or interest attributed to them.  But there are some things that can be said about most Boomers.  For example, the concept of anti-aging has captured the interest of today’s Boomers, making them a huge market for products such as nutritional supplements and “anti-aging” wrinkle creams and lotions.  Boomers have an unwavering determination to not get old.  They will do much to keep themselves young, and that includes looking and acting youthful.  As a result, the Boomer Generation is helping to make the Anti-Aging Industry a multi-billion dollar a year industry!

Generally speaking, Boomers do not identify with labels such as “older adults,”  “senior citizens” or “elders.”  Boomers do not see themselves as older adults nor as “Baby” Boomers; but rather, they view themselves as “active adults.”   Labeling Boomers as “older adults” may actually hinder your ministry.  As the new senior adults in our congregations, Boomers are helping to change the way society views and understands aging.

Two myths that are being dispelled by Boomers are these:

  • “Once a person reaches the age of 65, there is only one stage of life remaining: Old Age.”  Not so with Boomers who believe that it is never too late to change: careers, appearance, and the future or to reinvent oneself.
  • An Old Russian Proverb is “Old people don’t need to think for their days pass according to custom.”   As Boomers age they alter the meanings and values associated with growing older. The Boomer Generation has had significant influence in each stage of life they have lived.  Aging and growing older will be no different.

Some Boomers are already retired or are thinking about retirement.  But, many Boomers will continue working well beyond the “normal” retirement years.  The reasons vary, but may include:

  • Can’t afford to retire
  • Have continuing career interests
  • Want to stay productive
  • Work gives them meaning
  • Dwindling or little retirement investments

A few years ago my annual conference celebrated the ministry of thirty-six retiring clergy.  What caught my attention was the average age of most of the retiring clergy.  Nearly a decade ago, most clergy in my annual conference were retiring in their late 50s and early 60s.  Not any longer.  The average age of retirement had increased to 66 years of age, with many retirees in their late 60s and very early 70s.  Rising life expectancy and poor economic conditions will force many Boomers to keep working longer.

Many predict that Boomers will reshape the church’s view of old age, as healthier Boomers continue to work, provide leadership, and stay active longer.  Others worry that the vast expansion of a graying church will remain steadfast in outdated traditions and will fail to reach new populations and younger people.

Congregations wanting to be intentional in ministry with Boomers will accept this generation for who they are.  Churches will:

  • offer a variety of entry points where Boomers can meet others;
  • engage Boomers in ministries that utilize their particular skills and interests;
  • provide opportunities for meaningful service and mission;
  • create various ministry options knowing one ministry-type does not meet all needs;
  • form small groups and support systems;
  • realize that because of busy schedules, regular attendance for Boomers may not mean weekly; and,
  • recognize that many Boomers may be working well beyond the “normal” retirement age.

What Boomers are looking for in a church is acceptance, authenticity, and honest engagement with life.  They want to “live” their faith rather than simply talking about it.  They crave meaningful service opportunities rather than serving on an ongoing committee.

Keep in mind, most Boomers do not think of themselves as older adults and as such, have very little interest in the current design of “older adult ministries.”  Rather than asking Boomers to participate in an existing older adult ministry, new ministries designed specifically for Boomers should be started.  You may also want to create intentional intergenerational ministries where Boomers and young people can be in ministry together.

While it is not clear what this ministry will look like as Boomers age, it can be an exciting and challenging opportunity for congregations.  How is your congregation preparing to meet the needs of aging Boomers?  What are ways you are helping Boomers find meaning and purpose in their later years?

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The Reverend Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, Jr. is director of ENCORE Ministries, a ministry funded by the Golden Cross Foundation of the Tennessee Conference.  You can contact Dr. Gentzler at Richard.gentzler@tnumc.com