40+ And The Church / Beyond Recreation Therapy?

40+ And The Church / Beyond Recreation Therapy? August 28, 2013

Since I started writing and speaking about midlifers’ changing relationship with the local church, various friends have pointed me toward a few churches who are making some sort of attempt to minister to their older congregants. As I learned when I offered my survey on the subject earlier this summer, many congregations don’t know what to do to nurture spiritual maturity in their “second adulthood” members beyond asking them to fill slots on the church org chart. This energizes some, but leaves others feeling patronized or used.

Some congregations recognize that older members present a different set of needs. Any time a person mentioned a church that’s doing something to provide care for their older members, I asked a few questions about the nature of the ministry or headed to the church website to have a peek.

Many of these ministries to mature adults are focused primarily on offering a menu of social activities for its “seasoned saints”. I have nothing against going to plays, concerts, museums, Mag Mile shopping outings, or even overnight trips to see the leaves changing color. In fact, I imagine it might be a lot of fun to do some of these things with a group of others. However, the people who seem to be involved in these groups tend to be mid-60’s and beyond. People who are 44 or 57 aren’t typically participating. They’re too young.

And they’re the ones who are currently downshifting from active participation in their churches. Some of the 40+ church downshifters from whom I heard earlier this summer are loathe to imagine their legacy-creating years spent doing church stuff that doesn’t have much meaning beyond filling an empty calendar date with some pleasant activity and light conversation.

My first response when looking at these ministries was to chalk them up to recreational busywork. A good friend of mine majored in recreation therapy in college, and spent most of her adult life working in the field. Her stories about her work often reminded me that recreation is a Sabbath-themed discipline (even if participants are ziplining or bowling or going shopping for Yankee Candles in some charming antique-ish village somewhere). Good re-creation restores, refreshes and reconnects us with God, ourselves and others. 

In some of these recreation-themed ministries, I’d imagine that relationships do move beyond surface participation toward true Biblical koinonia (fellowship, sharing, participation in the life of Christ together). Well they should. This is the one thing we in the church are uniquely able to share with one another.

I wonder if some churches offering activity-based ministries for older members are aiming too low if the primary goal is simply to keep the aging folks busy and entertained. 

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. – 1 John 1:3

So please weigh in: What are your thoughts on the subject of what ministry to older adults in a church should look like? Does your church offer an activity-based ministry for older adults?  

Do you know of a congregation that is doing something beyond senior luncheons and garden tours for all of its members 40 and beyond? Please contact me with details if you do! I’d love to profile the ministry in an upcoming blog post. 

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