Do You Want to Live to 100?

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

If you hope to be a centenarian, the future might be closer than you think.

A new “Life Map” released by the Stanford Longevity Center reveals that living to one hundred might become the norm, not the exception. After all, many of the 10,000 baby boomers who turn 65 today are expected to live well past the age of 90. The big question is, “How can I maximize this bonus time?”

Health realistically defines the outer limits. But within those boundaries, three steps can help us maximize these years.

  1. Reevaluate what it means to grow old. Chronological age is no longer the only metric. Looking beyond outdated stereotypes, research suggests that older adults show superior judgment, reliability, and mentoring skills than those who are younger. At our age, we can “see the forest through the trees.” Who can benefit from my lifetime of knowledge and experience?
  2. “Backfill” later years. In the traditional life map, early years are front-end loaded. Education is crammed into the first two decades, yet learning is a lifelong process. “Backfilling” as an older adult might involve taking a class, teaching others or mastering a new technology. However, we need to be emotionally open to growing. In what ways am I willing to change and learn?
  3. Focus forward. Look at peers for clues to healthy ageing. Don’t merely watch those vibrant 70 year olds who play pickle ball at 7 am. Be inspired by the neighbor smiling from her wheelchair or the stroke victim who shuffles into worship. How can I move past the challenges I face today?

Regardless of our age, you and I are still God’s unfinished masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10) In what ways will you honor the Creator today?

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

The Friendship Bench

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Senior and young man talking

Our church bell choir needed more space, so two pews were moved out of the worship space to the narthex. Those rarely used front pews have seen new life as friendship benches.

Seeing older adults naturally gravitate toward those cushy places before and after worship reminds me of a senior ministry in Zimbabwe about which I’d read.

Three hundred elderly women have been trained to serve as lay health workers in The Friendship Project. These “community grandmothers” sit outside clinics where they listen, talk people through their problems and encourage solutions. Even before the pandemic, research showed that social support methods of care can be effective for helping people deal with mental health issues. These trained women, who have available time and years of life experience, can make a difference.

This idea made me wonder if one of the pews in our narthex could be designated as a prayer pew. A member of the prayer team, composed almost entirely of older adults, could sit on the pew each weekend to pray with others.

Of course, congregations that intentionally skew their image, budget and programming to attract young families might feel “planting” a senior in such a visible position could lead visitors to think “this is a church for the elderly.” However, having older adults welcome guests and appear in communication pieces doesn’t imply a congregation is only for the elderly. We need the young, but can’t forget the old.

Does your congregation present a cross-generational public face?  Are initiatives for older adults fully funded? Does programming for older adults match the senior population in your church and community?  

Installing a Friendship Bench or asking older adults to staff a prayer pew might trigger other initiatives to expand older adult ministry.

EQ_play video

Check out this video to find out more how older adults have a unique advantage in listening to and helping others.

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

Five Actions to Embrace Aging

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

I’ll be honest: A bit of my logic for joining the ALOA Board was driven by selfishness. I wanted to learn how to grow old gracefully from people who embrace aging.

Oh, I was willing to serve. I’ve always tried to go through the doors God opens. But I wondered how I, as an early childhood educator, could contribute to an organization that fostered ministry to older adults.

Yet eight years later, God has transformed my sinful, selfish nature and those uncertainties into showers of blessings.

A long parade of incredibly competent older adults continue to model characteristics that demonstrate how to thrive, not just survive the aging process. As board president, Shirley Carpenter exuded high energy leadership that continues to fuel older adult ministry in New Jersey. Rev. Ken Holdorf turned his woodworking skills into funding to launch ALOA’s video projects. Current member Deaconess Penny Cedel sets a dynamic pace to achieve ministry goals. And the list could continue.

Here are essential qualities these faithful servants of God continue to model for me:

  1. Have a reason to get up in the morning. Whether it’s caring for a cat or serving on the church altar guild, intentionally use the time God gives. Today is a gift to use.
  2. Connect. During the pandemic, we were reminded that aging can be a lonely, isolating experience. Whether you Zoom a Bible class, Facetime a grandson or tweet about a sale at the local grocery store, reach out to others.
  3. Celebrate God at work. Look for signs of God at work to see how busy he is! Joy will overflow to fuel new energy for life.
  4. Continue learning. Engage your brain. Finish a puzzle. Research staycation or vacation locations. Play a video game.
  5. Strengthen your spiritual core. Grow your relationship with Jesus. Read a devotion. Write a prayer each morning. Keep a daily blessings log.

In your life, who has God blessed you with who is thriving, not just surviving as they age?

Check out this video for more inspiration to help embracing aging.

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

Seize the Moment

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Can you feel it? The pace is picking up!

Upward view of two elder couples smiling

Now that we are emerging from the COVID crisis, psychologists say that our brains are wired to adopt new habits. Blending what’s both fresh and familiar will lead toward a healthy balance in the “next normal.” That is true both of us individually and for congregational ministries.

This summer, church teams across the country are seizing this unique “moment in time” to strategize for the future. Ask these questions to create a vibrant older adult ministry for fall, 2021 and beyond:

  1. Is our current smorgasbord of older adult events, services and programs still relevant in the post-pandemic world?
    For example, issues related to mental health (stress reduction, depression, loneliness, etc.) and self-care measures became more visible in the past year. Should these and similar topics, which previously were off-limits, be included in regular programming? What will compel an older adult to be engaged?
  2. Do formats match our target audience?
    The pandemic triggered an acceleration of digital adoption across demographics. Virtual conferencing and online events became common. Social commentators acknowledge that expectations have grown. Post-pandemic, multiple formats are now the norm.
    For example, although my husband’s Bible class has returned to meeting in person, the online version will continue. This decision has been welcomed by participants with mobility issues or transportation problems.
  3. Are current leaders prepared for action and healthy dialogue?
    Age, illness and life situations force us to reassess and set new boundaries. During the lengthy social isolation of the past year, some leaders might have lost the energy or motivation to steer a ministry re-launch. However, an entire new crop of front-liners might be ready to shepherd the flock.

After all, 10,000 people turned 65 every single day in the past 18 months. Some of these “new elders” attend your church. Who is prepared to step up in your congregation?

Play Freshen Up the Program video

Check out this video to hear more ideas for congregation to consider when making plans for older adult ministry. 

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.