As a large group of Americans, the so-called Baby Boomers, have impacted U.S. society, culture, politics and religion for decades. With the oldest members of that famed generation now turning 70, the Baby Boom generation is poised to leave another mark as they redefine what senior adults look for in life — and from churches.
The rise of Baby Boomers into the ranks of senior adults must dramatically change the way churches connect with older people, said Frank Fain, director of adult ministries and educational services for The Baptist Home in Missouri.
Members of that generation want something different than the traditional senior adult ministry model of monthly meetings in the morning and a few trips, he said.
“The traditional senior adult model has been operating since about 1980,” he said.
Seniors today aren’t satisfied simply being ministered to, he said.
“Rather than having a meal and speaker talk about the ministry, they want to be involved in the ministry.”
Boomers — generally defined as those born between 1946 and 1964 — represent nearly a third of the U.S. population. Fain noted that due to immigration, there are even more Boomers today than were born in the United States. As the eldest members of the generation start retiring, they bring a different mindset to that phase of life.
“Many don’t want to be called senior adults,” Fain explained. “They want to be called adults. And many in the Baby Boom generation don’t even want to be called Baby Boomers.”
Much of Fain’s work for The Baptist Home involves helping churches strategize and implement more effective senior adult ministries. As he meets with ministers and visits churches, he notices the need for different ministry approaches that work for the new generation of senior adults.
Fain sees Boomers bringing a unique approach to life.
Rather than large social activities with their peers, they are more likely to seek entertainment experiences individually, with small groups of friends or with children and grandchildren.
This removes the appeal of many church-planned entertainment events for people in their age group. Even meals may not always draw Baby Boomers like older senior adults since “for them meals are something you do with your family.”
Baby Boomers also bring a different perspective on work and retirement, which can impact church ministries. He noted many do not plan to retire at traditional ages as they push to work until 70 or older. Those who do retire in their 60s will often shift into different professions.
“They plan to just keep on working so that makes a difference in how we do our ministries,” Fain said.
“That generation is going to be looking for things they can do for the rest of their lives to make an impact in this world,” he added.
“You have to start thinking about a ministry with the younger seniors that are coming along — the Baby Boomers — and that ministry is their ministry. You are trying to help them meet those needs. Give them ownership.”
Boomers enter the senior adult phase of life with many similar financial concerns as earlier generations, but also with some new priorities and challenges.
Research shows Baby Boomers are particularly concerned about the potential of rising health care costs that could prevent them from affording treatments or create a financial burden for their children.
Many in the generation also worry about not having enough saved to last in retirement for as long as they expect to live. Some Baby Boomers particularly worry that another market crash could wipe out their investments and not leave enough time for the value to build back up to what they need.
Nick Davis, eastern regional vice president for the Missouri Baptist Foundation, said there are many financial issues senior adults need to consider.
These include “estate planning, debt reduction, taking required distributions from IRA at age 70.5, Social Security, feeling obligated to assist adult children, health care costs, staying in and upkeep of home and unexpected bills (most do not have emergency savings).”
Davis also noted an increasing trend of children or caregivers finding themselves picking up the financial cost of senior adults who cannot afford all the expenses.
“Senior poverty rates are climbing,” he said.
“Caregivers are bearing the financial burden of parents and grandparents. Do children or caregivers know their parents’ or grandparents’ financial picture before taking over their care?”