20 November 2023

Engaging older people in our churches

Written by Alexandra Drew

The following article was written by one of our Agency members, Faith In Later Life.

Photo credit: Sergiu Valena – Unsplash

The Bible is packed with examples of older people living purposefully for God, being respected in their communities, and sharing wisdom with future generations. Abraham was 99 when God promised to make him the father of many nations. Moses was 80 when he spoke to Pharaoh, and the prophet Anna at 84 was worshipping God with fasting and prayer in the temple day and night. Abraham, Moses, and Anna are just some of those who honoured God well into old age and are now held up as wonderful examples to us.

Fast forward to 2023 and to the UK and I’m afraid older age is often not associated with this vitality and purpose. All to often older people rather than being at the heart of families, communities, and even the church, are pushed to the margins and seen as incompetent, hostile, and a burden to society.

Our ageing population

Our population is ageing, that’s a fact. Fewer babies are being born and more people are living longer. So, the number of people potentially affected by these negative attitudes is enormous.

What a travesty for those who are already there and what a bleak future for those of us still heading in that direction.

It’s so bad, that older people themselves are sometimes ageist about what they can and can’t do, and over half of those in midlife consider later life to be something to fear.

Although not entirely devoid of some of this, the church is beautifully positioned to change attitudes and the personal experiences of those in later life. Churches already tend to have a good cohort of older people, and unlike hobbies and interests at home or in the community, church belonging is not cast aside as age and ailments advance.

Counter culturally the church is also a good source of examples of what it can look like to grow older. Where else in society do we see such an army of older volunteers engaged in effective preaching, mentoring, children’s work, serving on trustee boards, welcoming, catering, praying, and more?

Experiences worth sharing

Older people also have experiences and ways of being that elude some of us younger ones. During a year of covering our Youth Worker’s maternity leave, I saw teenagers drawn to our volunteers who were over 70, like bees around a honeypot, leaving the rest of us kicking our heels by the tuckshop while our older team members shared their stories and prowess in giant knitting and sometimes fierce card games. I learned that teenagers don’t necessarily want to hang out with people their parents age or even the age of their older siblings, but hanging out with people who reminded them of their indulgent and unconditionally loving grandparents, well that was a whole other matter!

Enabling and mobilising older people

How engaged older people are in church will vary, and that’s where Faith in Later Life comes in. Our work is in part to help churches keep and draw older people in the heart of their communities. Enabling and mobilising older people to minister meaningfully for the whole of their lives and equipping the entire church to reach them with God’s love through the challenging times and the end of their lives. We encourage churches to do this in a way that goes beyond pastoral care and is rooted in sustaining discipleship and creativity. Doesn’t that sound like a more hopeful future for us all?

The other aspect we’re passionate about is seeing those in later life come to know Jesus before they run out of time to do so. We understand the urgency of this and the complexities wrought by a lifetime of misconceptions about the church, God, and His people, and for some, diminishing cognitive clarity or ability. We want to help churches with this and together join in with God’s mission to make disciples, for His glory.

Sharing the gospel with older people

We do this primarily through our network of hundreds of church champions. These are individuals in churches around the UK, paid or unpaid, who have a heart for older people and who are already ministering or are about to minister among those in later life in some way. They sign up to receive our information and training opportunities and this gives them access to a whole range of free support, training, prayer, and encouragement; like how we can minister to those with dementia, or how to share the gospel with older people at any stage. We have bimonthly online training and prayer sessions and lots of helpful information on our website, and Church Champions choose their level of engagement.

Some churches have asked, ‘how can we be more intentional about reaching people in later life’. Well, encouraging someone with a heart for older people to become a Church Champion is a great place to start. You could invite them to do so by heading over to our website at faithinlaterlife.org and signing up. Feedback we receive has shown that these individuals greatly value our resources, recognition of their work, prayer, and fellowship, and many have expanded their ministry or reignited when they ran out of ideas and encouragement.

Giving that person a voice into leadership teams which helps shape outreach and discipleship strategies will further ensure that the fastest growing cohort in churches and communities is considered prayerfully through the lens of experience and expertise.

God calls us into a lifelong and life-giving relationship with him, He does not abandon us as we age, and He has built His beautiful church to share his love, unrelentingly, with all people.

To find out more about being part of this, contact us via our website at Faith in Later Life, in the meantime, we would really value your prayers for us, for older people in your communities, and for those called to serve among them.

Written by
Alexandra Drew
Alex Drew leads the Christian charity Faith in Later Life which exists to inspire and equip Christians to reach, serve and empower older people in every community, through the local Church.

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