Welcome

Does A Soul Have Wrinkles?
Evangelism & Mature Adults

James A. Davies

It is a cardinal tenet of evangelical Christianity that humankind is in need of salvation. The biblical picture makes it clear: All are lost because of sin. Jesus provides substitutionary atonement via His death on the cross, satisfying the demands of the broken law. Through faith—God’s great grace gift—and commitment to follow Him with one’s life, anyone can be reconciled to the Godhead and become a new creation and joint heir with Christ. This is the only hope for human beings, because salvation is in Jesus Christ alone.
The purpose of this paper is to explore the need for the church to place a stronger emphasis on the evangelization of mature (over fifty-five) adults. It will follow a trinitarian outline:

I. The degree of emphasis that evangelization of senior adults has received in North America will be determined by a review of the capstone literature on older adults and the church over the last fifty years and by “Age of Conversion” statistics.

II. Research on current ecclesiastical programs for older adults will be evaluated to determine their degree of evangelistic effectiveness.

III. The paper will suggest a need to put the message of the gospel in new “gift wrapping” if we are to reach and win people in the last half of life. Several principles for evangelization of older adults will be considered. These will be based on the mature adult’s life cycle/developmental needs and the older adult as a consumer-responder.


I. Degree of Evangelistic Emphasis


A. In the Capstone Literature

Fifty years ago Maves and Cedarleaf published their classic, Older People and the Church. This book was the first comprehensive attempt to study the relationship of Protestant churches to people over sixty years of age. Written in non-technical language, its purpose was “to be an inclusive book of material and concrete action suggestions for church leaders concerned with the ministry of the church to those in later maturity.”1

Funded by the Arbuckle-Jamison Foundation, the book became the standard of measurement for the next thirteen years and was twice reprinted. It inspired the vision and operating principles for hundreds of church programs with older persons. Two major focuses appear throughout the book: need and challenge. The need: The church has unparalleled opportunity and responsibility to care for the aged. The challenge: The productivity, service and leadership of mature adults remain largely untapped. Both of these concerns remain true today.

It is worthy to note that “evangelism” is not mentioned in any chapter title or subheading of the 276-page manuscript. Neither is it discussed anywhere in the text. Though profusely documented, the eight-page, four-column index contains no citing for the terms “evangelism,” “gospel,” “salvation” or similar words.2

By the early sixties a new book gained prominence. The Church and the Older Person by R. Grey and D. Moberg presented facts about aging and religious behavior of older persons. Many of the findings furnished guideposts to ministers on how the church can fulfill its obligations to its older members and how older members can help the church. Its authors saw the text as applied social science. Evangelism is mentioned only twice in the book. Older members are said to be able to “play a major part in the evangelistic emphasis of the local church.”3 The second citing raises the concern for evangelism of mature adults, but then does nothing to develop it. After commenting that mature adulthood represents one of the three periods of life when people are most open to the gospel, Grey and Moberg accurately state, “The spiritual benefits offered through the church are not intended only for youth, although all too often its publicity and programs of evangelism seem to indicate that.”4

The book was revised in 1977 with a second reprinting in October 1978. It remained the standard text until the 1980s, when more than fifty publications were produced that related to senior adult ministry.

Three books serve as a representative sampling for that decade. How To Minister To Senior Adults in Your Church, Ministry with the Aging and Ministry with Older Persons significantly expanded the growing body of literature on ministry to older adults. I have chosen to highlight these three because of their extensive use as textbooks for adult ministry courses at Christian liberal arts colleges and seminaries.
Emphasis on developing a theology of aging, faith development concerns, program guidelines and principles, retirement, counseling elderly families, the importance of life review, continual personal development, death with dignity and respect for life are just a few of the topics addressed. But once again the lack of evangelistic thrust is evident. In almost 650 pages the need to share the gospel with unsaved mature adults is not emphasized.

In the 1990s one book stood out above all others: M. A. Kimble’s Aging, Spirituality and Religion. This exhaustive handbook supports gerontological engagement theory by affirming the importance of living in the present through continual involvement in life. The Christian concepts of vocation and sanctification become the means by which one continually restores purpose of life to later years. Following Tillich’s doctrine of sanctification as the process of growth in the Christian life, the emphasis is on renewal of the inner life to the “Spiritual Presence.”5 A shifting of emphasis takes place as one grows through the life cycle—from “doing” in the first half of life to “being” in the last half of life.6 This adjustment broadly parallels the orientation of developmental psychologists Erikson and Gutmann. Erikson sees “generativity” as the primary task for persons of mature age.7 Gutmann argues that once the “parental imperative” is accomplished, the aged acquire the capacity for further growth.8

Evangelism receives scant focus in this substantive text. It is mentioned one time in 637 pages. The complete paragraph reads:

The traditional concept of evangelism focuses on the “nonbeliever,” a person who has not heard the message [of the gospel]. Congregations employing evangelism send out individuals and/or groups of individuals to reach out to persons generally within the surrounding community. Evangelism has also been the fundamental skill employed by missionaries for thousands of years.9

Several manuscripts attempt to develop a theology of aging. Among them are: Biblical Perspectives on Aging, A Theology of Aging, Toward a Practical Theology of Aging and The Bible Speaks on Aging. None of the books include the topic of evangelism.

The predominant viewpoint found in the mature adult ministry literature points toward the “metaethical tasks” of pastoral care and finding meaning in life.10 The themes of volunteerism, service, pastoral care, opportunity and spiritual well-being are mentioned repeatedly. The topic of evangelism is almost totally absent.

Admittedly there are a few books which include some discussion of evangelism and seniors. But the reviewed books form a representative sample of the majority of the literature on church ministry with mature adults from the last half century. These tomes form both a core of classics for the discipline and may well show the generic degree of emphasis that evangelization of mature adults has received in North America. Little emphasis and low priority are appropriate keywords. In some cases concern for evangelism appears to be nonexistent.
Given the literature’s dearth of emphasis on evangelism of older people, it would not be surprising to discover that current mature adult ministries show few conversions of people in the last half of life. Church operational philosophy can reflect what leadership reads and perceives rather than substantive theological reflection.


B. In the “Age of Conversion” Statistics

We have apparently been unsuccessful for some time in effectively evangelizing mature adults. The graph below is just one of several studies which indicate that few people who are Christians today came to their faith during their later years. Similar statistics have been compiled from the Church Growth Institute and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

[BAR GRAPH]

At least three conclusions could be drawn from the preceding data:

1. It could be that the older a person grows, the more hardened and resistant he or she becomes to the gospel. As a result, few people “convert” after the age of 40. Therefore, we must reach them while they are still young.
In reality, however, the “convert them before it’s too late” conclusion, though widely held, is a myth. Seniors have experienced more life change and adjustment than any other age group;11 they are also more open to alternative ways of thinking than any other age group,12 which includes being open to change in their religious lifestyle.13 The outlook of older adults is less restrictive than the extreme idealism of adolescence.

2. It could be that children, youth and younger adults typically receive the priority from churches in outreach and evangelism. Evangelistic programming emphasis and organizational energy and resources are centered around these age groups. As a result, more young adults are reached than older adults.
This deduction is frequently true and though such an emphasis may have been wise forty years ago, the demographics have changed. Since 1982 America has no longer been a nation of youth. There are more people seventy years and older in the United States than all adolescents combined. The magazine with the highest circulation is Modern Maturity. The largest political block is the AARP, with slightly more than 38 million members. And the first Baby Boomers—the demographic “pig-in-the-python”—will hit early retirement in 2001. Boomers represent about one third of America’s population—78 million strong. People fifty-five and over currently represent 14.3 percent of the population, about one in seven. By 2025 the figure will rise to almost 40 percent with a ratio of better than one in three.14

3. There may be another explanation for the “Age of Conversion” chart data. The findings could be saying that current evangelistic strategies are effective in reaching people in the first half of life, but ineffective in reaching people in the second half of life.
I believe this third conclusion is almost always true. Many of the current evangelistic strategies were developed by parachurch organizations. In the 1950s and ’60s Child Evangelism Fellowship, Youth for Christ and Young Life, among others, were formed to work with children and teens. They developed gospel presentations which relate well to the life concerns of individuals with whom they toiled.15 In the 1970s and 80s evangelistic efforts by Campus Crusade, InterVarsity and Evangelism Explosion focused on leading adolescents or young adults to Christ.16 While the Evangelism Explosion program was centered on the local church and theoretically could be used with any age group, “the vast majority of the adult converts were people under the age of 40.”17

It is not hard to see why these approaches appeal to people in the first half of life. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” works well with a 26-year-old just beginning adulthood, but what kind of response can you expect when you tell the “wonderful plan” statement to an 87-year-old?
With a few notable exceptions, such as the Billy Graham crusades and some select men’s and women’s works, most of the church’s evangelistic thrust has been geared to the needs, interests and concerns of children, youth and young adults—people in the first half of life. “Age of Conversion” statistics simply reflect where we have placed our time and energies for the last fifty years.


II. Effectiveness of Current Evangelistic Programs

From 1991 to 1993 the Institute for American Church Growth conducted research on programs designed for mature adults, drawing data from 500 randomly selected, geographically diverse churches representing twenty-seven denominations. The survey was limited to churches with a “Senior Adult Ministry” pastor and a combined membership of at least 1,000. A published report entitled “Senior Adult Church Ministries in the U. S. 1991-93” was the result.

The data helped paint a picture of the present state of older adult local church ministries across the nation. Three broad strokes emerged:

1. Training and Budget: There is formidable value in gaining additional training in the field of gerontology. Senior adult program leaders were significantly more effective when they have had specific training. Most current leaders (89 percent), however, have little or no specialized training in this area. It was recommended that continuing education funds for senior adult leaders need to be built into church budgets.

2. Caretaking vs. Growing: With few exceptions, retired ministers who function as “senior adult pastors” take on what is predominately a “caretaking” role; they fail to pursue a proactive, developmental, outreach-oriented ministry. Education and experience accumulated over 40 years of ministry is not necessarily appropriate or adequate training to lead a growing program for mature adults in the third millennium.

3. Unpreparedness: It is generally agreed that the growing senior adult population will significantly impact many areas of society, including the church. “Unfortunately,” one church expert concluded at a recent conference, “at the present time a great majority of churches are unprepared to respond to the graying of America.”18


A. Evangelism Sí and No

More germane to the purpose of this paper are the findings related to the topic of outreach and evangelism. Accomplishments in church ministry are often the result of identified goals. Responding to open-ended questions, 39 percent of the ministries highlighted “Outreach/Evangelism” as a distinct goal of their ministry. “Outreach/Evangelism” was defined “as a focus on persons not presently Christians and/or not involved in the senior adult group.” More research is needed to specify the nuances of meaning and degree of emphasis on evangelism. But it was gratifying to note that Outreach/Evangelism was the top priority goal for the senior adult ministries surveyed.

Mature adult groups grow in three ways: by transfer (Christians move into the area and join the group), by maturity (church members age and join the group) and by conversion (unchurched seniors come into the faith and join the group). The health and vitality of the ministry depends a great deal on the process of incorporating new members. It is known that conversion is the most important type of growth if a vital, contagious community is desired.19

With the stated “top priority” goal being evangelism and in view of its importance in developing a dynamic senior adult ministry, one would expect to find solid, energetic outreach taking place. But when the data was tabulated, a different portrait emerged. Asked to rate the effectiveness of their outreach on a scale of one to ten, only 14 percent of the ministries ranked their evangelistic efforts above five. With a mean score of 4.3, outreach had the lowest effectiveness ranking of the six areas surveyed. This may be one reason why the highest priority was given to the area.


B. Number of Conversions

Even more dismal was the data on the actual number of conversions in the past year. The largest single block of respondents (32 percent) had no record of how many conversions, if any, took place. A majority (54 percent) of the senior adult groups surveyed did not have a record or had no conversions during the last year. Slightly more than one-fifth (22 percent) of the respondents had three or more conversions. (To put these figures in perspective, note that the average group size in the survey was 75.)

Research on current ecclesiastical programs for older adults shows a stated desire for effective evangelism. But the degree to which it is actually being done is not altogether positive. There is much need and opportunity for older adult groups to intentionally reach out to unchurched persons in the community who are 55 years and over.

We live in a day when racism and sexism have been recognized as the unwholesome attitudes they are. Yet, unfortunately, ageism is alive and well in the church.20 The question could be asked at this point: Is the church guilty of practicing “evangelistic ageism”? Does the church discriminate against mature adults by not practicing zealous senior adult evangelism? Why aren’t more senior adults being reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do we put sufficient organizational time, energy and money into reaching those people who are completing the cycle of life? Are the current resources proportionate to the number of souls represented by people 55 and above? Is the church missing the mark? There seems to be a need for more aggressive plans, strategies and programs for outreach among mature adults.


III. Needed: New Gospel Strategies

There is a need to develop new evangelistic approaches which are oriented around the developmental tasks, interests and concerns of the mature adult. This would seem to be a critical requirement in light of current program shortfalls, millennial demographics and the dearth of evangelistic emphasis in the literature on senior adult ministry over the last fifty years.


A. Three Assumptions

Three assumptions will be given before moving into evangelistic strategy suggestions:

First, when dealing with salvation we must respect the supernatural working of God. The efficacious call of prevenient grace is specific for each individual person. All strategies are useless unless God works in and through them.

Second, the gospel message does not change. But we can adjust the wrapping to what may best appeal to the targeted individual or group. Examples of this abound in Scripture (John 3, Jesus to Nicodemus; John 4, Jesus and the Samaritan Woman; and Acts 17, Paul and the meeting of the Areopagus, are only a few of the many references showing adjustment to the needs, thoughts and feelings of the listening audience).

The enduring value of a soul, regardless of personal chronological age, is the third assumption. All souls are equally precious. The life-blood of God Himself was shed for their redemption. All souls saved are equally valid, regardless of the stage of life at which a person accepts Jesus Christ. “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them” (Matthew 19:14) and “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1) are legitimate admonitions for younger folks, people in the first half of life, to follow the Lord. But those admonitions should not reduce, in any way, the value of those souls experiencing the last half of the life cycle. Indeed the Bible places great honor and value on individuals who have been given “full years.” We subtly diminish the value of “old souls” when directing the major evangelistic energies to people under 40 years of age.

The soteriological promise of God mutes chronological time. It is good for all seasons of life. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the landowner gives the same reward to workers hired in the eleventh hour as to those hired at the very beginning of their day (Matthew 20:1-16). In God’s sight people saved in their eleventh hour of life are just as valuable as people saved in their beginning years. There is no cut-off age for welcoming people into God’s kingdom.

Just before he died at the age of 90, J. Oswald Sanders said it well. In his last book Enjoying Your Best Years he reminds us, “Age is immaterial to a God who knows no time as we measure it. His personal interest in our welfare does not wane with the passing years.”21

There are no wrinkles on a soul!


B. Principles for Improving Evangelism

What principles can the church employ to improve evangelization of mature adults?

1. Promote intentional “consciousness raising” among the church in general and among leadership in particular.

The “senior surge” is here. We are no longer a nation dominated by the young. Since 1982 there have been more people over the age of 65 than adolescents between the ages of 12 and 20. By 2020 Americans over 55 will outnumber teenagers 2.3-to-1.22 That’s only 20 years from now. A giant paradigm shift is occurring.

For half a century there has been little emphasis on the evangelization of older adults. When that lack of concern is added to negative stereotypical myths about aging and America’s preoccupation with youth, a powerful socio-cultural triangle is formed. Many church leaders are prisoners caught in this triangle; their thinking is trapped within the hidden values, priorities and customs of the old youth-oriented standard. It is unlikely that the limitations of the past can be shaken off unless church leaders break the chains of negative myths and youth-orientedness, and awake to a fresh vision of the unprecedented numbers and potential of older adults. Demographically speaking, if one wants to build a church during the next quarter century, he should focus on mature adults.

In 1989 Dychtwald wrote that the “age wave” was just beginning.23 The generational spectrum prominent in the last fifty years is tilting. A new paradigm will dominate our culture for the next half century. By 2020 people 50 years and above will be 107 million strong and growing. Many leaders are slow to respond; churches are unprepared.24 Still, the ultimate good news about aging is found only in the full redemptive dimensions of the gospel.

Included in intentional consciousness raising is the need to do substantive theological thinking about the Christian view of aging and death. Aging is a powerful theologizing experience. Growing older is part of God’s great plan for us. It provides the opportunity for evangelistic breakthrough, for gerotranscendence (making sense and meaning of both losses and gains), for spiritual growth, and for testimony and legacy. There is typically a shift from “doing” to “being.”25 Too often when thinking about “growing old,” the emphasis is on “old” rather than “growing.” The last half of life is a profoundly spiritual time filled with Trinitarian implications.26 It is to be valued for all of its coloring.

2. Teach the “Receptivity” of Mature Adults.

Donald McGavran, co-founder of the church growth movement, noticed a remarkable phenomenon in India over 40 years ago. When Christianity flourished, it was often because entire villages or groups of people were receptive to the gospel and came to faith in a short period of time. His recommendation to missionaries was to seek out receptive people groups—people whom God had prepared—and focus evangelism in that direction.

The principle of “receptivity” is just as relevant today as ever. Senior adults are a “people group” particularly receptive to the good news. Adult development research provides two solid reasons why this is true. First, mature adults are experiencing many changes in life. On the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, researchers examined “transition events” and ranked them in order of severity or intensity of “stress.” Over half the events typically occur in the lives of people over age fifty! The older people become, the more frequently they experience life-changing events.27

In a subsequent study, Yeakley took the same stress scale and looked for a relationship between these transition events and a change in religious lifestyle—specifically, moving from an unchurched lifestyle to Christian faith. His conclusion was that people tended to become active church members much more often during times of transition.28 When people’s traditional points of reference change, they seem more inclined to make other changes in their lives as well.

The increase of transition events in the lives of seniors provides multiple windows of opportunity for the church. During these times people seem to move from resistance or indifference to the gospel to receptivity to its message of hope and salvation. Such triggering events can be seen as experiences used by the Holy Spirit to open people’s eyes to needs that cannot be filled in human terms. Crisis response teams made up of members who are specially trained to deal with older adult stress issues provide a tangible expression of Christ’s healing love and can be the means by which many come to faith and church involvement.

People in the last half of life have an increased desire for meaningful relationships with others. This is the second reason why older adults are particularly receptive to the gospel. Human contacts can become gradually less available to seniors.29 Children leave home and pursue careers; parents become infirm or die; old friends move away. One research physician from Johns Hopkins University calls loneliness the number one killer: “Some other illness goes on the death certificate, but the prime cause was loneliness.”30

Michael Green observed that the New Testament church adhered to the evangelistic strategy of using the household (oikos ). He said:

The early Christians knew that when the Good News was heard and demonstrated by friends and family who were known and trusted, barriers to unbelief were removed and receptivity to the gospel increased tremendously.31

Churches where love is intentionally practiced through the “webs principle” of existing relationships will draw senior adults. Webs can have several designs: kinship (the extended family), community (friends and neighbors) and shared interests (associates, work relationships, recreational contacts). The webs principle works because it’s a natural, cost-effective source of contacts that provides for membership satisfaction and assimilation of entire family groups through relationships. One Church Growth, Inc. study provided astonishing support that the web strategy for outreach and growth works.32 The research examined 40,000 lay people, asking, “What was responsible for your coming to Christ and this church?” The answers fell into eight general categories. Topping the list was “Friend/Relative” with over 79 percent. When people below 55 years of age were factored out, the percentage rose to over 90 percent! When working with seniors, it is imperative to design outreach around webs of relationships.

3. Focus On the Mature Adult’s Developmental Needs.

Educational psychologists33 have known for years that information is processed differently across the life span, ever altering how reality looks. A child processes through the subjective lens of self. Interpretation of reality is literal and concrete. Adolescents and young adults use objective filtering. They recognize the independent existence of things beyond self. The use of symbols and subordination of self to consensus are characteristic of this segment. Middle adulthood and later years feature integrative processing, using both subjective and objective styles.34 Although subjective orientation increases with aging, objective abilities remain available.

Recent research confirms the fact that shifts “in survival focus change the nature of information likely to reach the conscious mind in each season of life.”35 The needs of each season are seen through “cognitive lenses” favoring satisfaction of the developmental need at that stage.

Needs during the reflection years (age 58 and older) revolve around such desires as: achieving peace with the world, friends, family and self; maintaining physical and psychological well-being; and coping with challenges to overall health and well-being. Evangelism centered around these types of concerns stands a much better chance of reaching the conscious mind of the senior adult.

4. Glean from the Mature Adult as Consumer-Responder.

Businesses recognize the importance of mature adult consumers. Americans over 50 have combined incomes of more than $800 billion. They hold 51 percent of all discretionary income in the United States, accounting for 40 percent of consumer demand.36 Millions of dollars have been spent examining the older adult’s general and specific consumer patterns.

Three general clues to successful programming and evangelization of senior adults are contained in the characteristics of the mature consumer:

First, people in the last half of life don’t like to be thought of as “old.” Part of the reason for this is that most mature people feel younger and see themselves as 8-14 years younger than they actually are.37 One longitudinal study asked 500 individuals aged 50-65, “Where is middle age?” and “When does person become old?” Over 86 percent ranked themselves as middle-aged and thought people 8-15 years their senior were old. Fourteen years later researchers asked the same people the same questions again. Seventy-six percent still ranked themselves as middle-aged and said they were not “old,” even though the age of the group surveyed was now between 64 and 79.38 Despite an aging population, few want to identify with a group that is for “old people.”

Second, our culture still sees growing old as an unspeakable fate. Negative words like deterioration, disease, decline, dread, denial and denigration are commonly associated with aging.39 It is quite probable that no term which emphasizes age—seniors, elderly, mature, older adults, or golden-agers—will be appreciated by the elderly. The mature consumer prefers to be reflected in an attractive, positive manner. One church designed its adult ministries around Life Stages with the appropriate number 1-7, young to mature. Another named their senior group CALEB—Christian Adults Living Effectively and Boldly. Group names like Live Embers, The Evergreens, Salt Bloc, Golden Harvesters and The Pioneers deal with age in a positive way.

Third, mature consumers are more interested in purchasing experience than things. When presenting the gospel, one should focus on the relationship with Jesus Christ, the peace of God and the experience of His abiding presence and the like.

In a different vein, Barker examined patterns of older adult adaptation to new products, services and programs. He discovered four segments to the older adult consumer market. Each group had their own features and responded to a different singular message:

  • Innovators (first 17 percent): The trend setters and opinion leaders, who quickly respond and become involved; they will be attracted by the high appeal and newness of a program.
  • Early Adopters (next 33 percent): The moderate risk takers; they will respond to testimonies from others.
  • Late Adopters (next 33 percent): Those who dislike risk and uncertainty; they prefer a stable, established program.
  • Laggards (last 16 percent): Those who join a program late, if at all; they respond to one-on-one contacts.40

More research needs to be done to verify this segmentation. If it proves valid, one could adjust the gospel message to fit the characteristics of each type of adult consumer. Theoretically, doing so effectively would result in a higher response. Such adaptation would be similar to applying the DiSC profile to potential college applicants. Perhaps more promising are the possibilities of adapting and marketing evangelistic materials according to where the older adult program is organizationally (column four).

There is no “one great gray consumer market.”41 As people age they become more diverse. Mature consumers are highly heterogeneous, differing in family and marital status, ethnicity, geography, education and social class. Another difference is age itself. Some gerontology subdivides aging into four distinct age clusters: the young old (55-65), middle old (65-75), older old (75-85) and the frail elderly. In spite of these differences, common threads still exist.

5. Understand The Mature Adult as Decision Maker.

The criteria by which adults in the last half of life make decisions42 can also provide hints helpful to effective evangelism. These criteria are remarkably different from those used by people in the first half of life. We will look at each criterion and then suggest application strategies.

First, when making decisions, seniors rely on people they trust. Ministries should use existing networks of relationships and plan friendship building events. Such get-acquainted, get-to-know-you activities form the social foundation for trust building.

Second, mature adults resist a “hard sell” approach. As savvy consumers, they repel high pressure, aggressive sales tactics. Confrontational and programmed evangelistic techniques achieve minimal results. More helpful are lifestyle and relationship evangelism,43 as well as repeated exposure to the gospel message via books, tapes, videos, testimonies, sermons and Bible studies.

Third, older adults make decisions when they clearly understand the benefits. The gospel message should be bundled in relevant senior adult life issues or concerns and sufficient time for processing must be given. An older adult’s need for sufficient processing time does not necessarily imply a decline in mental acuity (there is some mental slowing as one grows older, but the amount is usually not more than .5 percent per year after age 4044—even less if there is active, on-going mental stimulation45); it is the result of many factors. Experiential wisdom and multiple perspectives have been developed over a lifetime; thinking through these diverse facets causes seniors not to rush to a decision. Another factor is increased cautiousness as one grows older: Mature adults do not want to be wrong or appear to make mistakes.46 Physiological impairments and short-term memory retrieval difficulties also play a part.47 It is imperative that ministries targeting seniors identify and communicate the attractive qualities of faith and the Christian community. Equally important is giving the senior time to think through the attractive advantages of the Christian faith.

Fourth, senior consumers require assurance of quality. Meetings, ministries and printed materials should be continually evaluated to improve their quality. Time spent in visits or group meetings needs to be meaningful, not superficial or wasted.

Fifth, older decision makers tend to resist a dramatic change in lifestyle, unless a transition event is occurring in their life. Ministries can prepare for this by presenting “elder-heroes” from Scripture, church history and the local community. Such positive role models are examples to one another and can become a gateway for lifestyle change during transitions.

A sixth trait of mature decision-makers is that they are responsive to personal invitation. Non-personal and broadcast appeals will show little return from older adults. Ministries that build and nurture relationships and provide pastoral care and personalized help, either one-on-one or a small group-to-one, will be more effective.

Seventh, seniors make decisions based on needs rather than wants. These needs include: adapting to change, continuing to grow, leaving a spiritual legacy, putting one’s life into perspective and finding peace with oneself and God. Creating ministry teams to targeted people with specific life stressors is one way to meet these needs. Hearing senior testimonies which show how faith meets those needs is another.

Other areas of Christian education research, such as the faith development literature, could provide additional rich sources for evangelistic strategies and ideas. That area is too large to address within the limits of this paper.

More important than all the principles is having a heart passion for people in the last half of life. Only God can give a divine love-hunger for reaching lost seniors. Perhaps only prayer can awaken the church from its slumber. People who are 55 years and over are apart of God’s design for humanity. Mature adulthood is another phase of life cycle. America is shifting its consciousness to account for an 80- to 85-year lifespan as the norm. So, too, must the church.

We have a missionary mandate to evangelize people in the last half of life. The military developed triage as a special kind of medical care to establish priority ranking of battlefield casualties. Being closer to death than those at other phases of life, older adults are in critical need of the Savior. We need “evangelistic triage” for mature adults. People in their 50s and 60s are no longer thought of as old. Their souls do not have wrinkles. Let’s commit to giving seniors the opportunity to experience the great wonder of God’s “winter grace.”


Endnotes
1 P. Maves and L. Cedarleaf, Older People and the Church (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1949), 7.
2 Ibid., 267-275.
3 R. Grey and D. Moberg, The Church and the Older Person (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1962), 179.
4 Ibid., 153.
5 M.A. Kimble, ed., Aging, Spirituality, and Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 228-237.
6 See Gail Sheehy, New Passages: Mapping Your Life across Time (New York: Random House, 1995); Z. Schachter-Shalomi and R. Miller, From Aging to Saging (New York: Warner, 1995); J.K. Belsky, The Psychology of Aging, 2nd ed. (Pacific Grove, CA: Brook/Cole, 1990).
7 E. Erikson, The Life Cycle Completed (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982), 64-65.
8 D.L. Gutmann, “The Cross-Cultural Perspective: Notes Toward a Comparative Psychology of Aging,” in Handbook of the Psychology of Aging, ed. James Birren and K. Warner Schaie (New York: Van Nostrad, 1977), 764.
9 Kimble, Aging, Spirituality, and Religion, 271.
10 D.S. Browning, Toward a Practical Theology of Aging (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 77; A.H. Becker, Ministry with Older Persons (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986); W.M. Clements, ed., Ministry with the Aging (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983).
11 R.A. Kalish, Late Adulthood: Perspectives on Human Development, 2nd ed. (Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1982); H.G. Cox, Later Life: The Realities of Aging (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1988).
12 See Sheehy, New Passages; N. R. Hooyman and H. A. Kiyak, Social Gerontology, 3rd ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1993).
13 E. C. Bianchi, Aging as a Spiritual Journey (New York: Crossroad, 1989); Kimble, Aging, Spirituality, and Religion; Schachter-Shalomi and Miller, From Aging to Saging.
14 Statistical Abstract, Bureau of the United States Census, 1994.
15 M. Senter, The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992); P.G. Downs, Teaching for Spiritual Growth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994).
16 P.G. Downs, “Child Evangelization,” Christian Education Journal, 3:2, 5-13.
17 Archie Parrish, personal correspondence, 4/22/87. Dr. Parrish was for 15 years the International Director of the Evangelism Explosion Program at Coral Ridge.
18 C. Arn, “Training Mature Adults in Lifestyle Evangelism.” Workshop presented at the Second National Congress on the Church and Aging, Glen Eyrie Conference Center, Colorado Springs, Co., April 30, 1997.
19 Donald McGavran and George Hunter, Church Growth: Strategies that Work (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980).
20 Kimble, Aging, Spirituality, and Religion; C.L. Allen, Wise and Wonderful (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1994).
21 J. Oswald Sanders, Enjoying Your Best Years (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1993).
22 Statistical Abstract, Bureau of the United States Census, 1991.
23 K. Dychwald and J. Fowler, Age Wave (Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1989).
24 W. Arn and C. Arn, Catch the Age Wave (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993).
25 M.A. Kimble, “Reaching Out to Touch Someone.” Plenary Session #3, Second National Congress on the Church and Aging, Glen Eyrie, Colorado, April 29, 1997.
26 D. Christiansen, “A Catholic Theological Perspective on Aging,” in Kimble, Aging, Spirituality, and Religion.
27 Cox, Later Life.
28 F.R. Yeakley, “Persuasion in Religious Influence,” doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois, 1975.
29 W. Arn and C. Arn, Catch the Age Wave; J. Botwinick, Aging and Behavior, 3rd. ed. (New York: Springer, 1984).
30 Quoted in F. Smith, “The Gift of Greeting,” Christianity Today, 29, no. 1870.
31 M. Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 210.
32 W. Arn and C. Arn, Catch the Age Wave.
33 R. Strom and H. Bernard, Educational Psychology (Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1982).
34 K. Issler and R. Habermas, How We Learn (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994).
35 D. Wolfe, “Key Motivators of Mature Adults,” Plenary Session #2, Second National Congress on the Church and Aging, Glen Eyrie Conference Center, Colorado Springs, CO, April 29, 1997.
36 Sheehy, New Passages.
37 D. Wolfe, Serving the Ageless Market (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990).
38 Ibid.
39 C.P. Cozic, An Aging Population: Opposing Viewpoints (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996).
40 As told by Jon Torp in “Positioning Your Church for the Future” workshop, presented at the Second National Congress on the Church and Aging, Glen Eyrie
Conference Center, Colorado Springs, Co., April 29, 1997.
41 K.J. Doka, “Businesses Values Older Consumers,” in C.P. Cozic, An Aging Population.
42 Wolfe, Serving the Ageless Market; W. Arn and C. Arn, “Senior Adult Church Ministries in the U.S., 1991-1993,” in L.I.F.E. Line, No. 16 (Arcadia, CA: L.I.F.E. International, 1994).
43 Joseph C. Aldrich, Gentle Persuasion (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988); Life-Style Evangelism (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1981).
44 E.L. Thorndike, Adult Learning (New York: Macmillan, 1928); Botwinick, Aging and Behavior.
45 H.B. Long, Adult Learning: Research and Practice (New York: Cambridge, 1983); P.B. Baltes and K.Warner Schaie, “Aging and I.Q.: The Myth of the Twilight Years,” Psychology Today (March 1974), 35-40.
46 S.B. Merriam and R.S. Caffarella, Learning in Adulthood (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1991).
47 Botwinick, Aging and Behavior.


Editorial: Hypocrisy- The Malpractice of Religious Leaders

The Laws of Clean and Unclean and Their Relationship with the Concept of Sacred Space, Joe M. Sprinkle

Does a Soul Have Wrinkles? Evangelism and Mature Adults, James A. Davies

The DNA Factor of Church Growth, Peter Hay

Constructing Contextual Theology in a Postmodern Asian Society, Paul Y. Siu

A Critique of Charles Nienkirchen's Book, A.B. Simpson and the Pentecostal Movement, Paul L. King

From Eden to the Christian Counselor's Couch: Humanity's Loss and Recovery of Wholeness, Craig W. Ellison

Nonverbal Communication and Spiritual Discernment, K. Neill Foster

Elio Cuccaro, Ph. D., Editor

Home > 2000

©2006 by K. Neill Foster