Churches as Models Project – Progress Report

June 25, 2014

As I continue to coordinate the Churches as Models Project by visiting the model church sites to observe and learn about their successful older adult programs, I am already hearing from  individuals throughout the Conference -- clergy, lay leaders, parish nurses, and others involved in older adult ministries  --  with questions about starting new programs or improving those already in existence.  While the first “official” report on the project won’t be distributed until later in June, I want to address an issue here that has already arisen several times: the importance of not perceiving older adults as being all the same or having similar needs, interests, or wants.
Traditionally, individuals in our society were deemed to be “older adults” or “senior citizens” once they reached about age 65.  In recent years however, as we’ve increased the average lifespan and encouraged people to remain active, engaged, and challenged as they age, we have had to re-evaluate how we identify individuals and their age “groups.” 
Consequently, when planning new programs or services for midlife and older adults in your congregations, keep in mind that while Boomers (aged 50-70), Seniors (aged 71-85), and Elders (aged 86+) have certain needs and interests in common, they often also have different needs and interests when it comes to programs and services that could be beneficial to them. Boomers, many of whom are still in the “sandwich generation,” often can profit from caregiver support and strategies and opportunities to talk with others about changing family roles.  Seniors, many of whom are adjusting to retirement and looking for means to remain active and engaged, often enjoy classes, volunteer opportunities, and avenues for sharing their experiences and expertise.  Elders, with changing physical abilities and oftentimes decreasing social connections, are helped by transportation services, creative ways to keep them connected and integrated into the larger congregational family, and spiritual support in coping with the sometimes unpredictability of late life. 
While every individual – and every congregation – is unique, when developing or expanding older adult programs and services, it is important to recognize that “once size does not fit all.”  Take some time to consider the older adults in your congregation and what their needs might be in order to incorporate as many individuals as possible into successful, long-term programs and ministries.
More information on strategies for starting older adult programs will be in upcoming Instant Connections and on the Older Adult Ministry of the Committee on New and Vital Congregations website.  In the meantime, feel free to contact me at Finleyjacqueline@gmail.comif you have questions or comments.
Jackie Finley