Why 'Baby Boomers' may never see themselves as senior adults

by Jane Rodgers |

(Texan)

DALLAS (TEXAN) — About 10,000 Baby Boomers daily reach retirement age and will continue to do so until 2030, Pew Research reports. However, this does not mean Boomers are retiring and becoming inactive.

No one-size-fits-all methodology of evangelizing Boomers exists, according to ministry leaders from Lake Pointe Church of Rockwall, First Baptist Church in Dallas and Spring Baptist Church in Houston.

At Lake Pointe, evangelism is a church-wide, relationally based focus involving all ages. "We challenge members to identify three unchurched people and build relationships with them over a year," said Carter Shotwell, executive pastor of ministries.

"It's mobilizing the entire church to do the Great Commission," Shotwell said, admitting that Boomers can be challenging to mobilize.

Many Boomers are active on weekends. Church attendance is optional. You have got to find a way to impact them beyond Sundays."                                                                          Carter Shotwell, executive pastor of ministries, Lake Pointe Church of Rockwall

"Many Boomers are active on weekends. Church attendance is optional," Shotwell said. "You have got to find a way to impact them beyond Sundays." Other avenues include helping Boomers become involved with Christian social ministries. "We reach unchurched people because they want to be a part of that and help the community."

What separates Boomers from younger, socially conscious groups? "Many Boomers tried church early on and wandered away from it, but some in their 20s might never have tried it. Their Boomer parents had already quit organized religion," Shotwell added, noting that Boomers are still "hungry for connection," a need motivating the church's emphasis on life groups.

While Boomers are open to relationships, their life stage makes it hard to make connections, Shotwell said. "They are mobile. Their kids are grown. They have the freedom and money to travel, making it harder for them ... to commit to ongoing groups." For this reason, Lake Pointe encourages some Boomer life groups to meet midweek.

But Boomers may never be part of a "senior adult" ministry. "Even when Boomers turn 65 and 70 they are probably not going to want that," Shotwell said. "They won't see themselves as senior adults. They are going to see themselves as something different."

Ryland Whitehorn, executive pastor of ministries at First Baptist Dallas, echoed Shotwell's assessment of Boomers as financially flexible, observing that prosperity has left many empty. Approaching retirement, they realize they have "focused energies on career, status, making money, or even recreation" but still experience a void.

On the "other side of the spectrum" are Boomers "who did not make provision economically or spiritually for the phase of life they are about to enter," Whitehorn said. "We deal with people in their 50s and 60s all the time who are having a personal confrontation with life and reality and coming to Jesus."

"People our age ... are reluctant to admit they need salvation," added Gary Shepherd, a Lake Pointe life group leader. "Don't forget, we used to be called the 'Me Generation.' When you've spent your whole life making sure the world revolves around you, it's difficult to give up that control."

At First Baptist Dallas, Boomers are called "median" adults. "Boomers are still motivated by points of action," Whitehorn noted, explaining that Boomers recognize hierarchy and absolutes. Unlike Millennials, whom Whitehorn finds are more driven by feelings, Boomers "simply want to know biblical truth."

When presented with a clear message from scripture, Boomers tend to respond, said Whitehorn. "It's really refreshing. Black and white. You don't have to put on a show."

"Evangelizing Boomers is not as relationally based as with Millennials," Whitehorn said, "but relationships are important. You can see that from Facebook, which they've taken over." Hence, Sunday School classes are not intergenerational.

"Boomers tend to want to be together. Many have been so focused on careers that they didn't develop lifelong friendships." To facilitate relationship, First Baptist Dallas encourages each class to subdivide into smaller geographical share groups.

The Dallas church further enables this generational desire for connectedness through planned social events and Discipleship University—short term courses offered two semesters a year on Sunday evenings.

Whereas traditional Sunday night services might draw 600, Discipleship University reaches 1,400 with classes addressing specific felt needs, Whitehorn said. Medians make up the majority of attendees.

"Boomers want to be mentored. They want to understand God's Word. They want to make a difference before they die."

For Laura Hazelwood, who works with senior adults at Spring Baptist Church, Boomer lifestyles may contribute to a "disconnection."

"A lot is going on in their lives," Hazelwood said. "Their kids are raised. They are tired. They want to take a break and go visit the grandchildren. Or with the economy, they may start a second career."

Hazelwood, who raised three children as a single mother, should know. With two children still at home, financial challenges forced her eldest daughter and family to move in also. "For two years, it was a very full house," Hazelwood laughed.

Many of my generation are raising their grandchildren."
       Laura Hazelwood, Spring Baptist Church

"Many of my generation are raising their grandchildren," Hazelwood said, noting that churches must become more "creative" in reaching Boomers who may be pulled in many directions.

"We try to reach out, draw them back in, keep them. They have a wealth of wisdom to impart to our younger people."

Unlike Lake Pointe and First Dallas, Spring Baptist emphasizes intergenerational activities. Boomers remain a busy, often well-traveled group.

Like many Boomers, Hazelwood also assists elderly parents.

"Society is different. Saturdays are errand days. Sundays, children and grandchildren play sports. Many [Boomers] want flexibility. We try to offer new things," said Hazelwood, adding that Spring is planning mission trips and adding a disaster relief ministry to provide meaningful service opportunities.

While strategies of evangelizing Boomers may be diverse, commonalities emerge.

Boomers understand absolute truth, like doing life together, want to make a difference and demand flexibility. Just don't call them seniors.

--Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist Texan, the official newspaper of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention. This article appeared online and is used with permission.