Ronnie McCarson has been ministering to adults age 55 and up full time since 1993, and at least in some capacity since 1977.
But he said that, much like everybody else, he’s still working to figure out the best way to minister to the aging baby boomer population.
“It’s not going to be the same,” said McCarson, pastor to adults 55+ at Cottage Hill Baptist Church, Mobile. “As they age, they’re going to be different than their moms and dads were.”
Eileen Mitchell, a state missionary specializing in senior adult ministry with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said as she’s traveled the state meeting with senior adults and senior adult ministers, she’s thought the same thing.
“This age group is not going to do things like their parents,” she said. “They work longer age-wise, and many use their vacation time to see grandchildren’s events, programs, etc.”
May not be good fit
What that means is that the weekday morning meetings and weeklong trips of the generation preceding them might not be a good fit for the baby boomers, the generation born between the years of 1946 and 1964. They’re between 52 and 70 years old, sitting squarely on the demographic McCarson is aiming to reach.
And he can already see them bringing a seismic shift to how he’s done ministry in the past.
“What we’re experiencing here is that if they want to take trips, most of them are more interested in a Friday to Saturday trip because they’re still working,” he said. “And they’re looking for it to be a weekend getaway or restful retreat, because their lives are really busy.”
Many of them are caring for aging parents and at the same time are very involved in the lives of their grandchildren, McCarson said.
Less free time
“I’d say 75 percent of the adults who pick up children from our school here at Cottage Hill in the afternoons are grandparents because the mothers are working,” he said.
“We even see situations where some of their children are getting divorced and moving back into the house with the kids.”
The free time they thought they might have at this age just isn’t there, McCarson said. But they’re finding fulfillment in that kind of hands-on, purposeful work, he said.
“They want to do things that are of significance, things that are missions-minded,” he said. “In their Bible study groups here, they are very committed and outreach-oriented.”
McCarson is finding that it’s important to tailor events toward their unique schedules and needs.
“We had a recent trip to help flood victims, and it was a great trip, it was just kept to a shorter duration. And once a month we try to plan a hands-on missions project for them to be a part of,” he said. “It’s finding things for them to do that are of substance but fit their availability.”
Kenny Hoomes, associate pastor for spiritual maturity/senior adults at First Baptist Church, Montgomery, said he also has seen an opportunity with baby boomers to harness their desire to serve for the good of the Kingdom.
“For the most part these boomers are healthy, mobile, educated and have spent their lives perfecting their careers. They want to be hands-on and be involved in an atmosphere of service, not eating and meeting,” Hoomes said. “Therefore the Church should discover the boomers’ passion and plug into their desire to use their passion for service in God’s kingdom.”
Billy Dickey, discipleship and senior adult pastor at Eastmont Baptist Church, Montgomery, said he also has noticed an increased need for significant roles among the baby boomers in his church.
They “really like to lead the study groups, they want to feel like they are needed, a feeling of accomplishment in whatever endeavor they choose to serve,” Dickey said.
They also are in need of being ministered to in a way that meaningfully fits their generation’s needs, McCarson said.
“People need to start thinking about the boomers — there are a lot of needs there,” he said. “I had a caregiving seminar a few weeks ago, and people wouldn’t even hardly let the speaker leave because they wanted to share their story with him. They need to know how to deal with their parents.”
Another need is to help them know how to deal with financial concerns, said Barry Bledsoe, president of The Baptist Foundation of Alabama.
“As the baby boomer generation moves into retirement, they may need to sit down and reevaluate where they are in terms of finances,” he said. “Some may be ready for a full retirement, but others may realize, ‘The reality is, I’ve got to be more careful than I thought I would; my retirement needs to include a part-time job.’”
Boomers are poised to live longer and their parents are living longer too, Bledsoe said.
And, McCarson said, many boomers who are preparing to end their career may end up spending money earmarked for retirement to care for their aging parents instead.
“I think we’ll be surprised how many boomers will end up not having enough money for retirement when we get there,” he said.
So one thing churches can keep in mind when they plan their adult ministry is helping boomers be equipped to navigate this phase of life.
“We want to try to help them finish well, to help them live this season of their life to the fullest,” McCarson said.