There are evangelism resources hidden in plain sight at most local churches, and CHHSM’s Age-Friendly Congregations study booklet can help access them.
The resources are older adults, says Jan Aerie, one of the curriculum’s co-authors. And the goal is finding ways of encouraging older congregants to share their gifts in ways that benefit everyone.
Aerie, a gerontologist who works as a consultant for UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) churches in Missouri, runs day-long older adult ministry seminars and other similar events across the state. Currently, she has a grant from the Disciples’ National Benevolent Association to expand the seminars. She says the idea of older adults being an evangelism opportunity “takes people by surprise at first, but then we explore why this older adult emphasis makes such good sense through sharing what they know.”
“There is such value and wisdom in effectively enlisting the gifts of older adult church members, to be shared in intergenerational ways,” says Aerie. “Churches who do this are visibly more vital and active in their ministry and outreach. Older adults are the greatest evangelism opportunity the church has today.”
Integral to the workshops is Age-Friendly Congregations, a curriculum developed by CHHSM in 2017 to help churches develop ministries for older adults through a process that ends in congregations developing their own Age-Friendly Covenants. At every event, Aerie shares the resource with attendees. “I review its content and talk about the covenant and [the booklet’s] bible studies,” she says. “I take them through a process of addressing needs and development of ministry projects and programs within their congregations.”
Aerie says the curriculum reinforces the main emphases of the seminars. “It definitely helps to focus and guide the commentary and shape of the day,” she says. “I refer to various chapters or content multiple times.”
As a special gift, each participating congregation receives a free copy of Age-Friendly Congregations at the end of the event. “To leave a book for the churches and say, ‘This will take you through to the next steps and keep you on task as you share it with others,’ is a great follow-up home tool,” she adds.
So far, both the curriculum and Aerie’s seminars have received rave reviews. Says one young gerontologist and future seminarian, “This program is so beneficial for congregations and for individuals. It is my hope that congregations understand that this program is not only for ‘old people,’ but for everyone.”
Says another attendee, “I loved watching the oldest of our group light up with your message! We are all brimming with new ideas now that you’ve opened the door.”
The success of the Aerie’s program has encouraged the Disciples to invite her to apply for the next level of funding and ministry for 2020. The Disciples regional office “is determined to keep this emphasis visible and ongoing,” Aerie says.
Aerie’s use of the curriculum to help churches further their ministries is exemplary, says Michael J. Readinger, CHHSM president and CEO. “Jan’s integration of Age-Friendly Congregations into her ongoing work is exactly how we hoped the curriculum would be used when we first envisioned it,” Readinger says. “The more local churches are introduced to the concepts in the resource, the more expansive their ministries will become.”
Readinger sees Age-Friendly Congregations as an effective way for churches to engage older adults in the life of the church. “This curriculum can be used in creating a Seniors Ministry much like the Youth Ministry many congregations already have,” he adds. “Youth are youth for maybe 10-to-15 years — older adult members for double that length of time, or more!”
In the UCC, the importance of an age-friendly emphasis in local church ministry also is gaining traction. Since the publication of Age-Friendly Congregations, Aerie has led events in 6 UCC congregations, some being four- or five-week series. Regardless whether for UCC or Disciples churches, the events have had a tangible impact on local churches, particularly involving the follow-up use of the curriculum. Many participants order additional copies for local church staff or classes.
“Some congregations have adult bible study or church school classes; others have started them, and have taken segments of the curriculum or the entire book as a guide over several weeks of study,” Aerie says. “One of these congregations — Lake Ozark (Mo.) Christian Church — became the co-author of our current grant.”
One thing is clear: the intentional inclusion and participation of older adults in local church ministry benefits not only the church but the entire community.
Says one local church clergy event host, “Your talk inspired me to think about possibilities of tapping into my own background and gifts in this area of spirituality for our community, and possibly even offering classes in elder spirituality at the church. Perhaps a community focus would bring in some of those unchurched Baby Boomers who are ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Who knows?”
Age-Friendly Congregations is available for $6 each in digital download and $13 each for printed copies. Bulk pricing is available. Order individual copies through UCC Resources. For bulk copies, contact CHHSM for pricing.