The Missional Opportunity Missed by Most Churches

Written by Carl Greene

October 6, 2021

The opportunity is Silver Mission: adults transitioning into early old age are sensitive to the gospel message like no other time since the 4 to 14 age-window.

I am similar to many church leaders: I have listened to hours of podcasts, panel discussions, and forums. I have also consumed countless books about how our churches need to be more relevant in the community today. Usually that discussion focuses on how the congregation has “grayed,” is drawing few young families, and we should be ashamed. There is truth in the need to reach kids between the ages of 4 and 14 with the gospel—but it should not come at the expense of intentionally drawing adults who are nearing or recently entered retirement. There may actually be equivalent shame in not reaching older adults.

“There are 75 million baby boomers in this country, and half are now over the age of 60. Most are vibrant, healthy, they have more time in retirement to explore opportunities that give meaning to their lives. Many of these boomers had grown up in a church but had dropped out. So, what are churches today doing to attract these older adults, to meet their needs for spiritual growth and community? For the most part, nothing.”[1]

Silver Mission Characteristics

The following are four characteristics of missional churches that are successfully drawing retirement age adults into their congregation. These churches are reaching non-Christian or nominally Christian adults who come to a vibrant Christian faith in later adulthood.

  1. Provide a place to belong. The primary focus of churches on a silver mission was to provide a place to belong. Most early old age adults now coming to faith had left church at some point across their youth or adult years. They need a compelling reason to return—but promoting Christian beliefs and Christian behavior were insufficient on their own.

Make no mistake, silver mission churches encourage change in behavior that range from moral lifestyle choices to increasing spiritual practices such as prayer. Silver mission churches also are clear and up front about orthodox beliefs. These tenets of behavior and belief are not entirely new to these adults who have largely grown up within the church—but their understanding of the gospel is often truncated as good works and moralism.

What early old age adults highlight as the most important pull factor to Christian faith is the authentic experience of community that highlights the application of behavior and beliefs. There is not a certain sequence of belonging, believing, and behaving that draws adults to church—they are all at work simultaneously. The focus on belonging is what makes the difference among silver mission churches, and the approach to belonging is very specific.

Next week, we will pick up on the three characteristics that flesh out the specific belonging opportunities that silver mission churches provide.

[1] Bengtson, Vern L., Endacott, Camille, and Samantha Kang. 2018. “Older Adults in Churches: Differences in Perceptions of Clergy and Older Members.” Journal of Religion, Spirituality, and Aging 30 (2): 154-178. 154.

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