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The third age

By 2030, and that is only 17 years away, the above 65 age group will increase from 33 million Americans today to 70 million. All of the baby boomers will be older than 65.

Since the 1950s, as the baby boomers reached various life stages, changes occurred. When they reached school age, this country built a lot of schools. When they reached childbearing age, hospitals changed the old, institutional delivery room into a modern, comfortable labor-delivery room. When they had children, the day care industry was born. It is interesting to consider how this aging population may affect the church.

Viktor Franklin, in his book “Man’s Search For Meaning,” states that contentment arises from one of three sources: what one does, who one loves and one’s relationship with God.

Today, there are 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day. The boomer generation is reaching the age at which their parents retired. But with the economic problems over the last several years, many will work into their 70s. Their children are grown and many have left their hometown. And a 2011 study conducted by Barna Research concluded that 41 percent of the boomer generation is unchurched.

The period some refer to as the “third age” is a time of life when we begin to stop accumulating and begin to give away. We slow down. We volunteer and give our time. We may find the house we had for growing families is no longer necessary for growing old. Two cars may become one. The second or third set of dishes may be given to the kids. We will lose the physical strength of our youth and middle years. And, as Plato said, “When physical eyesight declines, spiritual eyesight increases.”

For those who have been on their journey for many years and for those who have not started, the third age is a time for growing in the presence of God and shaping our souls.

As a leader in one of the many senior living communities that are members of the Presbyterian Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (PAHSA), I am blessed by an incredible group of older adults who are showing me how to age gracefully. From them I have learned that Plato was right. As physical strength declines, the way to contentment and happiness as an elder is to replace it with spiritual strength.

Following the baby boomers comes Generation X, then the Millennials, and all are living longer. We are entering a transformational time in the history of this country when those over 65 will outnumber those under 17, and it will not change.

Most American institutions, including the church, developed their modern form in the 1950s. The demographics of this country, and the world, are not the same today as they were then, and the differences will be greater in the future. Establishing a well-conceived older adult ministry is a unique opportunity for evangelism and church growth. If your church is built for the old and for the young, your ministry will be good for everyone.

This issue of the Outlook presents stories from the older-adult resources of the church: Presbyterian Older Adult Ministry Network (POAMN); Association of Retired Ministers and Surviving Spouses(ARMSS); and Presbyterian Homes and Services for the Aging (PAHSA). Reach out to them, begin the dialogue, explore whether an older adult ministry will fit within your congregation, and if appropriate, seek their guidance.

JOHN HEHN is executive director of Florida Presbyterian Homes, Inc. and a member of the board of directors of PAHSA.

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