It’s no secret that the church of America is getting older. But is this greying a threat or an opportunity? In this article, Stan Endicott and I lay out the challenge that churches across North America are facing and explain why this challenge might just be the greatest missional opportunity of our day. I encourage you to read the article and start imagining how your church can be part of the solution.
– Dave Rhodes, Director of Church NEXT
Is the dream of getting older, retiring, having more free time, traveling, financial independence, and less responsibility really the reward older people are clamoring for?
Without the necessary planning, intentionality, and preparation, there are likely to be some unwanted consequences or at least some regrets or disappointments waiting just around the corner.
The issue of living longer and yet being less fulfilled is a reality. Most people are just not ready for retirement or for their “4th quarter.” They might have a financial plan, but very few have a fulfillment plan.
Questions like, “Will I be financially able to continue my lifestyle?” “Will I be bored, not having a work life that I have had for years?” “Where am I likely to find community?” “Will I be ok, knowing that my influence and contribution to others quickly diminishes?”
Imagine “that day,” that morning, when you finally “made it” to the finish line of retirement. Your party was awesome, the sendoffs, the cards, the gifts, the gold watch and group pictures to remember your co-workers…. But then, like hitting a brick wall, everything changed.
You woke up to three emails in your “inbox” instead of a hundred. Your calendar only has three things scheduled this week and you might as well leave your phone on the nightstand because, other than a couple of buddies and your family, it’s going to be a pretty quiet week. You just might feel like your sky is falling.
Welcome to “liminality.” It describes that state of transition between one stage and the next. Some would say it is that in-between period, filled with transition, ambiguity, and transformation. Leaving this season to “chance” or unattended can lead to many negative consequences and destinations. Taking the guesswork out of your 4th quarter of life will bring you traction and fulfillment that we all hope to experience in this season.
Unfortunately, while thousands of people are experiencing the transition described above, their church has relatively few tools to help them.
Chip Conley, of Airbnb, in his book, Wisdom at Work says: “More than half of American Baby Boomers plan to work past age 65 and not retire at all. Wisdom of older people is one of the few natural resources globally that is increasing, not declining. Now is the perfect time for elders to make a comeback, thanks to their ability to synthesize wise, empathetic solutions that no robot could ever imagine. Wisdom isn’t rare, but it can be hard to access, like diamonds, unless you’ve developed the tools needed to dig for it.”
In 2006, the first of nearly 76 million Boomers turned 60 and 8,000 people every day are joining them. According to a AARP survey, half of those who intend to work after retirement said that “helping people” was a very important factor in their work plans. By 2030, all Boomers will be older than 65.
Economist Lawrence Kotlikoff and journalist Scott Burns predict that by 2030, when 77 million Baby Boomers hobble into old age, walkers will outnumber strollers. A very humorous comment about a very serious reality!
Businesses, churches, and nonprofits are in the middle of a transfer of leadership in which the world we live in is knowledge rich but wisdom poor. The leaders of tomorrow need not just access to knowledge (which they can get at the touch of a button), but wisdom (which requires the reach of a hand). There is knowledge and experience transfer happening in American corporations. There is a “brain drain” when an experienced person goes out the door. These corporations are realizing that skill and wisdom appear over time. To turn a deaf ear to “elder wisdom” is not the best road to travel because that wisdom and the value that wisdom brings is increasing rapidly.
In striving for “cultural relevance,” churches seem to ignore the realities of their older members, making them feel left out or even marginalized. In their determination to stay “hip” and to make “modern” and/or contemporary art their aim, they leave older people to remain in their pews and call them to simply be compliant and tolerant.
There is also no comfortable way for the church to talk about the value of older people other than their money. The sad scenario is there are likely more opportunities for these older people to live an energized life, outside the church.
Churches are among the most puzzled of all. They don’t know what to do with their aging members. Weekly Bible studies, bus trips, potluck lunches and serving as friendly greeters are simply not enough to challenge “young olders.” People who are 55 years old are among the most energized and prepared people in society. They are ready and willing to not only play pickleball, but to serve and contribute.
Arthur Brooks, author of Strength to Strength, writes, “By refocusing on certain priorities and habits that anyone can learn, such as deep wisdom, detachment from empty rewards, connection and service to others, and spiritual progress, we can set ourselves up for increased happiness.”
He goes on to say, “People who strive to be excellent at what they do often wind up finding their inevitable decline terrifying, their successes increasingly unsatisfying and their relationships lacking.”
Peter Drucker said, “Today, most work is knowledge and knowledge workers are not finished after 40 years on the job, they are merely bored.”
THE GRAND PLAN
“Helping people gain traction in their most important life transition.”
Our world is in desperate need of an eldering movement that transfers both wisdom and wealth to the next generation. This transfer contributes both to fulfillment of life for elders and increases productivity for today’s leader. The question is not just if this transfer will occur, but even if it does occur, will it happen without Jesus at the center of it? We believe we are living at the epicenter of a potential cultural earthquake in which the gospel and leadership are needed to navigate this daunting reality.
The Grand Plan will be launched to provide a solution to our increasingly broken understanding of what creates a successful future. In fact, we believe that this brokenness is not simply a problem but a profound opportunity for the gospel. We are standing at the edge of the greatest transition of wealth in the history of the world – but the question is, “Will this wealth be wasted, or will it be used to create a legacy?”
Lots of time and energy have been spent trying to take the gospel to unreached people groups. But is it possible that one of the largest unreached people groups in the world is not an ethnic or geographic people, but a people group that is often overlooked – people entering their last quarter of life? This may be the greatest missional opportunity in our generation!
People who are in the transitional state of “mid-life” (not the crisis type) show more interest in religion and spirituality.
Theologian James Fowler, says, “Perhaps this seems odd to you, because people often become more skeptical of ‘magical’ things. Nobody over 10, let alone 40, believes in the Easter Bunny, but it is strikingly common to find religious yearnings creeping in during one’s 40s and 50s or later. For many, the metaphysical begins to feel real as we get older.”
This could be a pattern or reality that we should pay attention to as the message of Christ is just waiting to enter the lives of people over 50.
By harnessing the latent potential of an unprecedented number of people retiring and combining it with the greatest transition of wealth in human history, we believe that for such a time as this God is raising up The Grand Plan to help people in this strategic moment of transition gain traction and purpose for their own lives while empowering the lives of the men and women behind them.
To find out more about how your church can step into this missional opportunity, go to mygrandplan.org. Now is the time to sign up and become part of this burgeoning movement!