Many smaller churches, especially those that have been around for a long time, have quite a few senior citizens. There may be a good reason for that: sometimes they have been in that particular church for many years, maybe since they were young. Having a good senior citizen group is a positive thing. In our experience, the seniors are very faithful until they reach a point in their health when they can no longer attend as much as they might like. And the senior citizens tend to be the financial backbone of the church. They might be tithing from fixed incomes, but they are faithful to do so. More than once, one of our members has wanted to make sure his or her tithe made it to the offering plate even when that person was too sick to attend. In our church, families have been members for generations. The current senior group was once the younger generation to whom the baton was passed, and at some point, another generation of believers will need to step up and take its place too.
A few years ago, our pianist, who had served in that position for sixty years, decided it was time for her to retire from the job. She had held the position since she was a child. Our nominating committee asked me to take the position. I was hesitant—after all I was the pastor’s wife and a mom, taught the elementary children’s class on Wednesday night, and had a demanding full-time job. How could I entertain the idea of adding something else? I seriously considered turning down their request, but the lady who had served the church for so many years said to me, “I need to give this up, but I won’t turn it over to anyone but you.” How could I refuse that? Here I am, several years later, the church pianist.
Many older people don’t embrace change very easily, and the younger people may have their own ways of doing things. It may be hard for the older folks to accept new ideas. These ideas may not necessarily be the same as their parents’ ideas. So how do you convince this wonderful, older generation to accept the younger folks?
I believe some reminding and instructing to both generations may be in order. Ask the older folks to think back to when it was their turn to take the helm. Did they meet resistance from their parents and/or grandparents? How did that make them feel? Remind them that in order for the church to continue and their legacy to live on, the younger people need to make the church their own—a place they can be faithful to serve.
The older people have put their hearts and souls into the church, so the younger generation should be cautioned about making changes too quickly. Change can be good, but it would not be fair to make changes at a pace that would cause the older folks to feel that younger people do not appreciate their investment in the church and the legacy they will leave.
Finally, I have noticed in many cases, the younger people are not as faithful in church attendance as their parents and grandparents. That fact is quite obvious when services other than Sunday morning are attended by mainly older people. The pastor and his wife are not the only ones who notice that—so do the senior citizens. In our experience, older people are more willing to turn over the reins when younger people prove they are ready to assume leadership roles and will be faithful to their church duties and to support the church financially.
Remember the old saying, “It takes two”? There is a lot of truth in that statement. In this case, it takes everyone working together to make sure the church can remain alive and strong for generations to come.
Maleah Bell is a freelance editor and pastor’s wife. She and her husband make their home in Middle Tennessee.