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Evangelizing the “old”

Evangelizing the “old”

Church Times wonders if the church should be spending more time evangelizing the fastest growing demographic group – older people.

SOME would say that the Church of England is an institution for the elderly, and it is the young to whom the Church needs to reach out. To illustrate their point, they could point to the latest available mission statistics from the C of E Research and Statistics Unit: of the million worshipping members in the Angli­can Church, 20 per cent are under 18, while almost 30 per cent are more than 70 years old.

Nevertheless, Mike Collyer and Claire Dalpra, two of the authors of Mission-shaped Church for Older People, published by the Church Army in conjunction with the Leveson Centre, in 2008, say: “There is just as much need for new and creative ways of doing mission and being church for and with older people. The elderly are the fastest-growing section of the British population. Don’t let anyone tell you fresh expressions are for young people only.”

To assume that most older people have a Christian faith is to misread the situation entirely. If 300,000 of England’s over-70s are members of an Anglican congregation, that leaves 6.7 million who are not active Anglicans. Some, of course, will be active in other denominations; nevertheless, the evangelisation of the elderly remains a huge challenge.

This is a reflection from England but applies to the U.S. as well. Often older people experience the church as ignoring or infantalizing – rather than a mission field or to support us in our continuing spiritual journeys. What say ye?



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Jim Pratt

Sallie is right. In many rural parishes, the elderly are the principal (if not the only) market for evangelization. It is very easy to lament that the young people have all moved to the cities, that there is no critical mass for a Sunday school or youth group. But it is easy to overlook the fact that the church is only reaching 10 or 20 percent of the population, and there is often much potential for growth.
My first (multi-point) parish included a final-generation church in a village of 24 residents, of whom 19 were over 70. The members focussed on reaching out to the elderly of the community, and maintained a vibrant ministry, even financially subsidizing the larger congregations in the parish, until they started dying off or moving to seniors’ homes. Part of their success was realizing that there would not be another generation to carry on, and they lived fully and joyfully in the present.

Sallie Schisler

Our rural congregation just made a conscious choice to evangelize our neighbors, who just happen to elders.

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