By Alison Zeller
How old is too old when it comes to volunteers?
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, “old” happens at age 68. But the vast majority of people living beyond that threshold would quickly brush off the statistic. The study reports, “Among respondents ages 65–74, just 21 percent say they feel old. Even among those who are 75 and older, just 35 percent say they feel old.”
When it comes to ministry volunteers, the stereotypical attitude that seniors are old and worn out couldn’t be further from the truth! As a new year of ministry begins, pay special attention to this population. In three steps, you can turn seniors into your most valuable resources.
Step 1: Change your perspective
Picture the seniors who currently volunteer at your church. Is your first thought of the sweet grandmothers who stuff inserts into the bulletins? These volunteers are wonderful and valuable, but also consider these possibilities:
- Older individuals who could use their years of work experience while serving in leadership positions and other roles of influence
- Early retirees seeking to use their significant skills in significant ways
- Elderly individuals who don’t go out much but love to talk on the phone and are mighty prayer warriors
Think about it . . . seniors are a fast-increasing percentage of the population. Older seniors are living longer and have more mobility than previous generations. They also tend to be highly dedicated to their churches. Younger seniors have many and varied skills. Some are retiring earlier or moving from full-time to part-time work. All of these factors make seniors a great and growing volunteer pool.
Step 2: Acknowledge challenges
Inviting seniors to serve is a great opportunity for the church. But be aware of the challenges, too.
- Some seniors are tied down and tired because they care for parents, spouses, or grandchildren.
- Change can be difficult for people in this age group.
- Younger seniors are very particular about how they spend their time.
- Long-time volunteers may be unaware (or choosing not to notice) that their declining abilities are affecting their ability to perform tasks.
Step 3: Basic recruitment
Don’t forget that the basics of healthy volunteer recruitment and retention are as important for seniors as they are for anyone else. Extend personal invitations, based on their unique situations and gifts, rather than relying on a general bulletin announcement. Give them training and ongoing support. Affirm and honor them for their contributions. Just like the rest of us, seniors want activities that are meaningful and relationships that matter.
Here are a few steps you can take to get to know your seniors and better engage them as volunteers:
- Talk to groups of seniors. Find out where they volunteer outside the church. Ask what they like and don’t like about volunteering in general. Ask about the needs they see in your ministry and how they would like to help.
- Talk to your senior volunteers individually. How are things going for them in the places where they serve? How can you help them? Is it time for a change?
- Encourage generations to serve together. For example, you may ask grandparents and grandchildren (actual or “adopted”) to serve together as greeters.
As you begin to invite seniors to serve, you will likely run into some individuals with failing health and gradually declining independence. They may feel they have little to contribute. Be prepared for these feelings and rebut them immediately! Every person has a place to serve in God’s kingdom. In the church, “All of [us] together are Christ’s body, and each of [us] is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT). “In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary” (1 Corinthians 12:22 NLT). There are no unneeded parts of the body of Christ!
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