November 11, 2005
Another tsunami comingBut this time it's people who will overwhelm ordinary life—specifically people born in 1946 and for the next 18 years. The Baby Boomers. They aren't babies anymore. And that's the problem and the opportunity for the church. It's the reason the Washington, D.C.,-based Luther Institute last week sponsored the first conference on the implications of aging in Lutheran congregations. It drew some 200 participants, from those who work with the elderly now to parish pastors.
"What we're facing isn't aging, it's mass aging," said Cliff Pederson, founder of Church Resources, Inc., which offers an inventory tool to assess needs of elders in congregations that's now being used in 50 ELCA synods and LCMS districts. Here's how the mass aging tsumani builds: One million Americans turn 60 or older every month. And as the Boomers start celebrating the big 6-0 this year, that number is going to surge. By 2030, 22 percent of the population in the U.S. will be over 65; 50 percent+ of members of Lutheran congregations will be over 65.
These older members will need care and services from the congregations, certainly—from transportation to health help. Most of the participants already are working to solve problems like these. But there's more. The challenge, Pederson pointed out, is that many Boomers weren't raised in church or left their church homes when they were coming of age in the 60s and 70s. Evangelism among them should be a high priority, offering ministries for older adults who are facing losses and may be looking for new ways to answer life's basic questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Or, why am I still here? Where am I going?
Pederson wants Lutherans to ride this tsunami with courage and creativity and faith—not in fear or denial. "Our church has the heart of Christ to meet this need," he said. "I believe God is preparing people to minister in an aging culture."