by Thom Rainer
On January 1, 2011, the first baby boomers turned 65. On that day, 10,000 boomers reached that milestone. In fact, 10,000 boomers are turning 65 every day, and will continue to do so for a total of 19 consecutive years. The implications are staggering for our nation, our economy, and our churches.
This generation is massive in size, 79 million total. They account for 26 percent of the U. S. population. We are rapidly moving toward a nation with an extraordinary number of senior adults. What, then, are the implications for local congregations? I see at least eight possible issues.
- There will be a number of pastor and staff vacancies in churches. The boomers who are able to retire or move to another phase of ministry will not be easily replaced. Many younger pastors and staff are particularly reticent to move into the more established churches largely dominated by boomer pastors today. It is in those churches where I see potential crises looming.
- Some boomer pastors will be reluctant to retire at a traditional retirement age. Frankly, the most common reason for pastors and staff holding on to their current positions is financial. Like their peers in the secular world, the Great Recession took its toll on their retirement accounts. Even worse, too many did not prepare financially for retirement at all. Another reason for delayed retirement is boomers’ perceptions of old age. Most view old age beginning in the early 70s rather than 65.
- Boomer pastors and staff have a wealth of wisdom and experience. We in local congregations should discover ways to tap into it. Most denominations and non-denominational churches have no systems in place to do so.
- There is an obvious dichotomy in these boomer pastors and staff. It is cliché but true. The world has changed faster than it ever has in just the past few years. Some pastors kept up with the changes and improved their skill sets, their technological abilities, and their abilities to relate to this vastly different world and culture. Many did not. It is that latter group for which I am most concerned.
- A significant number of boomer pastors and staff are disillusioned. They are the children of the sixties, men and women who had high hopes and ideals. They have not seen the idealistic world they hoped to create become a reality. They are thus confused and disheartened as they enter their latter years.
- Many boomer pastors and staff have strong desires to mentor the next generation. They see their greatest hope for influence now in people rather than society and structures. A related hopeful sign is that the Millennials have a strong desire to be mentored. How can we get these two generations together?
- A number of boomer pastors and staff are struggling to decide what their next phases of ministry and life should be. Many had a mid-life crisis of sorts; now they are having later-life crises. They don’t want the next phase of life to be a stereotypical retirement of rocking chairs and fishing.
- Reduced denominational structures offer fewer opportunities for boomer pastors and staff. In the past, many denominational structures offered pastors and staff in their 50s and 60s places of employment where they could utilize their years of experience for the benefit of others. But most denominations have downsized significantly and are no longer seeking these men and women of long church tenure.
Local congregations are facing challenges on a number of fronts. But all of these challenges present opportunities as well. Greater proactivity is needed for strategies to utilize the boomer generation pastors and staff.
What is your perspective and input on this issue?
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 3, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.