How to Minister to Boomers
By Daniel Camp
One of the most famous new weapons in the arsenal of intergenerational warfare is a simple, two-word phrase: “Okay, boomer.” Delivered with an appropriately dismissive tone, that cutting comment can leave a person feeling out-of-touch and ancient, like the modern world has left them behind. To be labeled a boomer has suddenly come to mean you can’t keep up with the times. Having once long held the keys to the culture, baby boomers are now the epitome of old news.
That may be your impression if you spend a lot of time on Twitter and Reddit, but if you’re in ministry, you face a far different reality: chances are, your church is full of boomers. Born between 1945 and the mid-1960s, boomers grew up with a strong institutional church and have largely stuck with it through thick and thin, and most of them are continuing to show up Sunday after Sunday, serve on committees, and tithe regularly.
But now, just as they enter their retirement years, boomers are looking at the future of the church with tremendous trepidation, worried that the generations who’ve come behind them don’t have what it takes to keep the trains running on time—and, for the more self-reflective, worried that they have caused the church’s decline themselves.
For a young pastor, learning how to relate to the boomers in your congregation is going to be crucial to your success in ministry—because while millennials and Gen Z are the future leaders of the church, your boomers are still here and they’re not going anywhere for a long time. And just like your younger members, they are children of God who are worthy of your attention, your prayers, and your ministry.
So as you seek to navigate relationships with your boomers—this somewhat pessimistic, somewhat disillusioned, but ultimately idealistic cohort—here are three important steps to help.
Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
Chances are, your boomers have been leading the church for years, whether as staff members, deacons, Sunday School teachers, or volunteers. They’re deeply invested in the success of the church, and especially as they reach retirement age, it’s where they find the deepest sense of community.
When you pair that kind of investment and experience with more time on their hands, you get an ideal volunteer, somebody who can show up at 11:00 on a Tuesday if you need them to and won’t need to be told what to do. But as your boomers get more and more involved with specific ministries, keep an eye out for territorialism. When you’re the person in charge of the coffee station every Sunday, that understandably is more important to you than it is to anyone else—and you can start to resent those who don’t take it as seriously as you do. For your boomers, particularly those who are extremely involved, it can become easy for the church to morph from the family of God to their private clubhouse, where they pay their dues and they make the rules.
As you seek to lead your boomers, connect everything—EVERYTHING—to the church’s mission. Don’t be subtle about it either: “Tom, I really appreciate you setting out the bulletins every week. It’s so important that when people come to worship that they can fix their eyes on Jesus without having to worry about what’s happening next in the service. My friend, you’re helping people worship!”
Your boomers didn’t join your church, whether last week or 50 years ago, because they wanted to run a country club. They did it because they loved Jesus and wanted to serve him. So as your boomers are given more opportunities to serve, make sure you’re reminding them who that service is all about.
Learn Their Grandkids’ Names
It can be tough for a young pastor to connect with his or her older members—your life experiences are so different, and often your worldviews are too. But while you may not be able to bond over favorite movies or fantasy football, there’s one easy path to their hearts: their grandchildren.
Your boomers, especially the ones who have retired, are probably spending an inordinate amount of time with their grandkids—and when they’re not physically with them, they’re talking about them, thinking about them, and praying for them. Especially in those early years, grandchildren are the center of your boomers’ universe.
So if it’s important to them, make it important to you! Ask about their grandkids regularly, even and especially the ones you’ve never met. Learn their names and the basics about them—Jose is starting Little League this summer, Denise loves Disney movies, etc.— and make their exploits a regular part of your conversation with their grandparents.
Your boomers will love and appreciate your thoughtfulness, you’ll have forged a connection with them, and you’ll always have a starting point when you approach them after service on Sunday. What people say about marriage is true about pastoring as well: love is hard work. So do the work—learn the grandkids’ names.
Pray for Them and with Them
Whether you’re dealing with an elderly widow, a wide-eyed child, or anyone in between, my experience has been that nothing is quite so appreciated by church members as a sincere, personal prayer from their pastor. Your best sermon may be forgotten, your most exciting event will give way to something new and improved, but your people won’t forget when you held their hand in a time of need and talked to God with them.
Boomers are just like anybody else in that they have doubts, concerns, and praises. So in accordance with the command of scripture, mourn when they mourn and rejoice when they rejoice, and do so first and foremost in the context of prayer.
I was told once by a fellow pastor—a boomer, for what it’s worth—that the most useful words a pastor can say to a person are, “Can I pray with you right now?” Ask that question and ask it often.
The seniors in your church are seeing the world around them change at lightning speed. They’re worried they’re being shut out when they still have so much to give. And they still love the Lord. So in a world that says, “Okay, boomer,” make sure you’re offering them a different kind of word.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common