They will still bear fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green…” (Psalm 92:14).
Young, newly minted pastors tend to fall into one of two groups. They either love the seniors in their church—usually because of a great relationship with their own grandparents—or they dread them and see them as obstacles to growth, barriers to change, and speed bumps on getting the church up and going.
So, as one who loves young pastors but as a card-carrying member of the older generation, I’d like to remind the younger shepherds among us of a few important facts about seniors in their congregation. (I add this caveat: All generalizations have exceptions. Including this one.)
1. Seniors are not against change; but they dislike abrupt change.
There are no 1948 Packards in your church parking lot. No 1952 DeSotos. However, the seniors driving those Camrys and Corollas did not abruptly trade in that Packard for the Toyota. There were a series of incremental steps in between, like buying a 1955 Fairlane, then a 1962 Chevelle, followed by a 1972 Bonneville, and so forth.
Rick Warren says, “We do not use the word ‘change.’ We say ‘We’re going to experiment.’ If this doesn’t work out, we’ll try something else.”
2. Seniors are not against innovations in the worship service; but they dislike overdoing it.
It was an 80-year-old who told me we should erect those screens in front of the sanctuary to project texts and photos and videos. “It would help us to see the words of the songs better. And the Scriptures.” Until then, I had been reluctant to suggest this change since I had been burned a few times by some outspoken seniors who opposed anything different.
3. Seniors love guitars and violins and even a little percussion in church music; but they don’t like it to interfere with the actual singing.
One reason seniors love “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace” is simply that they know the words, recognize the tune, and find it singable. They will enjoy the occasional modern worship song too, so long as it’s uplifting and worthwhile.
When I have visited churches with a contemporary service (using all kinds of musical instruments) followed by a traditional service (with nothing more than the organ and piano), invariably more seniors attend the first service than the second. Seniors love music. Wait, check that. Seniors love good music.
4. Seniors love to laugh and will be the first to get humor in sermons; but they don’t want it overdone.
As one who does a lot of senior events, I cannot imagine one with no laughter. They love to laugh. Did you hear about the elderly couple who got married? They spent their honeymoon getting out of the car.
Seniors will laugh at that longer than anyone. There’s just enough truth in that bit of silliness for it to work. (Now, the young pastor will not repeat it the way I posted it. A 30-year-old preacher might preface it with “A friend of mine in his 70s told me about this elderly couple who got married….”)
5. Seniors don’t resent the young people being featured and young adults coming to the front; they just don’t want to be put out to pasture themselves.
Most of them have grandchildren whom they adore, so they will appreciate efforts to reach them with the gospel. Seniors love being around young people and will enjoy events where both groups are included.