by Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, Jr., Director, ENCORE Ministry
We are living in a world of rapid change. One of the greatest challenges church leaders will face is our growing aging population and the graying of our congregations. Since older adults have historically been the most religiously active of all age groups, this shift in demographics is having a significant impact on how we do ministry.
Like no other time in history, this emerging population trend of midlife and mature adults is providing local churches with a unique opportunity to reach out and minister to and through them. With growing numbers of midlife and mature adults in our pews, congregations have an opportunity to be blessed by the gifts, prayers, presence, service, and witness of their older members. If given a chance, older adults can provide congregations with a unique opportunity to make a significant and positive impact in the life of our communities.
In order to be effective in ministry with this growing population of older adults, adaptation and flexibility are key for congregations as they engage in ministry. While there are many churches in the Tennessee Conference that are actively engaged in ministry with midlife and mature adults, unfortunately, many church leaders have little training or understanding of what it means to be intentional in older adult ministry. If we are to seize this moment in time, congregational leaders must be trained and provided with effective resources. We will need to build ministries that are creative, intentional, and led by people who are equipped, inspired, and passionate for the task.
To help meet the needs of an aging population, the Golden Cross Foundation of the Tennessee Conference took the initiative to help establish ENCORE Ministry as a way of providing consultation, training and support, resources, and networking opportunities for church leaders (clergy and laity) in the conference. Because this ministry is funded by a grant from the Golden Cross Foundation, there is no cost to congregations or districts for its service.
In June 2019, the Tennessee Annual Conference made ENCORE Ministry the conference’s older adult ministry, replacing the Conference Committee on Older Adults. Each district now has an ENCORE Ministry team, and workshops and seminars about older adult ministries are offered throughout the year for clergy and lay leadership.
I have been privileged to meet with many congregations in the Tennessee Conference that have invited me to consult with their Older Adult Ministry Team and to help them re-frame aging and to create a vision for intentional ministry. In addition, I have been greatly encouraged by the number of congregations that have participated in our district training workshops.
The fastest-growing age demographic in many of our congregations is older adults. We can be light-years behind the curve and ignore a vital resource for church vitality and growth, or we can be enlightened to the special gifts that older adults offer in a proactive way. ENCORE Ministry provides the expertise, support, and resources needed for congregations to re-frame aging and to re-imagine congregational vitality. God has given us the gift of longer life. How is your congregation meeting the needs of its aging membership?
For more information about ENCORE Ministry and how your congregation can benefit from the services of this vital ministry, email me at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at www.encoretnumc.org.