‘Older adult’ label doesn’t work for aging boomers

By Richard H. Gentzler Jr., Special Contributor

Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, leading edge boomers will start turning 67 and nearly half of all boomers will be approaching or in their 60s! The generation that didn’t trust anyone over 30 is now becoming the new seniors.

Boomers, a post-World War II generation, were born in the years 1946-1964. There are approximately 78 million boomers in the U.S. Every eight seconds a boomer turns 65, roughly 10,000 per day.

Richard Gentzler

With such a large generation, boomers don’t fit every description or interest attributed to them. But there are some things that can be said about most boomers. For example, the concept of anti-aging has captured the interest of today’s boomers, making them a huge market for products such as nutritional supplements and “anti-aging” wrinkle creams and lotions. Boomers will do much to keep themselves young, and that includes looking and acting youthful.

Generally speaking, boomers do not identify with labels such as “older adults,” “senior citizens” or “elders.” Boomers do not see themselves as older adults but as “active adults.” Labeling boomers as older adults may actually hinder your ministry. While boomers identify themselves as “active adults,” they are becoming the new seniors and changing the way society understands aging.

Some boomers are already retired or are thinking about retirement. But, many boomers will continue working well beyond the “normal” retirement years. The reasons vary, but may include:

• Can’t afford to retire

• Have continuing career interests

• Want to stay productive

• Work gives them meaning

• Dwindling or little retirement investments

My annual conference recently celebrated the ministry of 36 retiring clergy. What caught my eye this year was the average age of most of the retiring clergy. In past years, many clergy in my annual conference were retiring in their late 50s and early 60s. Not this year. The average age of retirement was nearly 66 years of age, with many retirees in their late 60s and very early 70s.

Rising life expectancy and poor economic conditions will force many boomers to keep working longer.

Many predict that boomers will reshape the church’s view of old age, as healthier boomers continue to work, provide leadership, and stay active longer. Others worry that the vast expansion of a graying church will remain steadfast in outdated traditions and will fail to reach new populations and younger people.

Congregations wanting to be intentional in ministry with boomers will accept this generation for who they are. Churches will:

• offer a variety of entry points where boomers can meet others;

• engage boomers in ministries that utilize their particular skills and interests;

• provide opportunities for meaningful service and mission;

• create various ministry options knowing one ministry-type does not meet all needs;

• form small groups and support systems;

• realize that because of busy schedules, regular attendance for boomers may not mean weekly; and,

• recognize that many boomers may be working well beyond the “normal” retirement age.

Keep in mind, most boomers do not think of themselves as older adults and as such, have very little interest in the current design of “older adult ministries.” Rather than asking boomers to participate in an existing older adult ministry, new ministries designed specifically for boomers should be started. You may also want to create intentional intergenerational ministries where boomers and young people can be in ministry together.

While it is not clear what this ministry will look like as boomers age, it can be an exciting and challenging opportunity for congregations. How is your congregation preparing to meet the needs of aging boomers? What are ways you are helping boomers find meaning and purpose in their later years?

The Rev. Gentzler is director of the Center on Aging and Older Adult Ministries for the General Board of Discipleship. He’s the author of several books and articles on mid-life and older adult ministries.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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