As churches revitalize and do so with younger people, one of the ramifications of this is the alienation of the older members. As a younger pastor is brought in to pastor, more folks his age possibly begin to arrive, and unintentionally, the older members begin to feel squeezed out. Having faced this season of unintentional alienation, here are a few ways I have found to encourage the elderly in the congregation and unite them with the younger in the midst of such a transition:
Honor them for their years. A primary complaint of the older about the younger in the church is that the younger think they know it all, yet having lived one-third of the years of the older. Older does not automatically mean “wiser” but in many cases it does. The young might be more theologically astute, but they have yet to raise children who serve the Lord in adulthood. The younger may have strong marriages, but time has not tested their marriage like those married 60 years. Years should mean something. Often times they do not to the younger, but they most certainly do to the older. I dare say once the younger become the older, it will then mean something. Help the younger learn this before they become older.
Honor them for their past service. When younger folks stand in an old existing church, they are standing on someone else’s shoulders. Many of the elderly who were once work horses in the church, cannot do what they once did and they begin to feel useless. Take opportunities to honor those who built the buildings, who kept the church open when the rest left. It is hard for the younger to look upon those who are now old, weak, and feeble and see a former giant who held fast through trials and difficulties within the church. Unless you help them understand.
Honor them for their steadfastness. Regardless how they got there, when you meet a 70, 80, 90-year-old Christian still following Jesus, still reading his word, still trying to grow in godliness, and still a part of his church, that is worth celebrating. A certain elderly member may not be able to challenge you with different views of the atonement, but they can probably tell you how the atonement was their hope through the loss of a spouse, child, or major sickness.
Pastors, help the younger grow to love and appreciate the older. I have found the elderly who often feel useless and shut-out, warmly welcome that younger pursuit. Take every opportunity to affirm these things in a public way: through sermons, testimonies, and public prayer. This was the means the Lord used to not just encourage our elderly in our church, but to unify them with the younger. Publically teaching the younger to appreciate the older is one of the best ways to encourage the elderly. Try it. You might be surprised of the fruit to come from it.