Fulfilled living in later life
One Pastor built a vibrant church with seniors; another asked them to worship elsewhere

Tuesday 18th February 2020

One Pastor built a vibrant church with seniors; another asked them to worship elsewhere

Louise Morse

A strategy amongst shrinking churches in America is to close the church for a few months and relaunch it a few months later with a different type of service and worship aimed at younger people.

It’s called ‘replanting’, and involves asking older members to move out and worship elsewhere for up to two years. An example is Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, which will close in June and reopen in November. No physical renovation is taking place, and the name will stay the same. New church leader, 32-year-old Peter Jeremy, appointed by the Methodists’ Regional Body said, "It's a new thing with a new mission for a new target and a new culture," he said, adding that older members will not be physically barred from attending but the expectation is that they won't.

An atheist website picked up the story and wrote, "They are seriously trying to kick out the old people in order to rebrand themselves as a place for young people. Why would anyone want to join a church like this?"

You can build a vibrant church intentionally with older people, is the message from Kark Vater, pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California. Rather than banning older people, the answer is to engage them and use their gifts, he said. He gives five rules for building a vibrant church with seniors – 1) Do it on purpose, 2) Train, don’t just teach, 3) Send them, don’t just tend them, 4) Keep a forward focus, 5) find new ways to reach and keep them.

"A vibrant older congregation needs to reach out to the older folks in their community, not just caring for the ones they’ve got (although that should certainly be done, too, ‘ he insists. ‘But they’ll never step into their ministry gifting unless we expect it from them and equip them for it,’ he wrote.

We'll be looking at how to grow a vibrant church with older people at a special event in Bath on Thursday, 12 March. Louise Morse will give a talk on "Releasing the potential of older people in our churches" ’ at All Saints Centre, Bath. Click here for more details.