Now Is The Time to Connect With Boomers

You have probably heard the phrase, “If the church is going to survive, it must get younger.”  While this may be true in the long run, in the short term, one of the best strategies for congregational growth and vitality is to intentionally connect with boomers, those born from 1946 to 1964.

Boomers have always had an outsized impact on the American culture.  Because of their high numbers, at each stage of life they have dominated the cultural scene.  Clinton, Bush, and Obama have given us twenty-four years of a boomer in the presidency. And now Trump will give us four more. Perhaps the most surprising factoid about the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court is that at age 49, he is not a boomer.  He’s a GenXer.

When it comes to the church, boomers have been Jesus Freaks, new agers, and megachurchgoers, just to name a few of the spiritual movements they have embraced over the years.  To think this is going to stop once boomers enter their second half of life is to fail to understand the human condition.

As people age, they are more likely to pursue their spirituality.  The closer to death they come, the more they want answers to the biggest question of all, “Is their life after death?”

As boomers retire, they offer the church the greatest untapped knowledge, experience, and wisdom the world has ever seen.  Every day until 2030, ten thousand boomers will move out of the workforce and will find themselves in uncharted waters.  Boomers, who have always wanted to make a difference in the world, will now have the time and energy to do the things they have always wanted to do. Most interestingly, now that they are free from the demands of work, they are going back to the practices of their youth; and one of the most dominating themes of the boomer youth culture was the search for God.

Churches that desire to tap into the explosive growth of the over sixty crowd will need to re-imagine ministry to those we have traditionally called older adults. Boomers don’t want to be called seniors, older adults, or elders.  Those were the names for their parents’ generation.  They don’t want to be entertained by going on church outings or playing cards in the church gym.  They have a passion to contribute to the life of their churches and communities.  They want to live out God’s call in their lives.

Churches need to pay attention to  four key elements for aging baby boomers. First, teach spiritual practices such as prayer, fasting, tithing, and worship. These are the faith practices that will sustain boomers as they age.

Second, focus on developing healthy lifestyles and highlighting the importance of having close relationships with family and friends.

Third, support caregivers.  One of the most pressing needs for boomers is helping them take care of their parents who are part of the old, old, those who are over 85-years-old. When boomers are older than 85-years-old, they, too, will need caregivers.

Fourth, help boomers discover and embrace their legacy. Boomers, who were on the front lines of change when they were young, still hope to make the world a better place, especially for their children and grandchildren.

While you may think that all boomers go to church, in actuality, only 38 percent worship weekly. That means there are almost 48 million boomers who are not highly active in their churches, and large portion of that number have no church affiliation at all.

As boomers age, the church has great opportunities to connect with this generation.  A message of hope, love, and grace is needed for a generation that desires to make a difference in their personal lives and in the world around them.

Join Craig Kennet Miller in the webinar, “Boomers and the Search for God” on Tuesday, February 7 at 7:00 pm, Central.  Click the link for information about his new book, Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life.

Why Are So Many Boomers Dying of Despair?

Millions of boomers will not live longer than their parents.  In fact, in some communities the death rate of boomers in their fifties and their sixties rivals the death rate of the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s.

Angus Deaton, who co-authored a paper exploring the results of their study found that lower income and high school educated boomers death rates were rising. Deaton, who won the 2015 Nobel laureate in economic in 2015,  said, “Drugs and alcohol, and suicide . . . are clearly the proximate cause…Half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” he added. “About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”

What makes this especially troubling is that while the overall death rate in the United States is going down, boomer men who lost jobs or are in the early stages of retirement seem to be the most vulnerable.  Since 2007 the suicide rate for people age 40 to 64 increased by 40%.  78% of the 41,000 suicides in the U.S. in 2013 were men.

What seems to be the source of this onslaught of despair?  While the more affluent boomers have successfully weathered the storm of the Great Recession since 2008, less educated boomers are still feeling its effects.

While we are experiencing a real estate boom in many of our major cities, 15% of American are still underwater, owing more money than their home is worth.

Even more troubling for boomers in all economic levels, is the growing realization that their children  are  worse off economically than they were at the same age.  Millennials, the children and grandchildren of boomers, are earning 20% less than the boomer generation did when the boomers were in their thirties. As millions of boomers look to the future, they are not finding a path that leads to opportunity and purpose.

J. D. Vance in his bestselling book, Hillbilly Elegy, chronicles his rise from poverty.  In the introduction he  says, “I want people to know what it feels like to nearly give up on yourself and why you might do it. I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it…And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.” (Hillbilly Elegy, p. 2)

As churches and other groups look at the challenges that boomers face as they age, they must first come to realize that their attitudes, beliefs, and actions are primarily based on how they experienced life as they were growing up.  Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life,  focuses on four spiritual values that emerge from the events of the sixties and seventies, Brokenness, Loneliness, Rootlessness, and Self-Seeking.  These values still inform the lives of boomers. 

Before you begin to plan ministries and programs to connect with boomers, you first need to know their history.  Even though they are heading into retirement, the way they are facing the future is deeply affected by their past.

Join Craig Kennet Miller for a webinar on The Spiritual Roots of Boomers on Tuesday, January 31st at 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern, 5:00 pm Pacific).

 

Saturday Night Lives’ Mockery of Old Age is Heartless

In an ill-attempt at humor, this week’s SNL portrayal of a 106-year-old man and his care-giving nurse showed a complete ignorance of the dire circumstances millions of families face as they deal with the challenge of offering compassionate care to the growing number of the old, old – those over 85 years of age.

In the skit “Theater Donor,” Felicity Jones (star of Rouge One) plays the hapless nurse who serves as the caregiver of a wheelchair-bound wealthy centenarian who has funded a new production at the local theater.  As the play begins, he disrupts the actors as he complains that he can’t hear.  As the show continues, a series of interruptions ensues. A computerized voice from the wheelchair signals that its time for him to be fed.  So his nurse pulls out a large jar of a white substance that she smears on his face as he tries to keep her from getting it into his mouth.  A few moments later a computerized voice calls out that it’s time to “disinfect” as lights and smoke explode from the back of the chair. When the voice calls out that it’s time to change his medical stockings, the man puts up a fight as he maneuvers his electric wheelchair  off the stage.  After that, I turned off the show, wondering why the writers thought this was okay.

SNL, which likes to portray itself as the moral conscience of American culture, got it all wrong this time.  Perhaps they wanted to vent the frustrations of acting in front of a live audience and pulled up memories of some of the worst interruptions they had endured.  Whatever the reason, like most people who do not have the responsibilities of caring for people who can’t take care of themselves, they just don’t understand the issues of pain, discouragement, and frustration caregiving family members experience on a daily basis.

Millions of today’s boomers (those born from 1946 to 1964) are finding themselves cast into the role of caregivers as their parents live into their eighties, nineties, and hundreds.  Because of the increasingly high cost of retirement homes and rest homes, most people over the age of eighty-five  do not have the financial resources to live in this kind of housing.  Instead, their children are scrambling to figure out how to keep their jobs while taking care of mom or dad.

Even more concerning for boomers is the dawning realization and fear that if they make it past eighty-five  years of age, there will twice as many people in this age range, and there will be greatly diminished resources to provide for their needs. Today there are over 44 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States. Most of them are women who are proving care for parents and in-laws.

As people move into their eighties, their level of care changes.  First, they need help as they stay in their own homes or apartments.  The caregiver’s main function is to monitor them by keeping track of their food, making sure they get to doctor’s appointments, and providing transportation when the keys to the car are taken away.

The next stage is when parents move in to live with their children. At first, this is an easier compromise because the caregiver no longer has to travel to the parent’s residence. But as the years go, the adult children’s lifestyle undergoes dramatic change, especially when their parent needs more supervision and care.

It’s at this stage that paid direct caregivers are hired to give ongoing support so the  son or daughter can return to work or have a break from the daily grind. Now we can begin to see the emerging crises in caregiving in its full force. By 2022, the number of direct-care workers will need to increase by 37 percent to more than  4.8 million workers, which is equal to the number of salespeople in retail and more than the 4.5 million who work as K-12 teachers. Because this type of care is one-to-one, the demands on the worker is high, while the pay is low. In short, as more people need one-to-one care, there are fewer qualified workers to fill the jobs.

When boomers begin reaching their eighties in 2026, the number of direct-care workers will need to dramatically increase to keep up with the demands of this growing population.  This just touches the iceberg of issues the American culture will face as its population undergoes dramatic population growth in the next twenty years.

So rather than making fun of those who need help and those who care for them, SNL and its fans need to find compassion for those caught in this emerging crisis faced by millions of American families. For someday, most of them will find themselves needing help or caring for someone they love.

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life. Join him for a series of webinars on boomers that start on Tuesday, January 24.

 

 

Introduction to Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life

Change can happen as the result of sudden events, like Pearl Harbor or 9/11, which can turn history on a dime and set the forces of culture in a new direction.  Or change can happen as the result of political decisions lived into over time — like the evolving history of the United States since its birth as a nation or the Chinese revolution of Mao that shaped the lives of more than a billion people since 1949.

The change we are talking about in Boomer Spirituality – demographic change ­ is different. Demographic change comes with a timeline that gives us a past, the present, and a presumed future of a generation.  As the result of a high birth rate in the United States from 1946 to 1964, the baby boomer generation has had an impact on every phase of life. 

Born after World War II, boomers have made their mark on each stage of the lifespan by virtue of their sheer numbers.  Whether it was scooping up coonskin hats, hula hoops, and Barbie Dolls when they were children, or embracing the ethos of rock’n’roll when they were teenagers, or getting in on housing boom of the 1990s, this generation has long asserted its influence on the American culture.

Boomers are now in the second half of life (age fifty and older). Because of longer life spans, more people are living into their eighties and nineties.  Some will live past one hundred.

In 2016, the oldest boomer turned seventy, while the youngest turned fifty-two.  By 2026, the oldest boomer will be eighty, and the youngest will be sixty-two.

At first glance, this may not seem to be a big deal – until you do the math. From now until 2029, ten thousand boomers will retire every day.  The number of people over the age of sixty-five in the United States will grow from 48 million in 2015 to 74 million in 2030.  By 2050, the number of adults over the age of sixty-five will increase to more than 89 million.[i]

It’s hard to understand the implications of these numbers.  At no time in history has there been such a large number of people over sixty-five years of age actively engaged in life.

Because of scientific breakthroughs in medical technology, food preparation, and health care, people are living longer, much longer.  While we may laugh at statements like “sixty is the new fifty,” the second half of life for boomers will be much different from that of previous generations.

Are We Ready?

The reality is our society is ill prepared for the demographic wave that is coming our way.  The idea that retirement is a reward for work well done is long over.  The concept of the endless vacation free of responsibility is just not feasible for most people.  The image of a walled oasis of golf, swimming, and frequent trips to the local casino is not a reality for most of those approaching retirement age.

Recently I was at meeting with a group of pastors and leaders.  The chair of the meeting had been retired for about six months.  Before retirement she served in a leadership position in her denomination.  She had responsibility for managing a group of staff plus putting together programs and training for hundreds of pastors and laity.

Suddenly in the middle of the meeting, she broke down in tears: “You don’t know what it’s like out there.  My church and the senior center treat us like we are mindless infants with nothing to do.”  

She explained that the goal of the older-adult ministries at her church and the senior center in her community was to keep people entertained and give them something to do with their time.   “They don’t recognize us for what we can offer, for the people we are.  I’m not dead yet!”

This vibrant, talented, and experienced woman had run headfirst into a world that was designed for the senior life of years past.  When she is 85, maybe this is what she will need.  But now, she needs to be challenged, to have opportunities to serve, and she needs to be valued.

Boomers have always wanted to make a difference in the world.  And in many ways they have.   Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, and Oprah Winfrey are just some of the names that crop up when we think of boomers. 

Some might think that as boomers head toward their older-adult years, their time is past.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Whether it’s in the business world, the political world, the religious world, or the entertainment world, boomers will still make their mark.

In fact, we are on the verge of transforming what it means to be over sixty.  In the coming decades, some aspects of older age will get better, especially in the arena of medical advances, the use of digital technology to connect with family and friends, and the convenience of businesses that bring goods and services directly to the home.

But other aspects of aging are going to prove daunting.  The boomers who have managed their finances well, who have saved for their retirement years, who have developed a network of supportive friends and family, who see their lives as having purpose and meaning, will enjoy a golden age unlike any generation before them.

But the boomers who have not been able to save, who lost jobs during the Great Recession, who live with broken relationships, and who are totally dependent on government services such as Social Security and Medicare, are a different story.  Their financial, medical, housing, social, and spiritual needs will affect every aspect of American society well into the future.

Boomers Returning to the Values of their Youth

 
As much as we would like to think that people change their values over time, it would be more accurate to say generations are shaped by the experiences and events of their childhood and youth.  These experiences and events turn into ideals that stay with a generation throughout its life.  Now that boomers are entering their post-work life they are returning to the values of their youth.

Boomer Spirituality invites you to explore the values of brokenness, loneliness, rootlessness, and self-seeking which form the spiritual roots of boomers.  Born out of the crucible of 1960s and 1970s, these values still inform their relationships with society and with the people around them.  Much of the rancorous debates we see in our political sphere are the result of unresolved issues between first-wave boomers who embraced the counter-culture as young adults and those who held on to the values of their parent’s generation.

 Godliness, supernaturalism, and wholeness capture the boomers unique search for God as they look toward a future that is filled with peril and promise. The heated debates in Christian denominations over cultural issues find their beginnings in the religious revolts of the 1970s and 1980s when a large portion of boomers gravitated to the new age movement or eschewed the traditional mainline churches in favor of the non-denominational mega-churches that now dominate the American religious scene. 

 As boomers age these issues will not suddenly disappear.  They will be amplified as younger generations wrestle with how to take care of an aging generation who wants to stay young, who relishes its freedom, and whose rampant individualism has led to broken relationships and diminished financial resources.
                 
If you are a boomer, you are sure to be reminded of the events and experiences that had an impact on you when you were young.  If you are the child or grandchild of a boomer, perhaps this book will help you understand why your parents or grandparents act the way they do.  If you are creating ministry for this generation, then this will be a guide to the way boomers view the world and look toward the future.

 

Craig Kennet Miller is the Director of Congregational Development at Discipleship Ministries with the United Methodist Church. He is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age and Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life.  He is the creator of TeamWorks a set of guidebooks for developing church leaders.  He is a United Methodist pastor and has a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Fuller Theological Seminary.

[i] U.S. Census:Table 3. Projections of the Population by Sex and Selected Age Groups for the United States: 2015 to 2060 (NP2014-T3) December 2014