Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What’s Old Becomes New Again

Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the Lord… - Psalm 148:12-13a

I heard on the news this morning that the first of the baby boomers are starting to receive Social Security benefits. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 (I missed being one by a year). Already, retirees make up the largest demographic group in the United States in terms of age. It will only get larger. Now I could go into what that means for us as a national practically, socially, and economically, but I won’t, as I might need that for newsletter fodder when suffering from writer’s block.

Some facts:

• There are now about 629 million people in the world age 60 or over. Some representative countries:
• China now has 10 percent over 60; by 2050, 30 percent is projected;
• Mexico now has 7 percent over 60; by 2050, 24 percent is projected;
• United States now has 16 percent over 60; by 2050, 27 percent is projected; and
• Brazil has 8 percent over 60; by 2050, 24 percent is projected.

In the United States:

• In 1770s, the birthrate was 7 children per woman.
• In 1930s, the birthrate was 2.1 children per woman.
• After World War II, the birthrate jumped to 3.8 children per woman.
• Beginning in 1946, 76 million children were born over an 18-year period, creating the Baby Boomer generation.
• Of today’s boomers, one-third are well off, one-third will work longer to gain resources for retirement, and one-third are deeply in debt with no pensions.
• In 1900, 4 percent of the population was 65 or older, and 40 percent were children or teenagers.
• By 1990, 12.5 percent was 65 or older, and only 24 percent were children or teenagers.
• Projected by 2030: 22 percent will be 65 or older; only 19 percent will be children or teenagers.
• Today, the average age of a United Methodist is between 57 to 62.

Life Expectancy:

• Through 99 percent of human history, average life expectancy was less than 18 years.
• During the last century, average life expectancy has risen from 47 years in 1900 to 76 years today.
• Currently, there are 78 million Americans past the age of 50... a number nearly equal to the total American population 100 years ago.
• By 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts there will be more than 115 million adults over 50 years of age — a 50 percent increase.
• Currently, there are about 100,000 anti-aging projects underway.

Wealth and Politics:

• Age 50+ adults control more than $7 trillion in wealth; that’s 70 percent of the total.
• They own 77 percent of all financial assets, represent 66 percent of all stockholders, own 80 percent of all money in S&Ls, buy 48 percent of all luxury cars and 74 percent of all pharmaceuticals.
• During the 1990s the percentage of Americans with income of $100,000 or more has tripled.
• Nearly 70 percent of Americans 65 years of age or older voted in 1995.
• Only 33 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 voted.

What does this mean where the Church is concerned? I think it affords us a lot of opportunity. If we as Reidland UMC were to look at our programming ministries in terms of numbers, do you know which program is the largest? Older Adult Ministries. Our OWLS gatherings sometimes have as many as 60 people present. The reality is that, at least in the United States, we are begetting fewer children and our population is increasingly older. It may be that more and more churches will be hiring full-time older adult ministry coordinators. Not that youth and children’s ministries aren’t important, but among the baby-boomers that are rising (and now retiring), many of them have been unchurched their whole lives. Along with evangelizing the young, we may need to expand that to evangelizing the older, too! One day in the not-to-distant future, I may be holding confirmation classes for retirees.

Something to ponder: our church’s main mission could be to excel in ministering to older adults. As the baby boomers retire, there is certainly going to be no shortage of older adults. What if we became “the older adult” church in the Greater Paducah area? We might not be able to hold everyone.

Think further outside the box for a moment. Do you know what group of people has the freest time to volunteer? The most free income and resources? You guessed it – older adults. There is no telling what kind of ministries could be birthed and supported by a church full of such adults.

We certainly need to instruct our youth and raise our children, and no one is saying to ditch those ministries. But it is very hard to argue with facts and data – older adults are the largest segment of our population, and getting larger by the minute. While we have often said that youth are the lifeblood of the church, it may be that we need to rethink that saying. It may be that older adults are the lifeblood of the church: they have so much to offer and share to all of us, and the world.

I think that’s something for all of us to think about.


p.s. Most of the demographical information came from Ken Dychtwald’s “The Age Wave Is Coming,” his congressional testimony on March 19, 2002, in support of SB 953.

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