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Churches Minister to Boomers

Some houses of worship meet older adults' personal as well as spiritual needs

Every Tuesday and Saturday, Jim Sitzman feels good while getting greasy for a great cause. And so do several others who lend him a hand.

See also: The keys to spiritual growth.

"We're all servants of the Lord," says Sitzman, who leads the car ministry at Ginghamsburg Church, a United Methodist congregation in Tipp City, Ohio. Volunteers repair donated cars and give them to people in need.

Sitzman, 61, a retired Delphi Automotive repairman, started the car ministry in 1995 while working full time. As for his helpers, "none of them did mechanics for a living." But they're eager to learn, and that's what counts.

Boomers like Sitzman have plenty of wisdom, skills and experience. "Today, boomers want to do more — and can do more," says Amy Hanson, a gerontologist in Omaha, Neb., and author of Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults Over 50.

By harnessing soul seekers' capabilities, some houses of worship are winning over the 50-plus crowd. They guide boomers in growing spiritually around Easter and other religious observances, while assisting with life issues — from joblessness to aging parents. In essence, churches are venturing outside of traditional sermons and potluck dinners to embrace and engage older adults.

Churches minister to boomers

Houses of worship are winning over the 50-plus crowd. — David Walter Banks/LUCEO

Channeling faith into action

Church attendance has been edging upward as more boomers enter their 60s — when religious service involvement begins to increase, the Gallup Organization suggests. Of the more than 800,000 Americans surveyed between February 2008 and May 2010, 43.1 percent reported weekly or almost weekly church attendance — up slightly from 42.8 percent in 2009 and 42.1 percent in 2008. Among those ages 50 to 64 surveyed, 43 percent said they frequently attend a religious service.

To foster a welcoming environment, "churches have to accept boomers for who they are and invite boomers into the decision-making process. In some ways, they have to really accommodate personal needs," says the Rev. Richard H. Gentzler Jr., 61, director of the Nashville-based Center on Aging & Older Adult Ministries at the General Board of Discipleship, an agency of the United Methodist Church.

Encouraging boomers to shape their own ministries bodes well for a generation inclined toward innovation. They like to explore options for aiding the less fortunate — and then channel faith into action, says the Rev. Chris Holck, 54, director of Encore, a boomers' outreach ministry at the Evangelical Free Church of America's headquarters in Minneapolis. "Encore seeks to inspire and deploy people in their second half of life so that they invest the talents they have been given."

Holck believes that volunteering in the "encore chapter" can bring the most spiritual fulfillment. "Just like in a good concert that we don't want to end, in life we want more," he says. "We want an encore, and we hope the best is saved for last."

Next: Forging their own way. >>

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