Picture the seniors who volunteer at church. Do you first picture the sweet grandmothers who stuff inserts in the bulletin? They are wonderful, valuable volunteers. But also picture:
- The “elder statesmen/women” who serve in leadership and influence roles
- Retirees whose calendars are filled with travel, grandchildren, and other fun
- The frail elderly who don’t go out much but love to talk on the phone and are mighty prayer warriors.
- Early retirees seeking to use their significant skills in significant ways
Seniors are an increasing percentage of the population, which makes them a great and growing volunteer pool. Older seniors are living longer and have more mobility than previous generations; they are highly dedicated to their churches. Younger seniors have many and varied skills. Many are retiring earlier or moving from full-time to part-time work.
Inviting seniors to serve is a great opportunity for the church. But be aware of the challenges, too.
- Many seniors are tied down and tired because they care for parents, spouse or grandchildren.
- Long-time volunteers may be unaware (or choosing not to notice) that their declining abilities are affecting their ability to do their task.
- Change can be difficult for them.
- Younger seniors are very particular about how they spend their time.
The basics of healthy volunteer recruitment and retention apply to seniors as much as anyone else. Extend personal invitations, based on their unique situations and gifts, rather than relying on a general bulletin announcement. Give them training and ongoing support. Affirm and honor them for their contributions. Just like the rest of us, seniors want activities that are meaningful and relationships that matter.
Some steps you can take to get to know your seniors and better engage them as volunteers:
- Talk to groups of seniors. Find out where they volunteer outside the church. Ask what they like, and don’t like, about volunteering in general. Ask what needs they see that they could fill.
- Talk to your senior volunteers individually. How are things going for them in the places where they serve? How can you help them? Is it time for a change?
- Encourage generations to serve together; for example, have grandparents and grandchildren (actual or ‘adopted’) serve together as greeters
As seniors age, the fear of losing their health and independence grows. Many feel they have little of value to contribute. But in the church, “. . . you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). In fact, in this body, “. . .those parts of the body that seem weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor.12:22). Even the frail elderly have a contribution to make. There are no unneeded parts of the body of Christ.