Most Seniors Desire to Grow Spiritually—Are Churches Meeting This Need?
Older adulthood is a time when many take stock of their life’s journey and endeavor to focus on what’s most important. Perhaps this is why one in three senior adults (33%) say faith “is core to who I am” (Barna asked this of all older adults, not just Christians).
In Aging Well: A Renewed Vision for Ministering to Older Adults, Barna’s new report created in partnership with Worship Anew, we explore the importance of continued spiritual growth for U.S. Christian ages 55+, and who they see playing a key role in this progress. This article takes a closer look.
Nearly All Seniors Agree It Is Important for Them to Continue Growing Spiritually
Data shows that older adults want to keep growing spiritually. The majority of Christians ages 55+ strongly agree (45%) or somewhat agree (42%) “It is important for me to see continual progress in my own spiritual life.” Additionally, most pastors and senior adult Christians strongly agree that it’s a pastor’s responsibility to help congregants share their faith (86% of pastors, 58% of Christians 55+). Teaching congregants to live purposefully (79% of pastors, 47% of Christians 55+ strongly agree) and live meaningfully (74% of pastors, 47% of Christians 55+ strongly agree) are also thought to be important responsibilities of pastors.
This suggests that, whether or not older adult Christians are satisfied with the current state of church ministry, they do see spiritual growth and development as the domain of the church and something they likely desire or expect.
Pastors Don’t Always Feel Equipped to Minister to Those in Later Stages of Life
When asked about the most influential people in their spiritual journey, most U.S. adults name family and friends. Generally, mothers (57%), fathers (33%), grandmothers (24%) and friends (20%) rank highest on the list. For older adults, though, the influence of a pastor is also prevalent.
More than one in four Elders (27%) and one in five Boomers (21%) say a pastor has been the most influential to their spiritual journey (vs. 1% of Gen Z, 8% of Millennials and 12% of Gen X who say the same). This finding points to the critical role pastors play in the lives of seniors. Amid the Church’s rally cry to reach younger generations, pastors are still most trusted by older adults.
Overall, senior Christians seem to be pleased with their pastors. Three in five Christians ages 55+ (59%) feel their pastor understands their unique needs or struggles at least somewhat well. As a person ages, however, this number drops.
This could, in part, be a result of pastors feeling less equipped to minister to someone through late adulthood (defined in the survey as the stage of life for those ages 75+). Thirty-five percent of pastors say this is an area where they feel the least equipped.
Coinciding with this, retirement planning (43%), living in retirement (41%), becoming a grandparent (35%), chronic illness (34%) and terminal illness (27%) are all on the list of life experiences pastors say they feel least equipped to minister someone through.
These findings may also explain why pastors tend to give a middling assessment of how their church ministers to senior adults. When asked how strong or weak their church is in its ministry to older adults, nearly half of U.S. pastors (48%) say “somewhat strong.” Notably, one in four (29%) says “very strong” and one in five (19%) says their church’s ministry to older adults is “somewhat weak.”
As you assess what better ministry to senior adults might look like in your context, consider this: Are you positioning and equipping senior adults to grow, lead and serve, or merely providing them opportunities to gather in community with others in their age group? Doing the former well can strategically position seniors to make a lasting impact and live purposefully throughout their later years.
About the Research
This was a survey of 2,001 U.S. adults conducted from July 1–19, 2022. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Included within the sample is an oversample of U.S. adults over the age of 55 years (ensuring a total n=1,000). For this survey, researchers used an online panel for data collection and observed a quota random sampling
methodology. Quotas were set to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors and samples were weighted by region, ethnicity, education, age and gender to reflect their natural presence in the American population (using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison).
© Barna Group, 2023.
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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