My Pastor’s Toolbox

Inviting, not forgetting, our church’s seniors

One of the most helpful tools in my pastoral ministry is what I call Third Thursday—when I invite all of our seniors to coffee and fellowship, and to talk about the ministry of the church with me and each other on the third Thursday of the month.

I’m assuming that, like me, you have some—if not many—seniors in your church. Although your over-65 membership might not be a significant percentage of your congregation, it’s highly likely that the percentage is growing. That’s because the entire U.S. over-65 demographic is predicted to rise from 13 percent of the population in 2010 to 20.2 percent in 2050. With this increasing number of seniors in our communities will come a growing gospel opportunity, as well as a growing discipleship opportunity.

In addition to having many seniors here at Whidbey Evangelical Free Church, our seniors are valued members. They are dependable in their attendance and giving and are deeply committed to prayer. They are active in the ministries of our church, especially in MOPS and Vacation Bible School.

There is a great temptation to spend our time as pastors with the subsection of our flock that we are most like, or most like being around, and for many of us that does not include our seniors. But as a pastor I am called to care for all of God’s flock. So I am convinced this includes proactive attention toward our seniors. I see the Third Thursday ministry as a way of honoring those who might well have been disciples of Jesus for decades. Some have been disciples of Jesus longer than I have been alive.

Before we started our Third Thursday meetings, the only time a group of seniors met with me was to air grievances. But since we’ve started this ministry, they tell me again and again how they value being invited into the updates and vision-casting.

I see this as a complete turnaround for our church—a 35-year-old congregation of 120, on an island north of Seattle.

Jim and Darci Schultz and family. Photo by Laura Callahan/Island Life Photography. (Banner photo by Rachel Walker)

What do we do at Third Thursday?

We socialize. For the first 30 minutes we mingle while drinking coffee. I also remove any large tables, so that we have smaller conversation pods. I hop from group to group to talk to as many people as possible as they gather with their friends. (The first time there was a large table, people sat around it like a board meeting and one person dominated the conversation.)

I talk. I usually start with celebrating what the Lord is doing in our church and noting volunteer opportunities. Then I’ll make a few announcements, often about something that will be announced that Sunday—a big change or a new direction. Finally, I share part of my upcoming sermon.

They talk. Here, the seniors can bring up questions. This is where it can get interesting. I won’t lie to you: There have been some rough times and hard conversations. But I believe that having this outlet cuts down on gossip and builds unity in the body. These conversations also create a space to make better decisions by hearing from different voices. An example might be an upcoming decision about which there is a large variance of opinion among the congregation. I know we’ll be making some compromises, so I can say to the seniors, “Help me make this compromise better.”

We pray. Chances are that the seniors in your church are much better at prayer than you are. Learn from it to grow your own passion for prayer.

One pastor friend who held similar meetings saw that they actually turned into a transgenerational “mixing time” for his church, a valuable cultivation of relationships. Others might experiment with how different church leaders can host the time—not only the senior pastor.

Whatever we call such a ministry and however we organize it, let’s honor those who have most faithfully followed Jesus and served in our churches. Let’s invite them to a dialogue with vision-casters and decision-makers and be willing, in turn, to learn from them and be lifted by their powerful prayers.

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