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Engage, Don't Exclude Senior Church Members

Adults aged 80 and above are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, thanks to significant advances in medical science and an aging baby boomer population. Many of them will spend their final years in one of the 2,000 continuing care retirement communities across the nation. As the demographic expands, social workers, psychiatrists, health care workers, and the children of these elders are grappling with ways to keep seniors meaningfully engaged with society.

Churches that are anxious about their future often get distracted by church growth fads, to the exclusion of seniors. But, says church coach Patricia Suggs in an article written for Faith & Leadership, an online offering of Duke Divinity School, "if you exclude them, you're missing out on a lot of knowledge, wisdom, and capability." Twin Lakes retirement community has discovered the power and ability of its elderly residents. Over the last 10 years. residents have been building oversized Christmas decorations, installing them for the early December viewing season, and hosting thousands of visitors. The event has become the largest annual fundraiser for church-related food pantries in Burlington, N.C., annually raising 30 tons of food, along with cash donations, to help the city's poor and homeless. The Faith & Leadership article, written by Yonat Shimron, includes discussion questions to help church leaders and adult study groups reflect on who might be excluded from community leadership and participation, and how congregations can better engage with seniors in the church family and the nearby community. Also see our feature article, "Growing Old Gracefully."

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