If any generation has a fairly clear and even uniform set of characteristics, it is those born before the 1960’s. Some have called this group the” traditional generation.” It is always challenging to determine exactly where generations begin and end, but for the purpose of this article, I think it should include those who are now in their late 60’s and up. They are what are more commonly called “senior citizens.”
Those leading stewardship ministries in congregations would be wise to keep in mind some of the traditional generation’s mindsets, beliefs, and lifestyles as they plan how to invite people to a more faithful stewardship. Specifically, for the senior generation, that includes an awareness that they tend toward a high degree of institutional loyalty. Senior citizens generally like the organized church, especially their local congregation. A higher percentage of these ” Traditionals” have grown up with a single denominational identity. Also keep in mind that studies indicate that this generation is more generous in their overall giving including to their local congregation than are those who are younger. The Lake Institute for Charitable Giving has found that 72% give to religious causes as opposed to 45% for those born after 1964.
As a result, presenting the call to faithful giving as a way to support the church often appeals to this age group. Many of them are aware of the threat to local congregations if not to the entire denomination. They worry about their church’s finances and building. They may even be concerned about the support of their pastor and staff. They are often concerned about future leadership for the church. Highlighting those sorts of concerns and appealing to them on the basis of such matters is likely to elicit a response and the potential for increased giving.
Another characteristic of the traditional generation with regard to their church and their faith is concern for youth. They are worried about their grandchildren and whether the church is actively engaged in ministry to them in creative and effective ways. In some regards, this generation may have as much or more concern than some of the parents! That is, in part, because many of them had positive experiences in the church of their youth which may be less true for today’s parents. Lifting up youth ministry and the need for strong financial support can be a key for this generation.
At the same time this generation of those in their late sixties and up is also frustrated and often disappointed with their congregation’s ministries to seniors. Many of them feel their needs are overlooked and that even pastoral care has failed them. It is important that every congregation have clearly defined and effective ministries for them. If there are such ministries, they will be appreciated and will garner financial support. It is especially critical to provide care such as that offered by a parish nurse or a volunteer network of caregivers as well, of course, as visitation by the pastor(s) as needed. If those things are missing, financial support may be lacking too!
Perhaps more than some other generations, the senior citizens of today are also open to preaching and teaching about stewardship, They, actually expect that and may be disappointed if their pastor does not address stewardship with some frequency. A once-a-year sermon on stewardship during the annual pledge program is not sufficient. Frankly, it is not sufficient for any people of faith, but this is especially true for many of the traditionalists.
One final thing in this brief essay needs to be said. This generation either tends to be living very frugally or to have significant resources. There are many who are just getting by. On the other hand, many have accumulated significant assets. We may even be surprised by those who have large assets because it is not obvious. Stewardship efforts should keep the extremes in mind, appealing especially to those with assets to give out of their assets. This is more common in capital appeals but can happen on an annual basis as well. For example, gifts of stock from those who have a stock portfolio are advantageous to both the giver in terms of taxes and, of course, to the congregation.
Do you have people over 65 in your congregation? Of course you do! As you plan your stewardship ministry these are some things to keep in mind. Regardless of our age, we can keep growing in the gift of generosity.
Gary F. Anderson