Digital Senior Statistics

This article is the first of a Digital Seniors series… articles focused on Older Americans and the Internet

1. Digital Senior statistics

2. Barriers and Benefits for Senior Internet Use

3. Why and How Seniors Use the Internet

4. Internet Learning Opportunities for Seniors

5. Senior Friendly Computing

6. Senior Internet Safety Tips

7. Information Resources About Seniors and the Internet

INTRODUCTION… The evolution of the information age and incorporation of its digital technology has transformed the majority of the world’s population. Race, age, education, socio-economic status, location, and employment have each influenced its penetration. Progressive growth of the 65+ population continues to be explosive (see demographics). This is the first in a series of articles concerning the internet and older Americans (65+). We review current literature and public information with focus on Senior population statistics, then Senior internet users. The incentive is to describe who these Digital Seniors are and what they do. We will distill present research in search of important and relevant data.

REFERENCES… a definitive and complete bibliography are found in the article titled….”Information Resources About Seniors and the Intenet”. Though many resources were researched and referred to in this report, the definitive source of reliable data is produced by the Pew Research Center (1). Pew Research Center Library Survey, sponsored by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Gates Foundation, obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 6,224 people ages 16 and older living in the United States. Reported 4/3/14


Information Age… refers to a segment of human history, much like the industrial age. It is characterized by worldwide embrace of digital technologies as a portal to communication and information. The beginning of the Information Age can be associated with the miniaturization of the computer after development of the silicon chip in the late 1970’s. The spread of the computer/internet’s influence began involving the mass of the population by the 1990’s. Today, all industries and cultures are computer/internet dependent because of the unprecedented availability of information. The resultant changes are monumental, nearly instantaneous, and still evolving.

Digital Seniors… In summary, it’s difficult to define “Seniors” as a homogenous group. Our operational definition is adults who are 65+ years. Digital Seniors are those Seniors who participate in internet use. Our favorite classification of Seniors is based on chronologic and cognitive age. The following text is from an abstract of an article by Eastman (4): “Despite the growth of the internet, one area that has not really been discussed is the elderly’s use of the internet. Given the rapid growth of this population as well as the potential the internet holds for them, it is a subject worth consideration. However, seniors cannot be defined simply by their chronological age, but by their cognitive age. This paper discusses the impact of cognitive age of a national random sample of American elderly consumers on their internet use. The results suggest that those seniors with a younger cognitive age use the internet more than those seniors with an older cognitive age. Additionally, seniors with a younger cognitive age have more social contact off-line (but not online) than those seniors with an older cognitive age. Finally, in terms of demographic variables, chronological age is positively associated with cognitive age and women report a younger cognitive age than men. These results suggest that for policy makers interested in increasing the participation of seniors, they can utilize the internet to reach those who are younger in terms of cognitive age; however, they will not be able to reach all seniors in this manner and they need to utilize the internet as a complementing media to their traditional communication sources.” Another classification defines two groups of older Americans. The first group is a younger cognitive age and is composed of more highly educated, possibly more affluent Seniors who have relatively substantial technology assets. They usually embrace the internet and find benefits in its use. The second group is of an older cognitive age, perhaps less affluent, and often with significant challenges… health, disability or financial difficulties. They are largely disconnected from the world of digital tools and services, both physically and psychologically. (4, 6)

SENIOR CENSUS DEMOGRAPHICS… These data are derived from US Census Bureau 2010 reports and USCB 2012, 2013 estimates. Based on 2012 data, of an estimated 330 million Americans, 15% or 40.3 million are 65+. The percentage increases of this age group are sizable in the US… 31 million in 1990, then 35 million in 2000, up to 40.3 million (13.9%) in 2012. The projected population of older Americans is forecasted to be 20% by 2050. World population estimates in 2010 are 6.9 billion people with 546 million (8%) who are 65+. In 2012, the United Nations estimated that there were 316,600 living centenarians (100+) worldwide and 53,000 in the US. (3)

Which generation are you in? Millennials… ages 18-33, 30% of adult population, 35% of users internet users; Gen X… ages 34-45, 19% of adult population, 21% of internet users; Younger Boomers… 20% of adult population, 20% of internet users; Older Boomers, ages 56-64, 14% of adult population, 13% of internet users; Silent Generation… ages 65-73, 7% of adult population, 5% of internet users; G.I. Generation… age 74+, 9% of adult population, 3% of internet users *Source: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, April 29-May 30, 2010 Tracking Survey. N

General internet users in 2011 per Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project 2011, 2260 adults >18 yrs.: Demographics of internet users are: 80% of men, 76% of women, 80% of whites, 71% of Black/African Americans, 68% of Hispanics, 94% of 18-29 yr olds, 87% of 30-49 yr olds, 74% of 50-64 yr olds, 41% 65+ 62 of Americans with incomes <$30.000/y, 83% with incomes $30-49,000/y, 90% % with incomes $50-74,000/y, 97% with incomes >$74,000/y 43% of non high school graduates, 71% of high school graduates, 88% of adults with some college, 94% of college graduates *Source: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, April 29-May 30, 2010 Tracking Survey. N

In summary, the Pew Research Center interviewed >1500 Seniors by phone (1). Respondents revealed these specific demographics: How many Seniors use the internet… average 59%; Of those users… 71% use internet daily, 82% weekly. 65% of Senior males and 55% of Senior females are users. As age increases, usage decreases… about 75% of 65year olds and nearly 35% of 80year olds. As the time passed, usage increased… 15% in 2000 to 50% in 2013. Other factors related to more usage including… increased education levels, increased incomes, urban more than rural communities. Younger cognitive age is related to more social contact and internet usage (4). Among Seniors, education makes a difference… the level of education mirrors the degree of internet usage. Working is a major correlate with internet usage. 14% of Seniors are included in the workforce, usually working in management. Occupation levels are also influential in usage… 80% of managers, 70% of sales/technical, and 20% operators/laborers. If internet is used at work, 77% use internet at home.

Digital Seniors, by definition, are active in computer and internet use for a multiplicity of reasons. There are 4 basic indications… 1 communication, 2 information seeking, 3 entertainment, 4 transactions. Most Seniors maintain willingness, ability, and even pleasure in learning for its own sake. This might explain the growth of online courses. 8 in 10 Senior adults who use the internet agree that people without internet access are at a real disadvantage because of all the information they are missing (5).

Seniors use the internet less frequently than the remainder of the population. Of those users >80% visit the internet 3-5 times per week and >70% of users visit daily. In fact nearly 80% agree that there is significant disadvantage to no internet usage due to less information access, while about 35% of non-users disagree with that opinion (2). Research reveals that there is a skeptical view towards the benefits and relevance of computer related technologies. This lack of need is a more important factor than price in the effect on usage. Again, it’s suggested that computer internet usage should be utilized as a complementing media to traditional communication. (4)

Establishing An Effective Seniors Ministry

During the last thirty years the median age of the population in the United States has come to a place where there are more people over the age of fifty than there are those in their teen years. These demographics have placed an urgent need upon the church in general to develop ways to utilize the resources that these people can provide to the development of the church and the community at large.

The situation has also made it an imperative that the church makes an exhorted effort to communicate the Gospel to those people who are outside of the church. Without this spreading of the Gospel to these people, many churches will cease to exist, as there will be no younger people to continue as the older people leave the scene. It has been and is an imperative the church live up to its primary responsibility to carry the Great Commission to the unsaved.

The seniors can be a great help in this area because most of them have been in the church for many years and have a vital part to play in God’s mission of reconciliation. They can make a significant contribution to the influx of the younger generation into the church as their witness of the Lord’s grace and love is demonstrated to them. Their life experiences can narrow the widening contrast between churches that are perceived by many Americans as having no relevance to the issues and challenges that confront them from day to day.

To many people the in-action of the church to make any real difference in their neighborhoods have cause them to believe that the church is out of date, ineffective and irrelevant.

Many churches have become stagnant and others have become obsolete because they have failed to develop the treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge that resides in the seniors who are members in their congregations. This failure has caused many a church body to fail to confront the issues of their changing society even though they have retained their basic theological truths.

If the church as a whole would began to appreciate these senior saints, I believe that the paradigms would shift in a dramatic way and cause the increasing senior population in this country to become a much greater influence in the effectiveness of church ministry. This would come about because at least twenty-five percent of most congregations are seniors. Yet, the senior adult ministry is woefully inadequate now and unless major changes are made to correct this disproportion it will become even more so. This will occur only to the detriment of the entire congregation.

“The new senior is so different from what most church leaders have grown up thinking older adults to be that an old approach to this new group will be as fruitless as fishing with a net full of holes.”

There are many concerns of seniors that have to be addressed as the church begins to utilize the talents of these members. These include comfort, for many are inclined to and desire to be in stress-free situations and are willing to be active in the many programs that the church sponsors including teaching in the classrooms. Then there are leisure activities that are important to reach the seniors and provide an outlet for some of their pent up energy. These could include field trips that are goal oriented. These trips could provide the church with creative and opportunities to match these interests with the mission and overall purpose and direction of the church.

Then there is health maintenance, which becomes a greater concern as we become older. Nutrition and exercise classes as well as Wellness Seminars would be helpful in maintaining and increasing the interest not only in the seniors but also in the baby boomers that are increasing in age.

Since many are retired and no longer have to deals with parenting, these seniors could use their retirement years to greatly use their experiences and skills in the church.

Developing Relationships

Because of the demographics and the so-called generation gap, it is often difficult for seniors to make and keep relationships with those who are in a younger age bracket. However, the church can help them to focus outside of this situation and encourage them to learn and practice agape love. Showing and giving love can be a great help in self-development in that it causes us to grow into each other. Without it we are empty, incomplete and without meaning. It causes us to grow into a great spiritual maturity. It also gives us a sense of progress as we grow in our spiritual lives. Many seniors are invested in the life of the church and give their time because of the personal and spiritual benefit they receive when they know they are loved. They make many of the contributions of their time and talents because they are appreciated and they know it.

For many seniors real life begins at retirement. They see aging as an ascending process toward new horizons. I guess it could be said that the Apostle Paul put it best when he wrote in Philippians 3:12-15, “Not as though I had already attained, either were I already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I also am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth for those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

In this understanding, seniors don’t yearn for what used to be. Likewise the church should seek to find ways to harvest the experiences that the seniors bring forth through a lifetime in a heightened sense of contribution and worth. At this stage of their lives most seniors have passed the midlife crisis and begin to define themselves in the sense of purpose.

I have found that this group attends Bible study and Sunday school in a great number then those who are yet in their thirties and forties. They have in a way become a great cloud of witnesses to the younger generation. This spiritual vanguard is leading us into a new understanding of what it truly means to service Christ. This trend has shown us the increasing need to focus on the spiritual needs of our seniors. As we develop these relationships with our seniors, we see them from perspective that is different from what the church has seen before.

Leadership Opportunities

There should be a willingness to share leadership roles with the senior members of the church. A quality for being a leader of a seniors’ group is the willingness to learn. There may be times when a younger person may be appointed to head a group, but it must be understood that this person is to help organize and coordinate the activities of the group. If the senior adults are to respond positively it should also be understood that they have ownership of the agenda. Many seniors can qualify as leaders. Some may even view this as a way to maximize their ministry and life. This gives them the recognition they need to voice their concerns and to provide advice in the making of church decisions and priorities. This also challenges them to an even higher commitment to Christ and the church.

The Importance Of Seniors Ministry

As I stated at the beginning of this essay, more than fifty percent of the population in this country are over fifty years old. Two-thirds of all persons sixty-five or older who have ever lived are alive today. This group of people represents an enormous opportunity for the church as population is expected to continue to increase in this age group over the next decade. However, as we view the American church, we see the absence of congregational ministries that effectively focus on the spiritual needs and life experiences of their congregants over the age of fifty-five. These individuals have few opportunities presented to them by the church in which they can devote greater portions of their time serving others.

Basically seniors are distinguished from their peers according to their outlook on life and their implementation of activities and attitudes as they approach this outlook. Today, seniors don’t see themselves and old. We see them serving as hospital volunteers, scout leaders, in college classrooms and in a variety of other settings.

Many view this time as a time of restoration. They value to free time they now have as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to serve and just to enjoy life. Many see this as a time to contribute their time, talent, skills, energy and knowledge to improve the life of others.

The church should be the first place to provide these opportunities to help fulfill the dreams and goals of these men and women. It is these people who hold the key to a change in the way the church views aging.

These are the people who have sat under many a thousand church sermons and participated in many more programs and activities. Even the older adults who are un-churched have had varying experiences and exposure to church and spiritual teaching.

If the church is to change the secularization of society it must develop programs and concepts that increase the spiritual growth among the population. This is a great challenge and one in which the seniors’ ministry can place a vital part.

They were born and grew up in a time with vastly different values from those of today’s society. Yet, their influence is such that they can make un-tolled inroads in the changing of viewpoints that are held by many in society today. This can be done through mission groups, service projects in the community, and other activities that are recognizable in worth and benefit that are clearly visible. The seniors must own these projects and although serving seniors in the congregation is mutually beneficial, there should also be an outreach to those in the community.

The Churches’ Role

Many churches are better prepared to handle this influx of new seniors and are well on their way to implementing a senior’s ministry as to get ahead of this ‘age wave’. They have placed themselves in a position where these ministries will be leading the church the rest of the church. Other churches which have failed to take advantage of this opportunity will be seen as out of step with the times and will have failed in this great opportunity for service and in making a positive impact in this area of ministry.

So what about the church? First of all the church has to realize that the lifestyles of older adults and their influence is making a greater impact on the moral as well as the societies cultural standards. The average congregation consists of from thirty to fifty percent of members who are over the age of fifty-five. Many of these churches do not have the foresight to recognize the changing tide and will miss the wave because they fail to rise to its challenge. When and if the church responds to this challenge it will find itself in the midst of a surge that will give them the thrill of reaching the older generation as never before and will know what it means to meet human needs through the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God as never before.

It Depends On Your Point Of View

(Christian or Secular)

In today’s world there are two views to the aging process. The Christian view looks forward with anticipation for tomorrow while it yet provides hope for today. We are taught how to experience life as it answers the basic questions concerning our identity. This view helps us to develop an appropriate perspective on life and as we grow older we develop an appreciation that we somehow missed during the years of our youth. It helps another or us to answer three basic questions that we all have asked at one time. These questions are: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? For the Christian the answer to each of these questions is found the God’s word, the Bible.

Christopher Lasch, a sociologist, gave a secular view when he wrote, “Men and women begin to fear growing old before they even arrive at middle age. The so-called mid-life crisis presents itself as a realization that old age looms just around the corner. Americans experience the fortieth birthday as the beginning of the end. Even the prime of life thus comes to be overshadowed by the fear of what lies ahead.”

This pessimistic view of aging has had a destructive and discriminatory effect on older adults. It can be said of those who hold this secular view, that life’s final years are a cruel joke and they merely prolong and delay what they call the inevitable or death. They give the impression that growing old is something to be feared and that it would be better to die young. However, we as Christians look forward to an old age as another promise kept by God.

We understand that all that has gone before was the preliminaries and the best is yet to come. Our past experiences have shown us how to live and be better than we ever thought we could be and that we should enjoy the contributions we can make to those who have yet to travel this path of life. We understand that we have been called to a purpose and we strive to reach the conclusion of that purpose.

People with the pessimistic secular view see man as living unto himself. From the Christian view, man lives unto God with the belief in immortality. We don’t allow our philosophy to be affected by age. Aging does not affect us except to deepen our understanding of life and its issues. This understanding gives us the fortitude needed to face the challenges of life as they are presented to us. As we grow older we continue to move toward that goal that the Lord has placed in each of us.

With this in mind, we should honor and respect older adults for the abundance of wisdom they have accumulated through life’s experiences. Yet, in today’s society and at times even in the church, they are not as respected and honored as they have been in the past. In fact in many ways they are devalued and often discriminated against because of their age.

This rationalization, if you want to call it that, is due in part to the self-centered life style that is pervasive in the Western culture. We live in a culture that values looks, social status, material possessions and power. Not withstanding that each of these things diminishes with time. The value of accumulated wisdom however is often overlooked in what is known today as ‘ageism’. Its proponents have instilled in many the fear of growing old. They have come to believe that this life is all there is and once it’s over, it’s over.

This fear or vanity, if you want to call it that, is seen in all areas our society. These areas include trying to look and act younger than we really are by a nip and a tuck here and there, hair transplants, the clothing we choose and a myriad of other things we do, just so that we can appear to be young.

All of these things are done in a major part because we have lost our self-esteem and forget that we are created in the image of God. We will but bring that back to mind, we will see that it is the inner man that will continue to grow and develop. That is the part of us that is most useful in the long run.

Yet most of the American society deems the older or senior members to be insignificant. Instead of using their capacity for productive endeavors, they are forced to retire and thus the country and the workforce is drained of all that knowledge.

The sad thing about this is that the church has been guilty of these same practices. Instead of building up the seniors in its congregations literally brought itself almost to a point of stagnation by failing to use the resources that are available to it through the talents and knowledge exists in its senior members. This failure also diminishes the church’s supply of available workers in the promotion of its agenda. It also has the effect or the potential of destroying the church’s inter-generational relationships.

The Church’s Response

The church has not been responding to this surge of older members in the church. Many churches are not aware of the potential for ministry opportunities that are available in this senior surge. The church’s facilities are empty for most of the week when they could be creatively used for ministry to these seniors. In order for this to happen the church must have a vision and a desire to enhance the growth of its senior members. Many of these ministries don’t grow because of inertia. That is, there are psychological barriers that keep these ministries from growing and expanding. Oftentimes this is due to a reluctance to break with tradition or to maintain the status quo.

Then there is the attitude that some seniors have about themselves. The attitude that says, “I have served, now it’s time that I be served.” I am not of that attitude because I understand that I am the same person that I have always been. I’m just older and a great deal wiser than I used to be.

Many times the church has not given a positive response in this area because its leaders and sometimes even the pastors don’t understand the problems associated with seniors. This situation exists in part due to the seminaries lack of instruction for pastors dealing with seniors in the congregation. This lack of understanding has caused many seniors to feel ignored or taken for granted.

Most pastors in today’s church are much younger than most members of the congregation. Thus the church continues to welcome the young and middle-aged adult while at the same time discounting the seniors. This has caused an atmosphere in which seniors feel ignored.

In order to counteract this situation the church needs to and should greatly increase its efforts to involve the seniors in the business of the church and provide greater opportunities for them to serve in various capacities. In doing so the church gives them the opportunity to contribute their experience, knowledge, wisdom as well as their financial support.

Church Growth

Today there is much growth in the church, yet this growth process seems to have placed the seniors participation on the back burner. That is, many seniors groups have remained small or become stagnant in the roles they serve in the membership of the local church. The church for the most part has become focused on the younger members. The situation is such that the seniors have been relegated to minor roles in the ministry. The church as a whole has forgotten that these seniors many of them have been walking with the Lord for many years and are or should be a vital part of the evangelistic ministry. Due to the experiences that they have had during their lifetime, they are the very source that is needed to bear a clear testimony to God’s mercy and grace through Jesus Christ.. The senior should be preeminent in this area because it gives them purpose. It gives them the avenue that is needed for them to display the true meaning of Matthew 28:19-20.

Christ’s entire life was centered on the reconciliation of mankind to God. This commission was given to his disciples was not based on age but rather on purpose. To be performed to the best of our ability, it requires commitment. Today, many senior citizens have proven their ability and are ready to communicate God’s love to others.

Aligning their purpose with Christ’s purpose is crucial. When this alignment is as it should be, it will the determinate factor in how successful the church is in reaching the un-churched senior adults. Seniors should be encouraged to participate in these groups because it not only provides a refuge for fellowship with other Christians, but it also opens up the opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. This activity benefits each member and gives him or her support in times of need.

Growing churches believe that their best days are yet ahead. This optimism is demonstrated best in its senior members. Every church has pockets of older adults who want to and should be allowed to use the gifts and abilities that God has instilled in them for the growth and maturation of the body at large. There is no good reason why the church should not grow if these members are allowed to spread the Gospel in a focused fashion. Too many senior groups have settles for too little, therefore it behooves the church as a whole to build them up and support their efforts in this great work.

When the church gives such support, it will find that its evangelistic efforts are paying off in increased membership growth. It will have become effective at identifying, focusing on and communicating with the segment of society that is receptive to its message. Its nature and size offers it the unusual opportunity to minister and effect growth in any church.

This growth takes place as the people of God prepare and focus evangelistic strategies in the direction of this segment. As this strategy unfolds and is exercised it has the tendency to change peoples viewpoints. This transition then moves them from being un-churched and into the Christian lifestyle. As a result their traditional points of reference change and so does their inclination to change their lives as well.

The conclusion is that people tend to become church members more often during times of transition. These events provide windows of opportunity more readily because it reduces the resistance and indifference to the Gospel that would ordinarily occur. This opens the way to instill this message because receptivity is greatly increased in the time of need or uncertainty. The Gospel fills that need with a message of hope and salvation. It could be said that it is a means by which the Holy Spirit opens people’s eyes to the source by which their needs are met that cannot be met in human terms.

This means that the church realizes its responsibility to outward evangelism and the seniors are to be a vital part it its efforts to those who are still unsaved as well as to existing Christians. The highest priority should be placed on reaching and teaching those people who are still outside of the church. As this mission is accomplished we will see church growth as the Lord will add to the church such as would be saved and the truth is: Seniors have a vital role to play in ministry.

Dr.Franklyn T. Johnson is called to not only speak, but to testify about God’s Word and challenge you to apply God’s truths in every area of your life. The Lord has clearly called him to minister time and talents in building relationships with churches where he speaks and with those to whom he ministers.

Ministering to Limited Mobility Senior Adults


From the earliest days of human history all indications are that life expectancies were relatively short. The few who reached “old age,” bearing the subsequent restrictions associated with it, were viewed a disadvantage in families that frequently valued utility over mortality. However, with the advent of efficient agricultural methods and the consequent stability of food supplies, humankind learned to survive with longer and healthier lives, alleviating some of society’s systemic prejudices toward chronologically advanced individuals.

According to historical records, sometime around 4000 BC, a significant segment of the population began to attain “old age” in certain regions of the world such as Mesopotamia. Agriculture not only provided steady food supplies extending chronological longevity, but also helped to encourage a view of elder adults as economically beneficial. Increasingly counted upon to perform various family functions such as teaching the young and overseeing unencumbering tasks, they found themselves “needed.” While the general zeitgeist and societal view towards elder adults waxed and waned during civilization’s early development, the historical mention of this segment of the population was relatively sparse. In the words of social historian, David Hackett Fischer,
Aging is a topic that has almost been totally ignored by historians. The condition of neglect will not continue. Old age is likely to become a subject of much interest to the ‘new’ social historians-partly because they themselves are beginning to grow old, but mostly because it lies at the intersection of many major questions in the field, about the family, about the life-cycle, stratification, welfare, and many other things.

A significant development in the study of aging came from Persia in the eleventh century A. D. when a physician named Avicenna wrote a book entitled, The Canon of Medicine, in 1025. As a portent into modern academic studies of gerontology and geriatrics, Avicenna included material that prescribed certain health habits to encourage elder persons to preserve their diminishing strength.

At about this time in medieval Europe, inimical sentiments towards the elderly prevailed although perspicuous mention is sparse. Donald O. Cowgill of the American Academy of Political and Social Science attributes the reduction in respect and veneration for elder members in Western societies due to industrial and economic factors. With the arrival of the Renaissance, old age returned to favor, as celebrated individuals like Michelangelo and Andrea Doria came to epitomize the ideals of living long, active, and prolific lives.

Between the sixteenth century and the third quarter of the twentieth century, Western ideas about aging underwent a fundamental transformation, spurred by the development of modern society. Ancient and medieval understandings of aging as a mysterious part of the eternal order of things gradually gave way to the secular, scientific, and individualistic tendencies of modernity. By the mid-twentieth century, older people were moved to society’s margins and defined primarily as patients or pensioners.

It would come much later, during the era of the Industrial Revolution, that Westerners would embrace a more socialized, collective system of care for the elder aged. Though often little more than almshouses, so-called “care homes” began to appear in the 1800s scattered throughout Europe. By the 1930s the Social Security Act in the United States began to provide compensated care for many older Americans. Consequently, over the past 170 years, in countries with the highest life expectancies, the average life span of adults has increased at a rate of 2.5 years per decade, or about six hours per day. Thus, while the communal value of elder life has fluctuated over the years, its chronological extension has steadily grown.

The underlying allergy towards aging remains prevalent in most western societies where confronting the issues related to it are often ignored until necessity requires our attention. This project and its ensuing paper looks at the necessity of caring for the fellowship and spiritual needs of elder adults beginning at the local level of church ministry.

An Aging Population

While most American churches continue to focus on youth programs and reaching out to younger generations, this customary emphasis has come at the cost of neglecting the fastest-growing segment of contemporary society. Certainly we need youth ministries and children’s programs as much, if not more than ever, but as statistics increasingly indicate, we just as urgently need an imperious plan for the intentional integration of older adults, especially confined adults, into the regular life of churches.

As we age, increasing disability and loss of mobility often lead to a decline in social networks and support. The result is greater isolation and decline in mental health and quality of life. Interventions such as socialization, day care centers and senior centers are in part constructed to alleviate and delay such isolation through group activities and maintaining a social engagement with friends, family, and social volunteerism. But there comes a time, after a protracted illness, a stroke or some other life event–often an acute health problem–when many elderly people find themselves prohibited from continuing to participate in their social groups.

With the onset of the third millennium since Christ, care for the elderly has become an ever-more pressing societal demand. Christian communities have the unique opportunity to lead out in addressing the needs of elder adults, beginning with those listed on their church rolls. Jesus, the literal analogia fidei, set the scriptural standard in Matt. 5:16 when he told his disciples to “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Augustine commented on this verse saying, “That light shines as the result of bodily service, so that it is presented to believers through their embodied ministry.” Christ’s light shining through an embodied, “incarnational” ministry is an emphasis worthy of any church’s consideration. What follows is one church’s odyssey into the ambitious endeavor to meet the demands of an aging population by intentionally serving its senior adult members, specifically its homebound and local nursing home residents, as incarnational ambassadors of Christ.

An Age Wave

“Where there is no prophetic vision,” says Prov. 29:8, “the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” Do we really know what we are doing when it comes to ministering to the elderly among us? Based on available U.S. census data, the fastest-growing segment of our nation’s contemporary population is people eighty-five years of age and older. Due to such debilitating factors as ambulatory constraints, diminished eye sight, and various other physical impairments, these citizens find themselves unable to get away from home without a great deal of highly specialized (and often expensive) assistance. Among adults, aged seventy-five years and older, about 10% require the help of another person to accomplish activities for daily living (ADLs), such as dressing and eating. Another 19% require assistance with “instrumental” activities for daily living (IADLs), such as shopping and money management. In a 1996 Geriatric Society study of 878 non-institutionalized persons, 10.3% were classified as homebound aged sixty-eight years and older. The study went on to conclude that being homebound statistically favors women, widowhood, depression, strokes, and inadequate social support.

According to a 2005 report, “Caregiving families (families in which at least one member has a disability) have median incomes that are more than 50% below that of non-caregiving families and in every state the poverty rate is higher among families with members with a disability than among families without.” Such findings are not surprising as much as they are disturbing. The economic disparity associated with the numbers of homebound and nursing home residents continues to stretch American families in difficult directions. The resolution for this imbalance has less to do with government action than with employing families to work together with churches to share the responsibilities of elder care.

The need for trained volunteers to involve seniors in Christian service statistically speaks for itself. Intentionally utilizing active listening skills and practical ministry techniques for moral and spiritual edification, these invaluable seniors can be included as active, albeit off-site, members of local congregations. By virtue of their inclusion, the local church’s overall awareness of senior needs will not only increase, but will lead to a better working relationship in the community.

The following facts are important for churches and ministers to consider in determining their ministry stratagem. The combination of contemporary lower birth and death rates means that the senior adult population will potentially double that of children by the midcentury. The United Nations Population Division reported in 1999 that there were 593 million persons aged sixty years or over, comprising 10% of the world’s population. By 2050, demographic prognosticators predict that this figure will triple to nearly two billion older persons, comprising 22% of the world’s population. While these statistics do not necessarily suggest an epic Malthusian crisis, the numbers are nonetheless astounding. Win and Charles Arn, report the following statistics: Senior citizens in the United States, which are sixty-five years and older outnumber the entire population of Canada. Since 1900, the median age of America’s population has risen by ten years, and since 1950, the number of Americans living over the age of one hundred has multiplied more than ten times. Demographers project that by 2020 senior adults, sixty-five plus in the United States will represent more than 17% of the nation’s population.

We might call these staggering statistics the rumblings of an “agequake” that is shaking the very foundations of everything we thought we knew about our national demography. The aggregate number of senior adults in the United States, sixty-five and older, numbered 37.9 million as of 2007, up by more than 11% in just the last ten years. Sadly, about eleven million persons considered “non-institutionalized” and over sixty-five years of age live alone and about eight million of them are women.

These figures, along with the self-evident aging of our own congregation at Calvary Baptist Church, inspired a practical, yet far-reaching ministry stratagem to leverage our existing resources to meet the needs of an ever-growing elder adult population. In hopes of avoiding a “tsunami of negligence,” Calvary set out to extend a Christ-like love towards those generations who have so faithfully served us in the past.

Motivated by Love

A basic problem for some seniors in Calvary’s membership was a fundamental inability to attend weekly worship services due to immobility, poor health, and institutionalization. Taking the church’s ministry into the homes and hospital rooms of our members was a practical means of including them in the fellowship of our local congregation. Such is a homebound ministry based on the sound theological expectations of a caring God utilizing his church to meet the demands of an aging population. Theoretically, such outreach is crucial in keeping up with the challenges of a growing church membership and a transitioning city population.

“The church does not serve the poor, infirm, or isolated elderly so much as it is called to a common life with them,” writes Roman Catholic theologian, David Matzko McCarthy. “Breaking bread, breaking the bonds of isolation, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned are aspects of the church’s call to be God’s people.” The motivation for Calvary’s service came from grateful hearts that longed to minister as Christ, as if he was in our place serving the needs of others. Along with a prominent theological theme of incarnational ministry, the key in senior adult ministry is “inclusion” as an acknowledgment of the fact that many of today’s homebound prospects were at one time active church members. The project’s emphasis was not to serve out of pity or to assuage some collective guilt, but to advance God’s agenda using the theological concept of incarnational ministry and the biblical idea of missional living.

“God’s love imposes the obligation of reciprocal love and the related obedience and loyalty.”