When the first European immigrants arrived, the American parish resembled a small village. Families found an inter-generational enclave that provided community in their own language.
As the American Catholic population has grown and evolved, the average parish of the modern day may not resemble these churches of old. People come for Mass and leave immediately after. Events and programs are segmented by age demographic and life situation, with a growing emphasis on youth and “young adults.” Many consider this trend a necessary one, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Last week, we took a look at engaging the baby boomer generation with technology. So you’ve got them engaged. Now what?
Watch Your Words
It may be common to refer to recent college graduates as “young adults,” but it’s the rare 55 year old who embraces the phrase “senior.” Having an event for “senior adults” may attract baby boomers with 1940s birthdays, but you’ll miss out on many you’d like to serve. Title your events based on their content, not their target audience. Let the purpose of your program speak for itself.
Make Segmented Programming Relevant
Age-specific programming tends to focus on either end of the spectrum of life. Your parish has sacramental preparation and faith formation classes and maybe offers a Theology on Tap for local singles. There may be a young mom’s group for mutual support. Then there’s often a wide swath of general events for men, women, or the whole parish. Age demographics may come into play again for widows groups or “seniors.”
Many baby boomers are empty-nesters looking for opportunities for recreation and connection. Involve parishioners — or a dedicated team — in planning events that promote vibrant living. They may be looking to check fun events off bucket lists, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Also consider the times. The financial crisis hit hard, and many baby boomers may be working longer than expected to rebuild their savings. Consider offering a financial planning or retirement preparation class. With life expectancy stretching, baby boomers may have become primary caregivers for aging parents or relatives. A monthly support group could help these parishioners feel seen and cared for themselves.
Invite Them to Give Back
Many retirees face challenges adapting to life without work. They also have gifts and talents honed from a lifetime of experience. Are you inviting them into deeper stewardship? Every parish has innumerable volunteer opportunities. Daytime volunteering isn’t an easy option for adults in other stages of life, but a retiree could be a great fit! At your next ministry or stewardship fair, consider prepping your ministry leaders with specific talking points or volunteer opportunities for baby boomers. A personal invitation goes a long way!
Build Bridges Across Demographics
In our increasingly mobile world, many baby boomers may not live close to family. Perhaps they’ve moved to a retirement location or their children have relocated for jobs. This doesn’t mean that they have lost the desire to parent. Consider offering a program that pairs a baby boomer with a young single professional or a growing family. These mentoring relationships can be mutually beneficial and build bonds in your parish across demographic lines.
What is your vibrant parish doing to engage baby boomers?