How come everyone is interested in the Saga generation – except the churches?

‘No church in Britain is specifically seeking to reach the retired and active generation.’ That’s the conviction of Church Army captain Chris Harrington – whose Grove booklet Reaching the Saga Generation is a must-read.

As Chris highlights, when churches reach out to older people the focus is almost always on those born before the last World War.

They do so by running everything from a Holiday at Home, to a regular drop-in coffee morning, to visiting those in residential care or nursing homes.

All good stuff. But it doesn’t touch those of a very different generation who are also no longer working fulltime, often dubbed the Saga Generation. Those brought up on Elvis rather than Doris Day. Who jived not quick-stepped. Who wore denim – and still do!  Who by no means regard themselves as ‘old’.

Some of the ways they are distinctly different from their older counterparts, Chris stresses, are –

  • They were the first ‘teenagers’ and have lived through the free-thinking era of the new pop-culture
  • They do not trust governments, multinationals, institutions or authority figures
  • They dislike being patronized, dictated to or treated condescendingly
  • They demand honesty, consistency, reliability, quality, value for money and good service.

What’s more, this segment of our society represents a huge sector of the population.

Official figures point to there being approaching 9 million people in the active retirement band, aged between 65 and 79. That’s almost three times as many as those in the ‘old-old’ band of 80 and above. Yet think where churches put their focus and what they are missing.

What an opportunity there is for churches to treat this Baby Boomer age-group in the same way they do for other age and interest groups – with events, services and programmes crafted for them. Maybe not every week. But sometimes. Or, at least, to run small groups and events that can embrace un-churched actively retired people.

Could it happen? Is it happening?

The Church of England’s report Mission Shaped Church (2004) encouraged fresh expressions of church for the vast numbers who are either un-churched or de-churched. Now, Chris Harrington and others are exploring what that could mean for what he calls Saga Church – those who’ve reached retirement age with years of opportunity ahead of them.

However, any response must relate to them as they are and not as they’re imagined to be. When reaching out to those retired and active Chris offers a check list to keep in mind. It involves the need to –

  • De-emphasise membership – Boomers are not ‘joiners’ but will attend for the experience
  • Accommodate their desire for experiences – Boomers are not passive ‘you talk and I’ll listen’ people
  • Emphasis ‘how to’ messages – Boomers are interested in what works and how to make it work for them
  • Recognise the need for equality in leadership, authority and responsibility – Boomers resist hierarchy
  • Accept and celebrate the contribution of singles – there’s likely to be a greater percentage of them than any other adult segment of your community
  • Respond to the relatively high level of dysfunctionality and emotional pain – there may be smiles on the outside but also a lot of pain and struggle behind the masks
  • Give prominence to innovation, diversity and options – Boomers resist one-size-fits-all approaches.
  • Encourage discussion and not dogma – they want to be spoken with and listened to, not talked at

What could be done?

In his book Chris has helpful examples of what events might be like. It also stresses there are other ways – and possibly better ways – than church services to engage with un-churched afterworkers. These include –

  • A ‘seeker service’ a la Willow Creek – with everything focused on the needs and interests of the visitor
  • A film and faith group – using a current film as a spring board for conversation
  • A book club – based on secular novels with spiritual themes
  • Rambling groups, retreats and pilgrimages – with moments for reflection

How come this isn’t happening already? My sense is we’ve sleepwalked into this situation. This new ‘actively retired’ group has gradually emerged as a new phenomenon. The travel industry spotted it – and now caters for 25 million people on cruises world-wide each year.

But now is the time – a time well overdue – for the churches to wake up too.

To explore this issue more, do read Chris Harrington’s book Reaching the Saga Generation, (Grove Books).

What insights or questions do you have about reaching those retired and active? Please share them here or on the AfterWorkNet Facebook community

Peter Meadows

Peter is AfterWorkNet’s Programme Director. He’s using his retirement to help churches, resource inter-church initiatives, enjoy his eight grandchildren, escape to Spain and to spend his kids’ inheritance.

 

Comments

  1. I’m on the same page with this & the value of second half ministry. Led Celebration of Life at Spring Harvest for many years when on staff with Christians in Sport & member of Event Leadership team. Remember Peter Meadows well from those days.
    At present I’ve been commissioned to write a book about spiritual growth & new opportunities in the second half of life – ‘Maintaining Pace’ is the title. Planning to launch Second Half Ministry at All Saints Worcester, a C of E resourcing church.
    Would love to chat to Peter sometime
    Bryan Mason

    1. Hi Bryan great to read your positive & encouraging reply on this topic & am looking forward to getting a copy of your new book, greetings from me & the St Andrew’s Leyland Seniors Sports Life Ministry Team

      Hi Peter just spent a enjoyable time with your good friend Dave Hall today discussing the real value of Seniors Sports Ministry in the Local Church & Community Outreach, Yours Keith

  2. Hi Pete, hope you’re well. Just come across this via the Premier article and agree 100%. Experimented with a pub-based boomer group a couple of years ago. Discussed wide range of topics (chosen by attendees) from boomer experience perspective e.g. intergenerational relationships, spirituality, sex, fashion, leisure, aging well, death. Laughed a lot and meaningful conversations! Meant to write up the material as a mission/discipleship resource but haven’t got around to it. Might have another look…
    Go well, Fran

    1. Hi Fran. All good here. What you did is very important as it is a great history. Do please write this up as we would love to add details to our website and to share I with others. Warmest. Peter

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife