Boomer retirement wave

John Wimberly, the Head of Staff at Western, is demographically at the beginning of the Baby Boomers. He’s retiring in a few years, which puts our church into an utter panic every time they think about it. But he hasn’t hidden the fact that he’ll be moving on. He’s honest about it. He has been preparing himself as well as the congregation for the eventuality.

His looming retirement is a reminder for me that the church-at-large has quite a number of boomers who are leaving. And I wonder what it will mean for us. Here are a few possible scenarios:

They will hang on to their jobs. Let’s face it, if a person is drawing social security, plus retirement income, plus a full-time salary–that combination makes for decent income. Especially for a group of people who haven’t been getting a strong income most of their lives. Plus, sixty-five is not what it used to be. Most retiring people are in amazing shape. I wouldn’t blame people for hanging around. So, how will that affect our churches?

Retirees could bring down our salary range. If a person over sixty-five decides to stay in the profession I hope that (s)he won’t ask for a bargain basement salary. It may seem like the person would be helping the church, but actually, I think it would hurt young pastors (and congregations) in the long run. Retired pastors may not need the money, but young pastors do. And, it’s really hard to need the money when you’re following a pastor who didn’t need the money. A church can begin to have a difficult time understanding just how much it costs to live in their community.

Retirees will be entering seminary. For active people, retirement may be a chance for them to do the things they always wished they could do. And, so many people wish they could have been a pastor. If this happens, how will our denominations respond?

We’ll be left with more empty pulpits. Right now, we have a huge amount of churches without pastors. The crisis is taking place in rural areas of the country. But, we could have a wide-spread problem with empty pulpits. Of course, if we could hang on just a bit, the millennials (people under 25 who represent a much larger demographic than the Boomers) are coming up.

Retirees could take over our governing bodies. Let’s face it. Most of our denominational structures are run by retirees. The meetings are at times when working people can’t attend. There’s never any childcare. But could the retired ratio increase more with the Boomers retiring?

What are your predictions? What do you think we could do to plan for the wave? 

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14 thoughts on “Boomer retirement wave

  1. Carol,
    I get nervous as I think about entering ministry. I am done with course work and am taking my sweet time to get ordained. It may be 2 to 3 years before I seek ordination.

    I am already leery about the salary that I will be offered. I am scared about the expectations and conditions I will be asked to serve in. I wonder if there is room for new leaders and the boomers. In your TC book you speak about the hording boomers tend to do. I ask are the boomers going to let the Xers and Millennials in as leaders? Is this possible influx of boomers into ministry another way to hold on to “the church”?

    I wish the boomers would look at serving rural ministries that need pastors or look at how they have been equipped to be a blessing to others.

    I am terrified that I have no voice in tomorrows or todays church. I pray I am wrong. I pray I find the courage to be. and go forth in faith. It is a scary endeavor for me. I want to serve the church. What does the church want? Who are we going to be? Who are we choosing to be? How do we get there? How do we get there together?

  2. “I wish the boomers would look at serving rural ministries that need pastors or look at how they have been equipped to be a blessing to others.”

    Ismael Garcia talked us into going to rural parishes. In class, he painted this elaborate scenario of greedy doctors who go to the big city for jobs, because it’s better money, while the people in rural areas could no longer get health care. When the class got all up in arms about it, he said, “YOU! You are the doctors! You’re not going to rural areas, you’re going to urban areas, and you KNOW that people are not getting the care that they need!”

    That man’s a genius.

    The problem was, we really couldn’t do it for more that three years. With student loans, it was just too much of a financial strain. I wish that our church could figure out a way to subsidize rural church salaries.

    I definitely think there’s room for both Boomers and New Leaders. I’m not crazy about the demographic titles… but… for the ease of conversation… if the church can recognize the ability that Gen X (ages 25 to 45 for those reading along) has for organizing, cutting out unneeded bureaucracy, and starting new things, our generation could be pivotal in reaching out to the millennials.

    In order for this to happen, we’ll need to begin the negotiating process.

  3. Rural churches are probably best served by folks from their communities, people who are deeply embedded and personally connected. The whole part-time “commissioned lay pastor” thing makes a heck of a lot more sense than pitching bright-eyed seminarians into congregations that have come to regard them as functionally irrelevant, just another in a long line of short-termers.

    So what to do with the noobs? One thing that’s occurred to me is to lay open the option of church-network planting. For those who aren’t really called to be youth pastors, perhaps if candidates were given the option of getting out there and gathering a wall-less, small-group driven church…which could dance unfettered around the outskirts of the institutional church.

    Make ’em missionaries to contemporary culture, in other words. That might seem threatening to established churches, sure, but we’re crashing and bleeding out young adults as it is. Shoot, they’d even still be Presbyterian.

    Just a loyal radical thought…

  4. It’s a GREAT thought. One that I think Presbymergents could pull off. If we could have that sort of vision, and begin to find ways to fund it….

    As you probably know, all the new church developments in our presbytery are actually planted by Vienna PC. It seems that they start them and the presbytery rubber-stamps them. Otherwise, it’s difficult to get a NCD through.

    If we could begin to use this model, sending out missionaries to contemporary culture… There are a lot of possibilities.

  5. it seems to me that church-planting needs to be considered (and even suggested) more often at the seminary and cpm levels. my gut feeling, and from what i’ve been reading from various corners (i.e., Tribal Church), is that there is a opportunity to do some amazingly faithful things with the new demographic boom (millenials). but that raises some concerns about compensation that have been expressed in earlier posts on this and other blogs. i worry about the gradual erosion of ministry as a full-time call (career) that is able to support a family. it’s difficult enough to do that on a presbytery’s minimum terms of call, let alone to forge a new path, yet untraveled. perhaps it will take more creativity at the presbytery level to encourage ncd’s and a financial pledge to support the pastors (who are members of the presbytery, not of the particular church they serve).

  6. Yeah, I always hear people talk about tent-making, but that makes me so nervous…. Being a pastor is such hard work. I can’t imagine being a pastor, being a parent, and having another job. I think it’s too much to ask. But then, where’s the money going to come from?

  7. I just reread my comment. I would love to go and serve a small church or as I did in my internship a few small town churches, I am bound by the loans I have had to bear to become ordained and eligible to serve these churches.

    I love David’s, “missionaries to contemporary culture!” This is beautiful and I pray the Presbymergent can walk towards this vision and be a place to empower communities to be church and not do church.

    Carol, I get scared when I read your blog and then I get excited. I have Disneyland belly after reading these responses!

    I want to yell’ “here I am!” There are many out there that want to sell all and go to the margins. God make this happen. Give us the courage to be church and cease the safe harbor of doing church.

  8. Ryan,

    Disneyland belly. Tee hee hee.

    I hope the financial stuff doesn’t scare you too much. The reason why I talk about it is because when we were going through a hard time, it didn’t seem like anyone else was. Then, when I started talking about it, I found out more and more people were out there, struggling and feeling lonely as well.

    As you know, there’s no way to solve problems unless we admit that we have them. So, it’s in a spirit of hope that I bring them up. Although, through my experience, I also know that when there’s a vision and a purpose, the money always shows up.

    I can’t wait to see how God uses you, Ryan!

  9. Carol the great part of seminary and being with other seminarians is that we are all in debt or not too high on the money wagon. We creatively entertain ourselves. I have never seen so many “yahoos” making themselves laugh over a few beers as I have here at APTS.
    Being in debts forces us to be creative and patient in answering the call on our life.
    Perhaps this is a better posture to adopt than then doomsday naysayer posture I invest in. The best way to be counter-cultural is to live as Christ would live. There is little room for self and all the room in the world for the other.
    God grant us proximity to each other that is healing, binding, and loving.
    Thank you for the cheer. I hope I get to hang out with you at Church Unbound.

  10. What a refreshing post!

    It is great to see someone looking at the coming Age Wave without the veil of ageism or thinking that that only issues older adults have to deal with are grief and loss and death and dying. I’m a happily middle aged temporary supply pastor who just completed a second masters in Social Gerontology because I have seen this Age Wave and have been scratching my head wondering what the heck the church was going to do with aging and human life cycle. I’m currently working through the existing structures to be a solution. I’m on the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network (POAMN) Board and the charge at the recent conference to the newly installed officers was this: THERE IS NO BOX (so thinking outside the box is not the option BUT the options are WIDE OPEN) It truly is a new world of possibilities.) At least that is the way I interpreted the charge.

    I’ve preached in some of those little rural churches you mention on a pulpit supply – Sunday by Sunday basis for nearly 5 years while working a ‘day’ job. When I was in seminary nearly 20 years ago, one of my classmates was one of those ‘retirees’ and she ran into the ageism of her CPM. She ended up getting a MA in Theology rather than the MDiv – the excuse of the CPM, when you graduate you will only be 2 years from retirement and the BOP can’t deal with your case and it isn’t worth our investment of time and money to train you for only two years of service to the church. That response was unacceptable. Carol, you have outlined some of the issues and I am just giddy that someone else is thinking about these issues and not wanting to apply the standard operating procedures to finding new ways to minister to the aging population. After all its about the ministry of Christ and God’s love doesn’t have an age limit.

    I’ve bumped into the situation of having a church hire a retiree because it was cheaper than hiring me (second interview after coming to this Presbytery almost a decade ago) I’ve bumped into the situation where a church chose the CLP option about eight months after interviewing me to be their pastor (forth interview after coming into this Presbytery almost a decade ago). Both churches are being well served. I don’t have answers but more questions.

    I’m just glad to find your blog and your post and hope to continue conversation.

  11. Carla,

    I’m glad you found it as well! And it’s good to be introduced to what you are doing.

    I’m working with a seminary intern who has retired from another profession. She has clear gifts for the ministry, and will be a wonderful pastor. While working with her, I’ve become more and more aware of the different challenges and opportunities that older men and women face.

    There are huge needs out there. I just wish we could figure out a way to get the needs and the gifts into the same geographic location…

  12. Again, I’m a couple days late!

    I am a millennial. I am a seminarian. And I want to plant a church. The idea of it is what gets me going. It excites me. I know I have the right temperment and the right gifts.

    And honestly, as a millennial, I am scared to death of the idea of working in a church where I might not be taken seriously, or given a voice, or where the things that I care about aren’t cared about by the staff and congregation, at least not given more than lip service. This isn’t why I wish to plant a church (if it was, I am sure I would be destined to fail), but it is always a fear lingering in the back of my mind.

    I am an Inquirer, too. I have told pastors and folks in the CPM that I am interested in church planting. I’m waiting for someone to take an interest now, waiting for someone willing to mentor me, willing to listen to my ideas. I am well read and versed in the emerging conversation, too, but most of the pastors I’ve met have no idea what the emerging church is or what postmodernism is.

    How can we convince folks who are not even aware of these issues to take a risk like helping a young person like me?

  13. Mike,

    Well, its good that you’re online, because a lot of your support and connections, especially concerning the emerging church movement, will come from Internet conversations. I’m finding that CPM’s are not generally opening their arms to the emerging/postmodern church. It’s scary, they see themselves as gatekeepers, so they react negatively.

    So, I think the best thing to do is (1) get through school, (2) get ordained, (3) stay connected to people who do understand what you’re talking about. Go to conferences and meet people. You’re support won’t necessarily come from your Presbytery, but if you stay connected in the larger church, then you’ll find a network of friends.

    I think people are pretty restless, a lot of people want to plant churches right now. It’s exciting to be a part of this movement, but it has all the characteristics of a movement. We’re not organized yet, many people don’t know what’s going on, etc.

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