Bruce Manners, PhD, is a retired editor and pastor residing in Kilsyth, Victoria, Australia.

I knew little about retirement until I was asked to write a book about preparing for it.1 At the time, I was in pastoral ministry but heading for retirement.

I hesitated but finally accepted the challenge. Since publication, the doors have opened to help people as they think about retirement.

What follows is designed to help you understand retirees in your congregation(s) in general terms. It also can help you plan and prepare wisely for your own retirement.

1. Personal finances

While writing this paragraph, I entered “biggest retirement planning mistakes” into my search engine and got 10.6 million results. Scanning the first few pages, I saw that the mistakes were obviously financial. And, perhaps fortunately for us, there were also 10 million or so solutions.

For retirees in your congregation, the financial side of retirement is important—and can be scary and embarrassing if they have not been able to build up their nest egg enough or if investments have failed them. Few will want to talk about their failures, and it can be a sensitive topic as they adjust and tighten their budget to the realities they face.

Most retirees are concerned about their money lasting longer than they will. Unfortunately, in attempting to work out their financial needs for retirement, they may use “fuzzy math and rosy assumptions.”2

To help sort this out, find a registered financial adviser or planner for advice about your personal approach.3 Find a sound plan; the retired couple who sold their home to live on cruise ships permanently for “less than $43 a day” sounds risky—particularly in the long term.4

2. The pleasure trap

Author Rodney MacReady states, “Our culture’s version of retirement comes with several unhelpful nuances” that include this line of thought: “You’ve looked after others—it’s time to look after yourself. You’ve disciplined yourself to get to this point—now it’s time to let your hair down and indulge yourself. You’ve denied yourself to save for retirement—now you get to spend your hard-earned wealth. You’re the boss now—do as you please. . . . You’re entitled to this.”

He adds that this kind of thinking often leads to mostly false expectations for retirement: extensive travel, leisure, hobbies, crafts, good food, exotic drinks, tours, social clubs, and a desire to “occupy time in interesting ways . . . lest they surrender to boredom.”5

Retirees do have more freedom and should take advantage of some expectations when they can, within reason. Within reason? Retirement could last quite some time—too long to merely attempt to avoid boredom.

The reality is that the best retirements are lived on purpose—with purpose.

What do I mean by that?

A few years back, I interviewed 13 retirees for a Hope Channel (South Pacific) television series. I saw purpose in Alan, who made quality banjos in his retirement. Nicky had recently retired early to paint Australian birds. She now runs her own studio and is recognized as one of Australia’s best bird artists. Ashley was the number three male tennis player in the world—in the 80–85 age group.

Each of them had a purpose. Of course, you will find retired people with purpose in your church and among its leadership. Appreciate them.

3. Being around for quite some time

I am reminded of this whenever Romney plays the organ or piano at our church. Music was his life and career. University-trained, he taught at various school levels, including tertiary. Often, spontaneous applause erupts in our church when he plays the piano for the offertory—he is a good musician.

He’s also 98 years old!

In The 100-Year Life, British researchers Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott point out that there has been a dramatic increase in life expectancy in Western societies, and it is growing in other parts of the world. “Basically in every decade since 1840, life expectancy has increased by two to three years.”6

To illustrate, those who reach 100 within the British Commonwealth (which includes several nations, including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) receive a message from the king. A decade ago, one person cared for these messages. Now, it takes a team of seven people.7

Those who retire at retirement age may be gifting themselves 8,000 days of retirement living—that is more than 20 years.

4. “No” can be the default response

Some retirees may automatically respond “No!” to requests to do things at church, be involved, and support projects—particularly in the early stage of retirement. Retirement often begins with a holiday or new experiences.

But keep in mind that, generally, baby boomers can be cantankerous at times (being one of them, I can say that!). Mostly, they do not like being told what to do, but they do love a challenge. Boomers “want to do something interesting and challenging. They are ready to jump into a worthwhile cause where they feel they can make a significant social impact.”8

“Do we think that once people approach retirement age, they want to . . . slow down in their serving roles? Or do we challenge people to dream about a community need—such as orphaned children, homelessness, or the unemployed—and ways in which they might draw on their years of experience to make a difference for Christ?”9

The challenge: “There is no greater mission for older adults to immerse themselves in than the mission of Christ to redeem and heal a broken world. But in some cases, the church is failing to provide older adults with these kinds of opportunities.”10

Think big for them when they cannot think big themselves.

5. Retiring from church?

There is no concrete evidence that church members retire from church involvement—even from church attendance—when they retire from work.

However, a recent (2020) Australian survey found that the steepest fall in Christian affiliation was among the 15–44 age group, falling from 60.9 percent (2004) to 38.9 percent in 2020. In the same period, the 65-plus age group had fallen from 86.7 percent to 71.5 percent.11

In the United States (US), the biggest decline among Christians—for the past three decades—has been among adults 55 and older.

In the US, “there was a time when pastors would look down from the pulpit at the grey-haired congregants sitting in the pews and consider them safe bets. These were the people whose faithfulness they didn’t worry about,” writes Adam MacInnes.12 That is no longer the case.

One retiree who had left his church told his former pastor, “I love you. I love the people there.” . . . “But quite frankly, I’m getting everything I get at church in my soccer club.”13

How can your church help retirees transition into a solid Christian-based retirement when one size does not fit all? That’s the challenge.

6. Strengthening Christian connections

“We are born to belong, we are created for connection, and whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we spend our whole lives trying to fit in, get in, and stay in. It almost doesn’t matter what ‘in’ is; we just want to belong somewhere.”14 For Christians, that sense of belonging should be found in their church.

Author and pastor Daniel Im refers to an in-depth study of the “state of discipleship” among Protestants by surveying 4,000 church attendees in North America—30 percent of them Canadians.15 One part of the research was to find behaviors that led to “an ever-increasing maturity in Christ.”16 Four behaviors were needed:

  1. Reading the Bible
  2. Attending a worship service at your church
  3. Attending small classes or groups for adults from church, such as Sunday School, Bible study, small groups, or adult Bible fellowships
  4. Serving God and others17

“When it comes to reading the Bible, hands down, this is the input goal that has a direct impact on the total score of all the output goals. . . . It’s important to understand here that this question was not measuring whether or not an individual studied the Bible thoroughly or memorized Scripture. . . . We’re talking about the simple act of reading the Bible on a regular basis.18

Further, “individuals who attended church four times a month or more had a significantly higher score than those who never did or who did on a semi-regular basis. In other words, the more an individual did the input goal of attending a worship service, the higher they scored in the rest of the output goals.” “The research clearly shows that worship services matter and that the maturity level of a disciple is greatly influenced by the frequency that they attend worship services.”19

Pastors need to experiment with ways to help strengthen their parishioners’ relationship with God at whatever stage of life, including retirees.

If they leave, please do not drop them from your weekly email list unless they request it. It is a reminder that you are still there and of what is happening in their church.

7. The legacy question

Speaker and consultant Amy Hanson tells of meeting a retiree serving in various ministries who had a “passion for life that was contagious.” She asked why he was serving in such a significant way in his retirement years.

He told of how, when his granddaughter was a little girl, he used to sing to her:

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,

All good girls go to heaven.

When they get there, they will say,

“We love Jesus every day.”

One day, he overheard her singing the song in another room. She sang:

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,

All good grandpas go to heaven.

When they get there, they will say,

“GOLF, GOLF, GOLF, GOLF, every day!”

. . . “Amy, in that moment, I saw myself through the eyes of my granddaughter. She saw what my passion was, and this is not the legacy I wanted to leave.”20

The kind of legacy we leave is up to us. As a pastor, it is not out of order for you to ask a parishioner about life and death issues. You can ask, “How do you want to be remembered?” Or, better, “What do you want your legacy to be?”

Possibilities and drawbacks

Each retiree has his or her own set of circumstances; no one fits into the same mold. We have an obligation to our aging parishioners to open their eyes to both the possibilities and drawbacks of what they decide to do with their time and resources in retirement. Ultimately, make sure they have a firm relationship with God and are active in what He wants them to do, both in the church and out of it. Provide opportunities and guide them into being disciples of Him, especially on this new path of their lives.

  1. This article is adapted from portions of Bruce Manners, Retirement’s Gift: Time to Grow Your Life and Faith (Warburton, Victoria, Australia: Signs Publishing, 2022).
  2. Richard G Wendel, Retire With a Mission (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2008), 5.
  3. The best way to find a good financial adviser is to ask individuals you trust who have found one whom they trust.
  4. Jyoti Mann, “A Retired Couple Sold Their Home So They Could Permanently Live on Cruise Ships for Less Than $43 a Day,” Yahoo!News, May 14, 2022, https://ca.news.yahoo.com/retired-couple-sold-home-could-095203182.html.
  5. Rodney MacReady, Retiring Retirement (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017), e-book.
  6. Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 27.
  7. Gratton and Scott, 29.
  8. Amy Hanson, Baby Boomers and Beyond (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 124.
  9. Hanson, 124.
  10. Hanson, 125.
  11. Andrew Trounson, “Losing Our Religion,” University of Melbourne, November 20, 2020, https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/losing-our-religion.
  12. Adam MacInnis, “The Church Is Losing Its Gray Heads,” Christianity Today, February 14, 2022, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/march/gray-gen-x-boomers-older-churchgoers-leaving-church.html.
  13. MacInnis.
  14. Daniel Im, No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry (Nashville, TN: B&M, 2017), 114.
  15. Im, 48, 49.
  16. Im, 64.
  17. Im, 223, 224.
  18. Im, 65 (emphasis added).
  19. Im, 66, 67.
  20. Hanson, Baby Boomers and Beyond, 187.

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Bruce Manners, PhD, is a retired editor and pastor residing in Kilsyth, Victoria, Australia.

January 2024

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