Fresh expressions for older people


Neither Young Nor Old

NYNO aims to create fresh expressions of all-age church amongst older people, particularly, but not exclusively, those who live in sheltered housing accommodation. The title was inspired by Galatians 3.28, 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for all are one in Christ Jesus'. In Christ Jesus there is also Neither Young Nor Old.

Sunday afternoon tea in Ravenshead in Nottinghamshire

Older people having a cuppaSometimes referred to as Molly's Church, the seeds of this fresh expression were planted when Molly and Graham Bell focused on the needs of the large proportion of older people retiring in their village.

The Bells committed themselves long term to the necessary community involvement that has, over time, led to the growth of a good neighbour scheme, a discipleship cell group, a lunch club and a day centre.

Such investment in loving service and nurturing community has enabled the growth of the monthly Sunday afternoon tea. This includes excellent refreshments, exploration of a topic around the tables, drama around the theme of the day, a short meditation and the singing of a couple of well known hymns.

Minibus transport is organised to enable the elderly housebound to attend. Minibuses are also laid on to take folk to other social events locally and on outings beyond the village.

You can read more about Molly's Church on the ACPI website.

A congregation for the isolated elderly in Putney, London

Praise@Platt has evolved for all those involved with Regenerate-RISE, a charitable organisation that cares for all those who would otherwise be housebound or isolated, living in either high-rise flats in Roehampton or the more wealthy area of Putney. RISE facilitates outings, activities, lunches and a support service with practical help, home and hospital visiting, along with emergency shopping and prescription collections.

One member of RISE was recently baptised, whilst other members cheered and clapped when he gave his testimony as to how he became a Christian, and a 92 year man was confirmed after giving his life to the Lord at a specially adapted Alpha course. Praise@Platt hopes to expand in the near future to welcoming older people from the local community to encourage them in their faith and give them a new experience of church.

Things to keep in mind

Mike Collyer and Claire Dalpra of the Church Army's research team, The Sheffield Centre, have this to say:

Don't let anyone tell you fresh expressions are for young people only

There is just as much need for new and creative ways of doing mission and being church for and with older people. The elderly are the fastest growing section of the British population and although church attendance of this age group appears healthy, it is not keeping up with the rapid growth occurring in our society.

Encourage others to see the diversity of age groups often included in the older people bracket. This table (From Older People and the Church in Church of England Newspaper, 16th August, 2005, p11) illustrates the variety that exits within our churches alone.

Group The younger old The third age The active frail The inactive frail
Age 55 to 64 65 to 74 75 to 84 85 and older
Activity Still employed Retired Enjoying being a grandparent Confined to home
Sufficiency Earning a salary Travelling with Saga Loss of spouse Increasing dependency
Church life In leadership Supporting role May need help to get there Only attend on special occasions
Sense of belonging to a church 43% 34% 28% 19%

To connect with the younger old or newly retired beyond our church congregations, be aware of the some of the broader generational differences between them compared with the previous generation.

Older people on a benchGenerally speaking, the 'boomer' generation (now reaching retirement age) have challenged the preconceived ideas and stereotypical images of ageing as they have grown older. Many aspects of their youth culture (rock concerts, music festivals, political protest, interest in new age spirituality) have travelled with them into middle age and beyond. They relish living life to the full and retirement is a chance to pursue this yet further.

Therefore, explore the possibilities of developing fresh expressions appropriate these instincts. Capture their interest through social action, adventure holidays (white water rafting!), painting or drama groups or hobbies that promote healthy living (swimming, pilates, golf, walking).

Think of the children

A significant number of this age group look after their grandchildren regularly and/or care for elderly parents. Consider what kinds of fresh expressions would help them in these important supporting roles. A support group for the bereaved in a Merseyside parish has grown into a community of 50 meeting weekly to talk, pray and make crafts. Providing sacred space to place scattered ashes, visit loved ones' gravesides and share special past memories might also be appreciated.

Don't assume that all older people know everything about the Christian faith

As you build relationships with the elderly outside church, remember that although most people of this generation did go to Sunday school as children, many have never had the opportunity since then to hear further teaching or be part of a community that encourages discipleship.

Involve older people in decision-making

Invite them onto your decision-making councils. Avoiding client-provider dynamics as much as possible will help the sense that church is being nurtured rather than it being a programme or activity. More importantly, it will communicate to older folk that they are never too old to bless others, share their wisdom and use their skills.

Consider what support you might be able to offer residential homes in your area

As of 1st April 2009, the Care Quality Commission requires homes to include a spiritual element in the life of its residents. Most residential homes are grateful for help and advice on where to start with this. Getting involved may be a good place to start in the very early stages of planting of a fresh expression for the elderly frail.

Avoid replicating what already exists

Take care to research your area well. Look for the gaps in what is provided by other churches, statutory authorities and volunteer services so all can work better together.

Possible starting points

Man laughingSome possible starting points could include:

  • running a 'holiday at home' event for the elderly frail in your area;
  • starting a friendship group for those recently bereaved;
  • holding a celebrating age event or service;
  • running a 'Senior Alpha' course;
  • putting on a community event in a sheltered housing complex;
  • holding a midweek communion followed by coffee and scones;
  • holding memorial services;
  • running a 'celebrate grandparents' Sunday, welcoming grandparents and grandchildren who don't normally come to church (with a goodie bag for each grandchild);
  • advertising a group for people of Saga age, seeing who comes and asking them how often they'd like to meet and what they'd like to do;
  • starting up an interest group - hobbies for men/pie and a pint!


  • A Mission-shaped Church for Older People: Practical Suggestions for Local Churches
    Mike Collyer, Claire Dalpra, Alison Johnson, James Woodward, Church Army/Leveson Centre, 2008
    A resource booklet packed full of practical ideas and training material for mission and ministry to older people
  • Safe to Belong
    The Baptist Union's guidelines on working with vulnerable adults in the local church are available as a book or pack
  • Encounters on the Edge 40: People Try To Put Us Down - Fresh expressions with older people
    George Lings, Church Army, 2008
  • The Gift of Years
    A ministry of BRF, resourcing the spiritual journey of older people
  • Reaching the Saga Generation: Fresh Expressions of Church for Ageing Baby Boomers
    Chris Harrington, Grove Books, 2008
  • Valuing Age: Pastoral Ministry with Older People
    James Woodward, SPCK, 2008, 978-028105779-5
    A fascinating read on the increased capacity older people have for spirituality over their younger counterparts
  • Pioneering the Third Age: The Church in an Ageing Population
    Rob Merchant, Paternoster Press, 2003, 978-184227177-3
  • Re-firing - Not Retiring
    Florence Robertson, Spirit of Caleb Ministries, 2007, 978-190631700-3