Faith Communities in Senior Spirituality

The Role of Faith Communities In Senior Spirituality

Membership in a Religious Institution

Among all age groups seniors have the highest rate of memberships in churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions. Seventy-seven percent of seniors are members of such religious organizations, compared to 48 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 (Gallup Organization, 2002). Seniors also are members of faith communities more often than they are members of any other kind of community organization (Palmore, 1995). According to Erdman Plamore, "Churches and synagogues...are the single most pervasive community institution to which elderly belong. All the other community institutions considered together, including senior citizen centers, clubs for elders, and unions, do not involve as many elders as churches and synagogues."

Membership in Church or Synagogue

  18-29 Years 30-49 Years 50-64 Years 65+ Years
Yes 48 % 66 % 72 % 77 %
No 52 % 34 % 29 % 23 %

Principal Functions of Faith Communities

The principal functions of faith communities are to meet the spiritual needs of their congregations and to provide communal worship of God. For many, membership in a faith community is their route to spirituality.

Neal Krause, writing in Handbook of Aging and the Sciences (2001), describes three ways that members of congregations support each other:

  • by encouraging each other to devote more time to the practice of their faith, including more frequent prayer or church attendance and more frequent reading of sacred texts
  • by helping each other understand their faith better by discussing religious texts or sharing personal religious experiences
  • by encouraging each other to use religious coping responses in terms of stress

Secondary Functions of Faith Communities

As an important secondary function, faith communities fulfill some social needs of their members. Generally, churches an synagogues do not see themselves as social agencies but rather as caring communities that provide a mixture of programs and services that address the spiritual, social, and survival needs of their members and others in the broader community (Tobin, Ellor, & Anderson-Ray, 1986).

Congregations vary in the extent to which they provide support services. Many offer distinct services for seniors such as day care, transportation services, and help with personal problems. The majority of faith communities offer between two and six distinct services for seniors (Tobin et al., 1986).

Seniors' Contribution to Faith Communities

Seniors provide major support to religious institutions. Nearly half the volunteer work done by seniors is for churches, synagogues, or other church related organizations (Quadagno, 2002). Sixty-five percent of older volunteers donate time to their church, synagogue, or other religious center (Van Willigen, 2000).

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.