Ricky Thrasher tells Georgia Baptists 'the soul never wrinkles,' offers ways to reach senior adults with the gospel


CUMMING, Ga. – In a nation where senior citizens make up the fastest growing segment of the population, Ricky Thrasher offers an important reminder to church leaders:

“The soul never wrinkles.”

Thrasher, head of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s chaplaincy program, is offering strategies to help church leaders reach the 56 million people 65 and older whose bodies may be giving out but whose souls will live forever.

“The number of people in the U.S. over age 65 is now larger than the entire population of Canada,” he told ministry leaders at the Mission Board’s evangelism conference at First Baptist Church in Cumming on Monday. “The number of senior citizens is growing three times more rapidly than the national population rate.”

Thrasher urged ministry leaders to “think outside the box” to find ways to engage unchurched seniors with the gospel before it’s too late. He said it’s important to build strong relationships with seniors and to avoid pushy evangelism tactics.

“Hard-sell evangelism is guaranteed to fail with most seniors,” he said. “As we grow older, we get a little more resistant, a little more hard-hearted.”

Thrasher said Christians need to look for points of need in the lives of seniors and meet those needs. Be there, he said, for people dealing with grief and loneliness, help those having difficulty with household chores, mow the grass, provide meals, visit nursing homes. For the newly retired, schedule social activities, create pickleball leagues, provide opportunities for hands-on ministry, arrange mission trips, schedule events that allow them to interact with others their own age. And, he said, take opportunities to work the gospel into one-on-one conversations and all group meetings.

More than 1,000 people have attended a series of Mission Board evangelism conferences that the Mission Board’s executive director, W. Thomas Hammond Jr., said are intended to inspire and prepare church members to share the gospel.

“I have heard all my life that evangelism is more caught than taught,” Hammond said at the initial conference last month. “But when we have the skills to share our faith, we can do it in a way that is relevant and effective.”

Georgia Baptist churches have been focusing on evangelism and, as a result, have seen a significant increase in the number of new believers baptized over the past year. A partial count shows 14,333 baptisms in 2022, up from 12,865 the previous year.  The latest numbers account for slightly more than half of the state’s 3,400 churches, so the total number of baptisms could be far higher.

To effectively reach seniors, Thrasher said, churches need to understand that retirees aren’t necessarily a homogeneous group. Some are newly retired and have time and energy to engage in church and community ministries. Others may have slowed a bit but remain involved in church activities. Yet others are homebound and unable to engage in traditional church activities.

Thrasher explained that seniors begin retirement in a “go-go” category, advance to a “slow-go” category, and later move to a “no-go” category. Each category, he said, requires a different strategy for evangelistic engagement.

“Those no-goes are lonely, and if they’re lost they need somebody to reach out to them, to share the gospel with them,” Thrasher said. “What would be neat is you could get those go-goes or the slow-goes to minister to the no-goes.”

Thrasher encouraged church leaders to look for points of need in the lives of seniors and meet those needs.

“Two-thirds of all people who have lived to the age of 65 are alive today,” he said. “So, we have a greater opportunity than ever before to reach people who we’ve not reached before. To be effective, we have to build friendships, build relationships, schedule special events designed specifically for senior adults so that they can invite their friends into the process.”