Now comes the first wave of baby boomers entering retirement, and Don Parrott believes they’ve got a lot more left inside them that would further the Kingdom of God.
That’s why Parrott wants them for the Finishers Project, so boomers can “finish out their lives strong” in service to others at home or abroad.
Retirees and “midcareer adults,” for example, can sign up with Mercy Ships, traveling the seas on hospital ships to needy regions. Or Transport for Christ to win over truck drivers for Jesus. Or journey with Go Ye Fellowship to other lands to find new disciples for Christ. Or there’s New Tribes Mission, or Mission to Unreached People, or Commission to Every Nation, or the Mission Aviation Fellowship.
So far 82 mission and ministry agencies are enrolled with Finishers Project, based in Gilbert. It is a kind of recruiter of Christian service volunteers for the ranks of groups like Wycliffe Bible Translators and Campus Crusade for Christ’s ministry to the military. “We have been called “eHarmony.com for missions,” said Paul Erdmann, chief operating officer, referring to the huge online matching service.
It comes with a clear challenge to would-be volunteers — they likely will have to financially provide for themselves during their missions — out of their own funds. Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, represented an unprecedented population surge that changed American institutions, including faith communities. “There are 78 million of us across the U.S.,” Parrott writes in his newsletter, The Bridge. He calls them the “healthiest, wealthiest, most educated generation in our nation’s history.” They were “trained by corporate America” and now they hold potent skills at a time much of the world craves help in leadership, management, business, entrepreneurial and church development.
About 12 million people are “evangelical boomers,” he said. So far 3,000 have been placed by Finishers, and Parrott, its president and chief executive officer, wants to increase that to 5,000 in the next five years.
People can visit www.finishers.org and fill out a profile. A search engine will match that with potential assignments. From there, they can begin to explore job fits and requirements of mission agencies.
“God knew exactly the kind of workforce that he was going to need for extending his kingdom around the globe at this particular stage in history,” said Parrott, 62, who began in church youth ministries in the Pacific Northwest, then served 11 years, with his wife, Ele, as Christian missionaries in Argentina, Costa Rica and Guatemala through One Challenge International, ending with four years at its Colorado Springs, Colo., headquarters
Finishers was founded in 1998, the brainstorm of Nelson Malwitz, a research and development chemical engineer in Connecticut. An active Christian, he pondered what to do with his retirement years. His investigation found Christian agencies were recruiting people under 35 because of a likelihood of long-term continuity, fewer health issues or family complications.
“He started talking to mission agencies and said, 'You know what? You ought to listen to us (baby boomers). You ought to look at us,’ ” Parrott said. Malwitz organized Finisher Forums, designed after the popular gatherings held every three years since 1946 in Urbana, Ill., by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to challenge youth for Christian discipleship. Commonly called Urbana for Boomers, the most recent Finisher Forum was in Fort Wayne, Ind., with 184 delegates and 61 agency representatives, plus 23 speakers and presenters.
Parrott began serving with Finishers six years ago. Three years ago, he took over as president and chief executive officer of Paraclete, which provides advisers and support for people in the mission field, then two years ago added the same titles with Finishers. The two organizations share new offices in Gilbert.
Paraclete (Greek for “one who comes alongside of, in order to help”) offers about 105 specialities to mission workers, such as organizational skills, counseling, financial setup, and resolving interpersonal relationship issues. “Maybe a group has some team issues,” he said. “Say they have a team of seven couples. Four couples have been around a while and three
are Generation Xers who have come. There are cross-cultural issues right there, and they can’t quite get together,” Parrott said.
A Paraclete team might spend 10 days with them so they “can really learn from each other, appreciate each other and work together as a team,” he said.
Finishers hired a researcher and found that 61 percent of evangelical boomers, “if they saw a clear vision for how they could invest the latter years of their lives, they would leave their present jobs” for the mission field, Parrott said. Midlife adults concentrate on what their financial nest egg will be for retirement, but they also ask, 'How can I invest who I am? Not just take care of myself, but make a difference.’ ”
“We are saying there is a landing spot in this missions niche in the Kingdom of Christ, here on Earth,” Parrott said. While many who connect with Finishers Project take opportunities close to home where, for example, they can stay connected to children and aging parents, others seek overseas ventures.
Agencies and ministries are enrolled as partners with Finishers and are charged an annual fee. That allows them to post, on Finishers’ Web site and database, those jobs and opportunities they have to fill.
“For most of these people, it is a couple-year process,” Parrott said. Individuals and couples must take care of numerous tasks, often getting the more reluctant spouse to catch the passion of the other, finding ways to raise support for their work and deciding who may look after their home in their absence.
“We are connecting people all the time all over the world in a myriad of different kinds of things,” Parrott said.