Jeanette had been going to church for two years before she worked up the courage to join a dinner group. At that time, even the short-term 10-week dinner groups felt like a big step. She was hesitant to sign up in part because of her age. Now 51, Jeanette knew she would probably be older than the rest of the group.
“One of the first things I noticed about Hoboken Grace was just how young everyone was,” she explained. “It seemed like everyone was in their 20s or 30s. Even the pastor was a lot younger than me. I’d sit in the same spot at the back on Sundays and look around and wonder if I was the only grandma there.”
In the end, Jeanette finally went to dinner group as a step of faith.
“I decided to give God a shot,“ she said laughing. “Giving these women I didn’t know yet a chance was really giving God a chance – giving God a chance to show up maybe where I didn’t expect Him.”
Although Jeanette sometimes felt like the only person over 40 at church, Justin, 51, can relate to her experience. Being 15 years older than most people in his dinner group, he’s candid about some of the awkward moments that arise.
“There’s been times when someone will start talking about the older people in their life and then they realize that I’m one of them,” explained Justin. “We can usually just laugh it off, but there’s a moment of embarrassment on both sides.”
In Justin’s experience, though, those moments are outweighed by all the times he has been amazed by the unexpected wisdom of someone not long out of college. In these situations, Justin is reminded that someone’s perspective on life is not based solely on how many hours they’ve been alive.
“When a younger person says something that is particularly wise, it really affirms to me that God is at work in all of our lives and that He is speaking to them as well as to me,” said Justin. “I find that to be incredibly encouraging. It’s not about us and what we do or don’t know. God can and does use everyone regardless of age or any other factor.”
At 49, Mark isn’t shy about pointing out that he was a freshman in college when some of the guys in his dinner group were newborns. At the same time, however, he’s aware that having become a Christian at 40, his faith life is quite young when compared to guys in their 20s who have been pursuing God their whole lives.
Mark says that time and time again, he’s been blessed to be able to use his life experience to guide someone and hear truth from someone a whole generation younger.
“My dinner group coach, who is almost two decades younger than me, is a constant reminder that spiritual maturity doesn’t have an age,” said Mark.
One meeting with his coach stands out. The two were discussing what to do when someone isn’t attending dinner group regularly or drops out completely.
“It can be a really painful experience,” explained Mark. “But through scripture and his own experience leading a dinner group, my coach helped me think through how to process the situation and realize that my role is to provide my dinner group members the opportunity to connect and grow, but that it is up to them to take that step. There’s no age requirement for speaking truth. And I’m grateful for that.”
Being in a group with a variety of ages has also helped Justin and Jeanette fully realize just how much they have to offer.
“As an older person, sometimes I have something to contribute to the conversation that changes the perspective of younger members,” said Justin. “My thoughts are always welcome and are always well received. I love feeling like I have so much to contribute and knowing that my life experience might help someone.”
“At my stage in life, I’ve walked through a lot of things,” said Jeanette. “That life experience doesn’t always mean I know what to say or do, but it means I can share my story and maybe be there for someone going through divorce or a rough patch with their kids.”
Across the board, Justin, Jeanette and Mark all agree that being part of dinner group has made them feel less isolated and more connected. It’s not their whole social life, but it is an important form of fellowship in their lives that they won’t walk away from just because of a number.
“I would encourage anyone who isn’t sure if dinner groups is right for them because of their age to maybe examine – and see if they can set aside – their expectations,” said Justin. “I think they will find joy, connection and growth once they have jettisoned preconceived notions of what dinner group should be and really allowed themselves to experience what it is.”