Part of getting older is coming to terms with aging—new aches and pains, limited mobility, deteriorating health, and even loss of memories or loss of awareness of ourselves, family, and friends. People at this stage need spiritual care, and they also still have a lot to offer—wisdom, time, spiritual maturity, empathy.
There are hundreds of ways that churches can stay connected with older members or reach out to seniors who are not part of a church. Here are just a few ideas to engage the older adults in your church in worship.
1. Bring them to worship.
Organize transportation. Carpool. Offer valet parking. There are many ways to helps folks get to worship and ways to make it easier to enter your building for people with limited mobility. Is at least one entrance accessible without using stairs? Once inside, is that also true of at least one bathroom? Is it true of the pulpit? Also, consider adjusting the time of your services or activities so night driving isn’t necessary—or hold some evening activities by phone or video call so people can take part without traveling.
2. Bring worship to them.
Stream your worship services on Facebook Live or your church website. If technology is challenging, send a volunteer to set up the tech and stay to worship with that person remotely. Or create podcasts of sermons, and have volunteers help people get set up with a podcast app for easy access. Host a worship service in a retirement community from time to time. Bring communion to someone’s home or to the hospital; a walker makes a convenient communion table.
3. Close the generation gap.
Pair a senior with each children’s Sunday school class and encourage them to pray for each other. Invite older members to a youth group event where everyone shares about favorite songs of the faith and then worships together. Have young adults record oral histories as older members share their stories and reflect on moments when they saw God’s provision for the congregation.
4. Weep with those who weep.
The end of our lives can be marked with grief as we suffer the loss of spouses, friends, health, or independence. Read psalms of lament together or write one of your own. Create space in worship for lament, doubt, and grief.
5. Be on the lookout for newly acquired disabilities.
As people age, they sometimes develop difficulty chewing or swallowing. (This is also a common side effect for people going through cancer treatments.) This can make gathering at the Lord’s Table a painful experience rather than a celebratory one, but you can make it easier with your communion bread selection—for instance, a croissant melts in your mouth. Similarly, someone might develop difficulty with vision, hearing, or mobility; consider large-print bulletins, a hearing loop, and accessible seating, entrances, and bathrooms. Two in five adults over the age of 65 have a disability. Even if you don’t have someone in your congregation right now with these challenges, that could change in a few months. Plan ahead now so a newly acquired disability doesn’t keep someone out of church.
6. When you can’t bring them to church, keep them connected.
Pray. Send cards. Encourage the use of their gifts at this stage of life, which may be different from their gifts at an earlier stage of life. Invite them to read the Scripture for Sunday’s worship by recording it on video, then showing it during the service. Share prayer requests with them and ask them to pray.
These ideas were selected from many shared by attendees at “Beyond Singing Hymns: Engaging Older Adults in Worship,” a leadership conference held by the Disability Concerns ministries of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America.