Seniors adults may feel especially vulnerable during the current coronavirus crisis, but engaging and reaching out to them is an important ministry for churches.
“We’ve had care group leaders in our senior ministry to stay in touch with other seniors, and I’ve asked them to report to me if they talk with some who are especially depressed, [so] then I can reach out too,” said Ronnie McCarson, senior adult minister at Cottage Hill Baptist Church, Mobile.
McCarson was one of three senior adult ministers featured in the webinar “Ministry to Senior Adults in Challenging Times” held June 16. Eileen Mitchell, an associate in the office of Sunday School and discipleship for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions who works primarily with single adults, senior adults and families, co-hosted the video conference with SBOM church health strategist Ken Allen of the office of LeaderCare and church health.
“Care group leaders in the Sunday School can stay in touch with four or five when it’s impossible for Sunday School teachers to stay in touch with all 50 in the class,” McCarson said. Cottage Hill staff members also had called every church member to offer prayer support in this time, he said.
“We found a lot of updates with new phone numbers and addresses, so we cleaned up our [contact list] in the process,” he said.
Finding ways to help
Senior adults at Cottage Hill continued to help with a weekday meal delivery ministry, McCarson said. Another successful ministry involved senior adults reaching out to graduating seniors.
“We had a program we called ‘Seniors Loving on Seniors’ in which our senior adults wrote to our academy seniors at graduation time, and included a gift card,” he said. “This is one way people with time on their hands at home can reach out to others.”
Bob Smith, who leads senior adult ministries at First Baptist Church, Trussville, said his church had enlisted about 75 volunteers to call senior adults every week for six weeks and also had a weekly email newsletter for those they call their “seasoned adults.”
“We’ve tried to get others involved in doing the work of ministry,” he said.
And now that churches are gathering again, staff members say they are remaining aware of senior adult concerns.
Eloise Crossley, senior adult ministry director at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, said her church had worshipped in person for the past three weeks, following all suggested procedures.
“We removed hymnals and Bibles from the sanctuary, and though we’ve always kept facilities clean, we’ve learned more about sanitizing,” she said. “Since seniors are susceptible to colds and flu, we think this will be a long-term gain for us.”
‘Not quite ready’
Crossley said her church is reopening Sunday School classes on alternating Sundays, but she’s convinced many senior adults aren’t ready yet to regather.
Smith said FBC Trussville is offering three services, the first one attended by more seniors. More people wear masks during that service as well, he said — about 70% of attendees.
All three ministers said they’ve offered Facebook posts, online worship and Zoom video Bible studies and training conferences. McCarson teaches the Explore the Bible Sunday School lesson on his personal Facebook page.
“Our approach has been the trot-line approach,” Smith said. “We try to have as many ‘hooks’ in the water as we can, so we’ve used every electronic means possible.” Smith said FBC Trussville also had offered technical help to members and to other area churches.
“I tell our seniors the secret of getting online is to call a grandchild,” he said. “For those who continue to have difficulty, we’ve recorded DVDs of services and Bible studies we deliver to them.”
McCarson said Cottage Hill is bringing Sunday School back on July 5. Smith said his church is looking at August.
New ways to minister
As to what the senior adult ministers have learned during the pandemic, Crossley said the shutdown had forced FBC Jacksonville to think of new ways to minister.
“Our choir used to sing at nursing homes, and we can’t do this now,” she said. “But we’ve tried to keep in touch with our members there.” Smith said using Zoom video had been a good experience, and that many of his senior adults who a little leery of online giving now have begun to do it more.
“Our people have been faithful in giving and we’re above where we were last year at this time,” he said.
McCarson agreed that his leaders had learned the importance of teaching technology, and this will be a positive thing for his congregation going forward.
For more information about senior adult ministry, contact Eileen Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 1-800-264-1225.
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