More senior adults are living in America than ever before, but not all churches are seeing a corresponding boom in older adults’ attendance. Pain, mobility, and health issues can make it tough for some older adults to simply get through the day. If seniors struggling with daily life run into access issues at church, discouragement can limit their church involvement, leading to isolation.
By offering an accessible environment that demonstrates understanding of older people’s needs, your ministry can help seniors enjoy fellowship with one another, be encouraged, and continue contributing to the spiritual life of the church.
One hindrance to church involvement for seniors can be a feeling of isolation. Younger people with families are often busy with jobs and children and their daily lives. They have less time to spend with their parents and older neighbors.
When Family Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, started its ministry to people over 60, it asked seniors to share their most pressing needs.
Overwhelmingly, people responded by saying: “We need fellowship,” said Cadell Welch, a church elder who led the senior adult ministry with his wife, Joyce.
The ministry’s goals include evangelistic outreach, spiritual growth, educational pursuits, and wholesome fellowship. Welch challenges seniors not to retire from life, just because they have retired from work.
“We feel like we have more time to be ministers of the gospel than ever before in our life,” Welch said. “We don’t just want to retire and travel. We want to build and be effective in our church.”
Since the ministry began striving to better meet seniors’ needs, people have told Welch that they’ve never been loved like this before.
“We didn’t do everything perfect,” Welch says, “but we have been fairly effective.”
By making accommodations for people with difficulty walking, you can eliminate some physical obstacles to participation. In fact, something as simple as making a curb cut in a sidewalk to accommodate a ramp can eliminate a barrier to access for people using wheelchairs or walkers. Using ramps and elevators instead of stairs also removes obstacles. Even changing your seating areas, offering large-print materials, and providing audio assistance can enhance the church experience for people with physical limitations.
Some seniors who attend large churches can find it challenging to walk from a distant parking lot. Consider addressing this situation by providing volunteers on a golf cart who shuttle older people from the parking lot to the door. Or offer valet parking: An older person or someone with a disability simply drives up the portico, hands their keys to a volunteer, and walks inside. Some church greeters provide assistance to older adults climbing entrance stairs, especially when stairs are slick because of rain or snow. Other ministries provide buses that transport seniors and others without vehicles to and from church.
By recognizing and removing barriers to participation, all ministries can help older adults open the doors to richer lives through greater church involvement.
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