Working with Senior Citizens - Part 1
The psalmist wrote, ‘The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away’, Ps. 90. 10. Whilst this is an obvious reference to the brevity of life it is particularly pertinent to the group of people with which this article is concerned. Humanly speaking, those in their seventies and eighties are nearer to death than those that are younger. Our task of evangelizing older people is perhaps more urgent than our activities with this group would suggest.
‘In December 2009 the Office for National Statistics reported that the proportion of the UK population aged under 16 had dropped from 25% in 1971 to 19% in 2008. At the same time, the proportion aged 65 and over had risen to 16% compared to 13% in 1971. This trend is projected to continue. By 2031, 22% of the population will be aged 65 and over compared to 18% aged 16 or younger’.1 Looking around many assemblies in the UK they are reflecting these profiling figures.
For many assemblies the declining numbers in fellowship coupled with the increasing age of members makes the continuation of a children’s work difficult to sustain. Some have questioned the validity of a Sunday evening Gospel Meeting when no one from the community has attended in years.
These are just some of the factors that have led many churches to set up a regular work amongst Senior Citizens as part of their outreach activities. As the assembly may be made up of those over 50 it also provides an opportunity to invite those of their own generation along to a special meeting arranged for people of a similar age. However, if we have not thought about such a work, what do we need to do?
The Senior Citizens’ Tea
1. Find a suitable day/time
We might assume Sunday to be the best day, but others find Saturday a fruitful opportunity to get people into the hall. It is important to explore what is best for those we are trying to reach and organize such meetings appropriately. Some have found that family commitments of those you are trying to reach can often conflict with the use of a Sunday. Alternatively, Easter and Christmas can be useful times to arrange a special tea.
How to get the invitations out to the people can present a difficulty. Some have prepared their own flyers to take around homes. Those towns that have complexes of bungalows and flats which can be accessed to give out invitations may make the task of delivery easier for a small company of believers.
However, it is helpful to think about what methods can be used legitimately. The local newsagents, or small supermarkets, may offer free advertising in their shop window, particularly if they know that what you are ‘offering’ is a ‘free event’. Similarly, some local newspapers offer free advertising space for such things in their column of ‘diary dates’. Many churches have provided mobile phone numbers inviting readers to phone to ‘book places’ at the tea – always an encouragement if people think that places are limited!
One assembly has also been pro-active in inviting members of other churches. The motive is not one of inter-denominational activity but, as the contributor put it, many people who attend church regularly are not saved. They need the gospel as much as anyone else!
Many assemblies have found the combination of a gospel meeting with a meal to follow a very good way of encouraging folks to come. It is a way of engaging in conversation and establishing links with senior citizens. As they get to know you and to appreciate the kindness that you show them, people begin to ‘open up’ and offer information which can be brought before the assembly for prayer. We should not underestimate the significance of a listening ear and a caring heart! Equally, making known the gospel meeting each Sunday can ensure that those who come to the tea also come to the usual gospel meeting.
Whilst the teas that we offer are free, many of those who attend feel that they should contribute something. We may make no charge but it is important to be sensitive in order that our refusal to accept their kindness does not cause upset.
It is easy to assume that people will find their own way to the hall but some offer of transport is often desirable, bearing in mind that some older people find it difficult to get into the back of a car that has only two doors. Vehicle insurance ought to be checked too, to ensure that what you are doing doesn’t conflict with the terms of your policy.
Some towns have a community transport facility and such organ-izations can supply minibuses and drivers to collect people. Obviously there will be a charge but, if numbers necessitate it, this may be a useful option to explore.
Ease of access to the venue is essential. Some halls have steps and problems with ramp access and this could present problems in getting elderly folk into the hall. We must also consider those who may wish to come but require wheelchair access, halls should have addressed these matters under the Disability Discrimination Act regulations but, in some cases, this is not straightforward.2
The alternative might be to consider a venue elsewhere. Some bungalow and sheltered accommodation complexes have community centres as part of their facilities which will avoid the issue of accessibility.
5. Kitchen facilities
If you are intending to provide a meal as part of the outreach activity then proper kitchen facilities are essential. Certain foods will need to be kept at an appropriate temperature. Refrigerators need to be big enough to store the food until it is ready to be served. Meat products are particularly prone to deteriorate in higher temperature environments. Ideally, it would be beneficial for some to attend a Food Hygiene course to ensure that such matters are properly covered.
Wherever possible it is important to be sensitive to the special dietry needs of people, as this is a further demonstration of our care for and interest in them. Adding that special touch of a favourite item of food can make a considerable impact on the person who attends and they can become your ‘ambassadors’ in inviting others!
Working with senior citizens means we have to be properly equipped. Some form of amplification for the speaker is desirable, A mobile microphone linked to the hall’s loop system is one option but alternatives may be better, especially if those attending do not wear hearing aids but still need the sound to be amplified!
If some of the hymns that those attending may remember from their childhood or school days are going to be sung, it will be necessary to have sufficient hymn books in large print. Senior Citizens Songbooks are available and some flexibility in copyright is also available for those who might wish to provide their own limited mix of traditional hymns in large print for this specific work.3
7. Contacts and visitation
A point of contact can be most useful so, if possible, provide a phone number that people can ring to request transport. Equally, it can enable you to develop a list of names, addresses, and phone numbers of the people who come and ensure that any further invitations can be personalized. There is nothing better than a personal invitation delivered by phone, or hand, to encourage someone to return to the meeting.
Working with people unfamiliar with our expectations in relation to a ‘gospel meeting’ is interesting! They do not always sit quietly until we are ready to start. They meet someone they have not seen for a while and are prone to start a conversation. It is important to have a speaker with an understanding of the audience and the issues of life that they face. Similarly, the speaker needs to be prepared for things out of the ordinary – for example, if they ask what they intend to be a rhetorical question, they should expect an answer!
Whilst we might expect some older people to remember Bible stories and texts from their childhood, education, or church attendance, it is important to keep the gospel message simple. Having sinners who need a Saviour present in our meeting helps to refocus our preaching to meet the need of the moment!
Some assemblies have made good use of other aspects of gospel witness; for example, the use of personal testimonies of salvation can help to make the gospel and its effects personal and real. However, it is important to strike the right balance between the claims of the message and the means we use to bring sinners into contact with that message.
- Source: http://www.igd.com/index.asp?id=1&fid=1&sid=17&tid=0&folid=0&cid=100
- We hope to print an article on some of the issues of Health and Safety and Risk Assessment in a later issue of the magazine.
- More information on this and similar matters relating to hymn copyright can be found at: http://www.ccli.co.uk/
This article has been compiled by the editor in consultation with a number of brethren who have contributed their experiences and ideas. The editor expresses particular thanks to Mark Bennett (Kirkby), George Clamp (Hemsworth), and Bob Wheatley (Higham Ferrers) for their input to this article.