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Like the Munchkins advised Dorothy, when starting a new project (or a trip to the Emerald City), it’s best to start at the beginning.
I am a member of Heritage Baptist Church, a CBF-affiliated congregation of about 300 in Cartersville, GA, with a large older adult population. However, we didn’t have an older adult ministry area until 2020.
Our ministry started just as the Covid-19 pandemic shut down events, including church gatherings. The team consists of three lay members, all over age 65. We made goodie bags for homebound members and delivered them with minimal contact. The seniors really appreciated them.
From the beginning, we focused on the oldest of the old, who were often homebound. Part of this work included starting a birthday card ministry for those aged 80 and up and delivering Valentine’s goodie bags the following year. We soon grew to in-person gatherings at our outdoor pavilion, where folks gathered in folding chairs for bible study lessons we called “Time Out With God.”
Heritage’s “yellow brick road” to older adult ministry began with a survey. We asked elders about their needs and what we could offer them.
The top two requests we received were for Bible study and fellowship opportunities. I learned it’s essential to have a diverse group of volunteers. I am an intellectual, so Bible study is my forte. My friend Dovie is a social butterfly, so she comes up with the fellowship opportunities. We have various leaders for the study sessions, from our pastor, retired pastor and lay members. We’re doing fun, social activities when we’re not having bible studies. The diverse approaches keep the sessions fresh.
Older adult ministry is not ministering TO older adults; it’s ministering WITH them. We learned to let them be involved in the planning, whether suggesting activities or serving in a particular area; the goal is to keep them engaged.
We classify members by those who are homebound, mobility-challenged but can still attend, and finally, the go-getters who are older in years but still very active. It’s OK that everyone can’t do everything; that’s why we have various options so everyone can do something. While women tend to outnumber men in this age bracket, try to plan activities that will appeal to both men and women. And for the homebound, remember them with calls, messages, cards, goodie bags, etc.
Another method to keep older adults engaged is to look for ways to have intergenerational events. Work with your teen or children’s ministry leaders. Last year, we had teens sign up to help elders decorate their homes for Christmas. After the holiday, they went back to help box things up. We also have a congregational life team for stuff like Bingo or trivia nights, which are open to all and that we support.
Similarly, we host an annual Act III Sunday, where our members lead all aspects of the worship service. Until we started the older adult ministry, we only had Children’s Sunday and Graduation Sunday (teens). Letting the congregation see the members who have been the backbone of the church for so many years is really dear to my heart.
We haven’t reached the “Emerald City,” but we are on the way. Covid remains an unrelenting threat but we do our best to provide programs for elders in as safe an environment as possible.
It is a joy to work with and for our elders.
Jo Ann Branton spent 25 years teaching in the public school system but found her true calling when she started teaching senior adults at Heritage Baptist Church (a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church) in Cartersville, GA. A lay member, Jo Ann also chairs the Act III Older Adult Ministry team and plays bass in the church band. She received the Certificate in Older Adult Ministries I from CLL in June, 2023. She and her husband live on the family farm in rural Bartow County with Leroy, a cat who “found” them when he was five months old and, six years later, rules the roost.