Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ministering to the homebound and elderly

Every community has its own personality. Ours is a unique blend of retired seniors, military families, independent artists, low-income families, and rural desert-lovers.

One of the joys and challenges we face in ministering to this area is a lot of senior citizens who are beginning to slow down and become increasingly "homebound." As I scan through our church directory, I see at least twenty-one members who are currently hospitalized, ill, or significantly disabled, and who rarely, if ever, make it to church.

It can be an overwhelming task to minister to all these people. Especially since they are a group that loves time and attention, but will rarely be able to "give back" to others in the future. I have also noticed that many of them struggle with reading their Bibles or listening to sermons, sometimes because of physical handicaps, and sometimes because they are tired, unmotivated, and untrained in these disciplines.

How then do we care for the homebound and elderly? Well, nothing replaces the value of a face-to-face encounter. These people need to see their pastor, their deacons, and their church family with an occasional home or hospital visit. They need to feel our touch, hear our laugh, and see our smile. They need to hear us read the precious truths of Scripture to them, and to help fix their eyes on Christ and deal biblically with home and health problems. They need to know they are still loved and not forgotten, neither by God nor by their church. When a personal visit is not possible, a phone call or hand-written card may be an acceptable substitute, but they need as much human contact as possible.

I'm also exploring how new technologies can be used to more effectively minister to our elderly. I realize that most seniors are not tech savvy, nor do they have any desire to be. They have seen many things change during their lifetimes and have learned to adapt remarkably, but they simply do not have the interest in the latest gadgets and gizmos like young people do. Many of them will never read this blog post, nor will they ever check out our church website, my twitter feed or facebook account. Most seniors do not have iPods. Many find it unneccesary, too complicated, or too expensive to have internet or an email address. Some don't even own a DVD player or CD player. If any of these comments shock you, then you are probably too out of touch with the seniors of your church.

How, then, can new technology possibly be used to minister to the elderly? The key word is simplicity. Whatever is done, it must be simple. Incredibly simple. Simple enough for today's 2- or 3-year old to operate. Because that's the technological literacy level of most senior adults.

I don't know for sure how this will work, but I've been talking with someone at church about the idea of recording a monthly audio or video address to send to all our homebound. It would include a short greeting from myself, a few updates of recent highlights and happenings around the church, and then I would read through several chapters of the Bible and make a few comments. For some, this may be the only Bible intake they get. I would close with a few prayer requests for current church needs. The whole thing would last maybe 20-25 minutes. We could burn it to a CD and even buy a cheap CD player for them if they don't have one. Any thoughts??

(Update: my April 21 post shares the final result of this discussion)


David Squyres said...


Your thoughts on this ministry are insightful and touching. Thank you.

You have a great sermon website that I find easy to navagate. How aware are your homebound of this site?


Bret Capranica said...

Stephen, excellent thoughts. I would be very interested to know how you develop the details of this ministry.

Natalie said...

Thinking about the need for even a 2-3 year old to be able to use the technology, I was wondering about the DVD players that are for kids. You know, the bright pink Minnie Mouse ones, for example. That might be over the top, color-wise, but (I haven't looked at them) it might be perfect for a senior saint.

Also, with regard to the particular needs of each senior, some may be losing (or lost) their eyesight, so a CD player would be better for them while a DVD might be better for the group who can see. Again with VERY simplistic buttons -- and maybe even coded with a super bright color(s) tape to delineate each button, or to somehow create a raised, braille-like symbol so they can identify the play, pause, stop, forward/reverse buttons.

I'm not sure how all these things would pan out in reality, but at least they are a few ideas to get more thoughts going. :)

Stephen Jones said...

I've done a lot of surfing online for simple CD or MP3 device, and the best thing I've found so far is the SanDisk Sansa Shaker.

It has an external speaker with headphone jack, so could be listened to publicly or privately. Buttons are simple. At $20, it's a good price, and might be a good option for a short-term hospital patient, but I just don't know if it would be practical for a homebound member, since you would have to take the unit to download new stuff to it.

The simplest CD players with built-in speakers I have found so far are these two: