Invent New Forms of Senior Adult Ministries and Community Seniors Ministry

Senior adult ministries have long lived on the edges of many congregations. Beyond occasional visits, flower deliveries or a handmade card from a children‘s class, the needs of elderly citizens are complex, and their numbers are rapidly expanding.

The needs of adults with aging parents are growing just as rapidly. New forms of seniors ministry are needed in the congregation and the community to address many emerging problems.

"There is a real appetite for ways of living into old age that reduce loneliness, strengthen links with the community, and are based on mutual relationships and reciprocal support."

Congregations can play a key role in this.

1. Religion and Health

Reconfirmed in recent studies, the positive link between religious involvement and physical and mental health has been well established.

“People with a strong personal faith who regularly attend religious services generally have lower blood pressure; are less likely to suffer from depression; have greater sense of well-being; have stronger immune systems; and live longer -- 23% longer, according to a long-term study by Dr. William Strawbridge and other researchers [American Journal of Public Health, 1997]

That is not to imply that people who are involved in their congregations do not become ill or experience serious health related problems. However, taken as an aggregate, participation in a religious community has an overall positive impact on health. A supportive community, grounding in hope, affirmation for personal value and well-being, developing concern for others all play a contributing role. Being active in a congregation's close knit circle can even have a positive impact on Alzheimer's prevention.

But, “At the time when religious support is most needed, older persons are less able to access it (due to failing health, immobility, or lack of transportation).”

Therefore, congregations must continue to invent new ways to involve and engage older adults in everyday life.

2. Senior Adult Ministries Across Generations

As technology continues to rapidly change and expand, there can be new opportunities to involve the youth of congregations in outreach to senior adult ministries in the congregation and the community. Youth in congregations can be a vital resource in helping to see that technology is an asset in the lives of older members.

Youth groups can start by organizing to make sure that no elderly member of the congregation has their television go dark after they get a gift. How many older people will receive a new flat-screen television, or DVD player, or switch from cable to satellite dish? The issues involved in the conversation are very simple for those that are technologically savvy, but are completely overwhelming for people who still preferred the rabbit ears and changing the channel by hand!

How about those getting a iPad for the first time? Or even a new smart phone?

New technology is unbelievably complex for many senior adults. An older relative recently got a new DVD player as a present. After frustrations of getting it to work, a neighbor finally came by and started the movie. But afterward, he could not get it to stop because no one had explained the menu system and how to navigate through all the unfamiliar symbols!

Many seniors will not be able to make the transition smoothly, so your youth group's help will long be needed.

3. Caring for Caregivers in the Family

Caring-giving for elders can be one of the leading stresses on families. Adult children increasingly find themselves as part of a sandwich generation, tending to the needs of their children and grandchildren, as well as their aging parents. Congregations have a wide open field to address caregiver stress and provide much needed guidance and resources.

The impact of caregiver challenges are often invisible in congregations. Learn how to offer real support and care for the caregiver.

Adult children are often caring "long distance" as families are scattered across the country and around the globe. Adult children balance complex schedules of travel to offer care, with work and other family obligations. They have a need to develop trusted local resources who can sometimes communicate needed information or provide local emergency contacts. Senior adult ministries could provide such a link.

4. Create Brain Fitness Opportunities

There is incredible new research about brain aging and the role of keeping mentally challenged. Researchers have confirmed that leading a stimulating life leads to greater health and overall well-being. While numerous residential communities have experimented with offering new programs for developing cognitive reserve, this is a new possibility for senior adult ministries to incorporate brain fitness programs into their approach.

5. Spiritual Eldering for Growth and Service

Dr. Drew Leder from Loyola University in Maryland is among a growing number of thinkers who are developing an approaching to senior adult ministries that incorporates cultural wisdom from generations past. Their approach called “Spiritual Eldering” focuses on the value of aging as a unique stage of life. Their attempt is to create intentional environments where the elderly are invited to reflect on their own life stories and lessons learned as well as encouraged to offer guidance, their acquired wisdom, and mentoring for the good of the greater society.

Spiritual eldering is not an invitation just for those vigorous seniors in good health. Leder and others see illness and disability as another avenue toward spiritual growth and wisdom that can be shared.

6. Advocates in the Health Care System

Families are challenged by interacting with health care systems and sometimes needing to make complex ethical decisions with little time, understanding or guidance. Senior adult ministries could be a vital link in providing discussions and educational opportunities about senior safety, other issues of elder life and advance care planning . They can actively encourage members to talk early with family members and consider a varieties of possible scenarios for the future. They can advocate for completing vital documents and making sure those documents are stored or distributed appropriately.

7. End of Life Conversations

Congregations can provide an essential place to help families engage in end-of-life planning. These conversations can involve ethical dilemmas, values, beliefs, and all the fears we carry as individuals and a society about death and dying. What if we could "normalize" the talking about the end of life? What if we were as comfortable as talking about how we live, or what we believe about life after death?

There is a PBS documentary the could be a helpful tool in framing the some of the essential issues around end of life. Consider the Conversation Consider the Conversation: a documentary about at taboo subject is a powerful film that provides an effective framework for beginning end of life conversations within your congregation.  I was interviewed in the early part of the film as it lays out why we are the first generations ever to need to have these talks within our families.

Senior Adult Ministries to Aging Parents Home Page

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