Author: Tim Wilson
How can we reach out to older people over the Christmas period?
Our church is in a village in Cheshire. A few years back we had a rethink about how to reach our area. We realised there were two groups we had real opportunities with: families and retired people.
We were doing a lot to reach families, but the retired outreach was more ad hoc. We chatted to retired people in the church about what would serve them in reaching their friends.
Whatever your community is like, there are doubtless retired people you share the Christmas
message and welcome with. Here’s what we learnt:
A Perspective Shift
Before we get into the specifics ideas, the first thing we learnt was a perspective shift in terms of language. We went from speaking about “the elderly” to “the retired”.
Everyone in our church thought reaching the elderly was a good idea. But no one thought of themselves as elderly. And they weren’t! Most of our retired people regularly exercised, were involved in grandparenting duties and weren’t particularly struggling with ill-health. Their friends were the same.
When we spoke of reaching the elderly, their minds jumped to people that weren’t at all like their friends. Retired people was more broad. That included the lonely and frail, but it also included the active and healthy. We want to reach all retired people.
Once that perspective shift has happened, you can think of some ways of outreach.
Here are 9 ideas. Some are time-intensive, some are easy. Some are gospel-proclamation, others are relational. I guarantee you can do at least one in your area.
1. Christmas cards
Deliver a card to every house on your street. You don’t need to know your neighbours’
names. Write a simple message:
Fred, Jane and Sid the Dog (Number 42)
You’ll likely get 4-5 back, this time with the sender’s names. Keep a note for next year and you can start to build a relationship.
If you’re feeling daring, include an invite to a carol service. But that isn’t a must. The relationship is the priority here.
2. Christmas Bakes
Many people like to bake Christmas goodies over the Christmas period. What if you shared them with someone else? (It’s good for the waistline too!)
Just knock on your neighbours door and say “We just baked some minced pies, would you like one?”
As they scoff their faces, you can introduce yourself. This is slightly better than cards as you get to see people’s faces. Hopefully, that makes it easier to talk in the future.
Bonus points if you take cute kids with you. Everyone loves to see kids at Christmas!
3. Grandparents Welcome!
In our society, it is more common for both parents to work full or part-time. This means that grandparents are on duty more often. This can be physically and emotionally demanding. They need support just as much as new mums and dads.
We’ve found in recent years grandparents are much more likely to be involved in toddler clubs or looking after grandkids during the holiday.
If you’re holding an event for children, don’t just say “parents and carers welcome”. Specify grandparents are welcome. Encourage grandparents from church come too. They will make natural connections.
Get a small group from church to go and carol sing around your village. Knock the doors, gather people round and take requests. You don’t need to be a choir!
My tip would be to do this in the daylight. People will rarely leave their doorstep in the cold.
You could also do this in a retirement home if there is one near you.
5. Neighbours Nibbles
Invite neighbours from down your road to come round for Christmas nibbles at a particular time. Also invite a Christian friend (preferably local).
Keep the time short (1 hour) so you don’t run out of things to talk about. You won’t get the whole street, but it’s likely you will meet some people who don’t know you very well.
6. Christmas Dinner +1
If you are already cooking a huge amount of food, why not invite someone who is spending Christmas alone?
For many of us, Christmas day is devoted to seeing extended family. But if it isn’t for you, considering inviting someone round. Of course, you’ll probably need to know them fairly well before this is an option. But consider if there are any retired relatives, church members
or neighbours who may be interested.
7. Carol Concert
Most churches have a carol service this time of year. Make sure local people feel invited.
Simply calling it a “Community Carol Service” and putting invites through doors may lead people to come.
Even better, invite people you actually know. For retired people, that inevitably means retired friends. Others of us surely have family or neighbours we can invite.
8. Community Lunch
4 times a year, our church organises a community lunch. Dinner is provided for free on a Wednesday lunch time, followed by a talk.
This is very hard work for those in the kitchen. But if you have the skills to do this, it’s a great opportunity.
9. Evangelistic Courses
At Christmas, we always invite people to a Christianity Explored course starting in the new year.
Because of the size of our village, a usual group size is 2-4. Over-65s are often interested. Most had some contact with the Bible at school or church. However, in my experience, they weren’t ever allowed to ask questions.
An environment where they can read the Bible, challenge it and receive answers is a great opportunity.
I like Christianity Explored because it’s rooted in Mark. But there are other courses that you might use. One of our church members has read John one-to-one with a neighbour.
Because it’s the most evangelistic, it’s easy to assume no one will come. But if you never ask, you’ll never know! I’m constantly surprised at the people who do say yes.
I’m sure there are other ideas that work in your area. No church or individual can do them all.
But could you do one on this list?
Tim Wilson is the pastor of Wheelock Heath Baptist Church in Cheshire, and part of the The Rural Project, helping to catalyse and facilitate rural mission in Great Britain.