We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Keith Mcintosh, a Church Champion from St Andrews Church in Leyland, Lancashire. Keith shared with us how he is using his passion for sports and leisure to help serve the older people in his community.
Keith is retired and has always had a keen interest in supporting and serving older people. It started when he began helping his family and friends through Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Parkinson’s. Seeing the effect of these illnesses close-up, God revealed the need for care and compassion in the older community.
As God tells us in the Bible, “even to your old age I am He, and to grey hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” – Isaiah 46:4
Keith felt challenged to offer new opportunities for faith and wellbeing, fitness and friendship among older people. As he told us, “it’s about opening the doors of the church and inviting the community in. There is a massive need for activities to keep older people occupied, alive and well, fit and happy.”
And so, he began leading Sports Life sessions once a week alongside a group of passionate volunteers. The sessions were for people aged 55+ and involved popular sports like badminton, table tennis, and carpet bowls.
Over time, popularity increased, and Sports Life gradually became Dementia and Parkinson’s friendly. Keith shared with us that, “even if people aren’t fit and able, they can come and sit with a cup of tea and a biscuit and chat and watch other people enjoy themselves.”
Soon enough, local age concern centres were hearing of Keith’s weekly sessions and referring people there to get involved, meet new people, and keep fit. Keith was so encouraged to discover that the opportunity for physical activity wasn’t just bringing people together, but it was attracting people in and helping form new friendships. As he told us, “lots of them want something to do and they enjoy taking part. It adds a routine, a structure to their week.”
Through his ministry, Keith is seeing people form new friendships, improve physically, and get involved in the local church. God is using sport to build friendships and connect with the lonely. Keith has seen many instances of his group sessions encouraging older people to join the church and get involved.
While we were chatting, he shared a story of a gentleman called John who, with the support of Keith and others in the church who welcomed supported, and mentored him, got involved in the church, opened his heart to Christ, and started taking part in community activities.
Before he met Keith, John was someone who came to church with his wife once a year, on Christmas Eve. One day, he felt the call to come back and find out more. When he walked through into the church, Keith was there to greet him. They got talking together and John shared how he was recovering from a serious heart condition but that he knew in his heart he wanted to get involved in his local church.
Keith got to know John and encouraged him to sign up to a course called Exploring Christianity. Keith was by his side throughout the course to support and mentor him through it, building relationship with John and helping draw him near to God.
It was not long before Keith invited John to a new activity called Walking Football. John jumped at the chance to get involved in something and joyfully came along every week to get to know the team.
John was very keen to take part in the sport, but Keith was unsure due to his health condition. So, he advised John to first get the activity signed off by his doctor. When John told his doctor about the sport, he agreed that Walking Football would be particularly good for his recovery, but that John should take it slow. Well, John was elated and, even though he had to take things slow, he enjoyed every minute of taking part.
Within three months, John was playing upfront and scoring goals. He was staying fit and active, he was making friends, and he was involved in serving at church. Simply by welcoming him in and encouraging him, Keith had created an opportunity for connection.
In the last three years, Keith has seen John’s physical and mental health come on leaps and bounds. Even now, he is actively involved in the local church and his faith has grown exponentially thanks to people like Keith who have come alongside him and taken the time to get to know his story.
We asked Keith what his advice would be to other Church Champions who are keen to get involved and serve the older people in their communities. He told us, “look for opportunities, pray for opportunities, make use of the facilities that the churches have. All it takes is a small number of volunteers with a passion to get people into communities and activities. There are organisations like ours all over the country, so there is sure to be one near you that you can get involved in.”
One of the most important things Keith has learned during his ministry is that it is important to engage, invite, and connect with older people. “Get to know them where they’re at,” he told us, “care and compassion is just as important as the sports activities.”
We are so encouraged to hear how it all started with a calling God placed on his heart. Keith did not have any prior qualifications that made him the best person for this role, he just had a heart that was in line with his Father’s. If that is you, we would encourage you to get involved however you can in serving those most vulnerable in your communities.
Finally, we would like to leave you with this encouragement. It says in Psalm 92:12-14, “But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the LORD’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, “The LORD is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!”