Author: Judi Spencer
Faith in Later Life Church Champion Judi, leads the Seniors work at Clevedon Baptist Church in North Somerset. Here she tells us more about a midweek outreach event which the church hosts for seniors, called Good News.
When the pandemic allowed people to meet once again, albeit at 2m distance, our church launched an event on 2nd Wednesdays each month for people 60+. The idea being to combat loneliness, to inform and inspire in an entertaining way, and give a platform for a Christian message.
A team of seniors volunteered to pray and share ideas, welcome people as they arrive and create a friendly atmosphere. When restrictions were lifted, tea and biscuits were offered after the programme to encourage conversation and new friendships. One of our church daytime home groups made themselves available, this was a great help.
Drawing on a lifetime of putting on such events, I put together a 50 minute programme which contains 7-8 items such as a musical item, interview, slideshow, quiz, poem or reading, singalong songs, and ‘a thought from the Bible’. All different each time, usually following a theme such as ‘ Old & New’ in January,’ Love’ in February, ‘Easter’ and ‘Community Carol Singalong’, ‘Change’, ‘Inspiration’, ‘Show and Tell’ – the last two involved the audience helping with ideas the month before which helped in the planning. I shall be trying to do this more in future because it really helped me in planning and made ‘guests’ own it.
So far I have drawn on the willingness of more than 50 of our own church members to take part, as well as inviting friends and contacts from other churches. We’ve heard from a shepherd, a ship’s captain, a top chef, a Jewish war refugee, a trainer of guide dogs, a creative dancer, a cricket umpire, and many more. Each of them was known to one of us and all were very happy to come along. This next time I shall be interiewing a local woman police special officer who heard what we were doing and offered to come.
When it comes to the ‘God slot’ as some call it, we get someone who can speak very naturally about Christian things – not a preacher – who is happy to bring just one aspect of Biblical thinking to an audience that has established church members, people on the fringe of church life and others with no Christian background at all. We recognise that there are also likely to be lapsed members who have left because they have been hurt through church or life’s tragedies.
The audience is varied because we design the publicity to appeal to all members of the local community. Everyone who comes is given an attractive invitation card to pass on to someone else. This is our main means of recruiting new guests. We show a large poster in our church window and an A4 on the library noticeboard. In addition I submit different editorial about each approaching event to the ‘Local Reach’ free magazine that goes in every letterbox in the town and nearby locations. A few have come because of this and are surprised how good it is. It is true that there is nothing at all like this on offer locally, and most older people are looking for ‘something to do’. We all want to get out and do something more than sit over a coffee in a local cafe.
The invitations are also given out at our seniors luncheon club and monthly Saturday coffee morning, at our warmbank in winter and in the market square outside our church building. If there are any over, one or two of us pop them in letterboxes of houses in nearby streets. It should also appear on the list of activities that social workers look at to recommend to clients.
The half-hour of tea and chat after the events (which I resist calling a ‘meeting’ or a ‘ service’) gives the team great opportunity to mix and get to know folk a little and ask a leading question about what they specially liked in the programme. This feedback is always encouraging and as a team we are happy to continue this outreach as long as it is serving a good purpose and we are seeing answers to prayer each time. I should mention that the information is posted on our church Seniors Facebook page which is also read by some of our not-yet-retired members and friends, who take prayer seriously and support us in this way. That goes for a housebound member too who is very faithful in upholding us. We all acknowledge that we can do all the planning and presenting, but only Holy Spirit can work in hearts to make it all worthwhile.
For anyone thinking about starting this kind of ministry for older people, Judi shares 3 tops tips:
1) Identify your target audience, who do you want to reach?
2) Get a praying, caring, active team around you
3) Make a long list of ideas for items you would like to include in programmes in the future
We’re grateful to Judi for sharing her experience with us. Please pray for her team and all those they are serving each month.
If there’s something you do in your church or community which is helping people to have faith in later life, we’d love to hear from you!