Guidance on particular sensitivities for senior's evangelism
Churches have a Biblical mandate to reach out to people of all cultures and ages. There are going to be significant opportunities for evangelism and outreach with older people as there are going to be many more older people in churches who are able to participate in this aspect of ministry and many many more older people in our communities who need to hear the good news of the gospel.
We share the gospel of Jesus Christ in many ways. The Apostle Paul said that he adapted his teaching to the thinking of people in their different cultures so that he might be able to reach them.
Loneliness and isolation is a key issue for many older people and this, combined with a lifetime of experiences to unpack, requires some new approaches to explore the christian faith.
Older people are sometimes seen to be stubborn, or inflexible in their thinking. This is not because their mental processing is slower (although this can be the case) but it is often because they want to retain their autonomy: they don’t want to be vulnerable to persuasion by others. They want to make their own decisions (as we all do).
Throughout their lives, their experiences have shaped their expectations and their understanding. Many will have heard the good news more than once, sometimes directly, sometimes peripherally. They may have accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour, or they may have rejected him. They have laid down layers of thinking that justify their decisions.
Evangelism to older people therefore needs to include such considerations and reflect the fact that some older people find it hard to concentrate for longer periods of time and they can also have difficulty with the written word. The video below is a useful introduction to why ‘relational evangelism’ works particularly well with older people.
Practical pointers on leading an evangelistic bible study
As you start to plan your group, gather a group of people together to pray for the group. Invite your prayer support team to carry on praying during the lifetime of the group. Before each session, pray with those who will be helping you. Pray together at the end. Pray for the individual members of the group, that they will meet God – this could be for the first time or in a new way, depending on their faith background.
Plan your schedule so that the group meets at regular intervals, until the course is finished.
When the weather is kind in the summer it’s tempting to think that it would be pleasant to sit outside in the sunshine, but our experience shows that this doesn’t work at all. Group members become distracted and lose their focus easily.
It creates a sense of ‘togetherness’ and at the same time is practical, giving participants a surface to put things on. If you don’t have a big round table, you could put smaller tables together. Try to avoid long tables that separate people at either end – perhaps put two long tables together side by side, to avoid separated ‘high table’ participants.
The maximum number is eight for people living with dementia. For seniors without dementia, it is ten.
It provides a handy focal point for the group.
If you are relaxed and comfortable others are more likely to feel the same way. Be sure you are not bringing feelings of stress and anxiety to the group, and that you are positive and upbeat. Welcome each person by name, looking directly at them with a warm smile. You may like to check that everyone has their spectacles or hearing aids. After you’ve arranged the session items in the centre of the table it’s good to take a few minutes to pray, committing everything to the Lord.
The group leader can empathise, but always end the interaction with a positive remark. For example, if someone says that they can’t remember anymore that God loves them, the response could be to ask, ‘Do you think that God has forgotten you?’
Although older people are individuals and all will be different, it is the case that older people have a lifetime of experiences (including regrets and guilt) to process and they can be more sceptical about the message until they get to know the messenger. For many, the process of committing or recommitting to the Lord can be more of a process rather than an event.
No group of people are the same, and as you get to know your group, you’ll be able to focus what you do more closely on their needs. You might be able to source supplementary activities online or on the high street.
Include an evaluation form at the end of the sessions. Evaluation is key to improving what you offer and to ensuring that you’re providing the best for the seniors who are part of your group.