Older man holding telephone

Author: Alex Drew

It wasn’t all that long ago that remote communication took time, money, and effort. I still remember standing in line for the payphone in halls at university, and eventually having my call cut off because I ran out of coins. And it was there at the sprightly age of 18 that I sent my first email – from a chunky computer in the University library. We sent letters home and received money in the post. Event tickets had to be collected or extra postage paid, and making plans to meet people required commitment, good time keeping, and an A to Z.

For some of us it feels like yesterday, but much has changed since those white-knuckle-ride days of communicating and planning our social lives.  With the arrival of the internet, communication has become instant, cheap and easy – for those who are online.

Among older people, increasing numbers are using online technology to communicate, shop, and be entertained. This is brilliant to see! But last year Age UK revealed new analysis indicating that almost half of over 65s are either unable to use the internet safely and successfully, or are not online at all.

This has important implications for churches, many of whom have come to rely on emails, their websites, and social media to communicate with their congregations when they are not gathered together in person.

We’ve recently asked some of our Church Champions how it is that they connect with older friends who aren’t online – to invite them to events, check in on them, or let them know about news and changes.

Here are a few we hope will help those of you reaching and serving older people who are not online:

Print, and Post or Deliver

·        Emails sent to church members

·        Meeting agendas and minutes

·        Prayer Guides

·        Event invitations

·        Events calendar

·        Newsletters that include a mixture of the above

·        Sermon scripts for those unable to get to church

Items can be printed in large print versions to show consideration to those whose sight is poor or deteriorating, and making deliveries is a lovely role for volunteers who enjoy a walk – alone, fellowshipping with others, or as a prayer walk in their community.

Local magazines and papers

·        Story sharing about significant occasions or changes

·        Advertising events

·        Events calendar

Being connected with your local paper or magazine is a great way to let your whole community know about the life of the church and the way in which you value older people.

Phone Calls

·        Prayer Chains

·        Buddy systems

·        Call rotas

With many churches moving onto Church Suite etc and away from printed contacts lists, don’t forget to ask your administrator to use such systems to print lists or handbooks for those in your fellowship who are offline.

As well as helping older people to stay connected, they can be encouraged to use them as prayer lists so that those no longer able to take a physically active part in church life can be powerfully praying for the church family by name.

Keep all your seniors in touch – Training Notes

In their Training Notes ‘Keep all your seniors in touch’ John Truscott and Peter Crumpler highlight some further helpful ideas, including making sure there are non-digital ways to book places for events, and making audio cd of services available. Read their article here.

It’s not too late to get online

One of the delightful things I noticed during the pandemic was that older friends who had not previously kept UpToDate with the latest communication technology were being helped by family members and church friends to use platforms such as WhatsApp and Zoom to make video calls. This was a great example to me that for some people it’s not too late to get online.

Those ministering among older people might like to consider helping people in later life to learn new digital skills and get connected to their church and community online.

Age UK run a Digital Champion Programme which aims to tackle digital exclusion by recruiting and training Digital Champion volunteers, who will support older people to improve their digital skills, as well as providing loan technology to those without access. Find out more. You may find similar opportunities through your local council or library.

Helping people to belong

An ongoing sense of belonging is so important for our older friends; knowing what’s going on and being able to engage with and pray for the life of the church plays a significant part in this for many older Christians. And so we encourage you to try some of the above ideas to help include your whole church family.

If you’ve found other helpful ways to keep your offline members and friends connected, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us by email or leave a message on our answerphone on 020 4577 2694.