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Starting A Church Based Nursing Home Ministry

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While the major thrust of this manual is to help Christians in a nursing home ministry, this final part enlarges the scope a bit to help churches organize to meet the needs of elderly people both inside and outside of nursing homes.

This part is adapted from "Developing Programs for Senior Citizens--A Handbook for churches," produced by the Delaware County of (PA) Services for the Aging, and is included here with their permission. We gratefully acknowledge the editors: Judy Oerkvitz, Louis Colbert, Norma Thomas and Verne Dalton.


Churches have historically sought to minister to the special needs of widows, orphans and the aged. Today many churches are reexamining their efforts along these lines in light of the changing cultural and social situation. As concern for the plight of the aged has increased, so too have the resources available to the church. Health systems, social agencies and informational services all stand ready to provide support to churches taking on new projects or otherwise strengthening their ministry with the aging.

The purpose of this section is threefold:

1. To provide general guidelines as to how a church can plan a program to serve and involve the older adult.

2. To offer some suggestions about how to plan, organize and maintain an effective volunteer program.

3. To suggest ideas for the kinds of programs that churches can undertake to help alleviate problems faced by senior citizens.

This section has been designed to provide an overview of the major elements of program development. Detailed instructions have necessarily been omitted due to the fact that program development and implementation will vary according to the particular situation of a given church.


Develop a Planning Committee

Organize a committee responsible for looking into program ideas and developing a plan to extend the church's ministry to/with the aging. Ideally, this committee should consist of the pastor, one or more members of the church's governing body and several members of the congregation. It is recommended that older people themselves be recruited for this committee. The responsibility of the committee will be to survey the needs and resources, define the problems, develop plans for problem resolution, work to initiate programs, review the problems in light of program impact and make appropriate program adjustments.

Survey the Needs

Before a program can be developed, the church must have a clear idea of the unmet needs of elderly people in the church and surrounding community. It may be useful to develop a questionnaire which can be used in talking with elderly members of the church, relatives of church members and community residents. Statistics from the local municipality may be helpful. Interviews with local elected officials, staff from neighborhood health and welfare organizations and other health care delivery systems, and the area agency on aging should be able to help the planning committee discover the problem areas of elderly people in the community. Prioritize the unmet needs and service gaps.

Gather Suggestions for Programs

The sky is the limit when it comes to ideas for possible programs. Plan a way to involve as many of the congregation as possible in brainstorming ideas and discussing alternative approaches to the problems that have been uncovered. From this you should also be able to determine where people's interests lie, as well as generate enthusiasm.

Choose a Strategy

There are two basic strategies which might be used. The first is for the church to develop linkages with existing programs serving senior citizens, such as Meals on Wheels or the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. The church could recruit volunteers of all ages from within the congregation to help extend these services to additional elderly people. Older people who have unmet needs could be referred to these and other agencies for services.

The second strategy is to establish a new program, such as a Senior Club or Friendly Visiting Program, using the church as a base. This kind of approach will probably involve greater expenditures of time, personnel and resources, but might also bring greater satisfaction to all concerned. Programs can be a "one-shot" operation or an ongoing activity.

When deciding which approach to take, the planning committee will need to consider the following factors:

1. What is the mission of the church? How would this program fit in?

2. What are the unmet needs of the elderly in the church and surrounding community?

3. What are the church's resources?

a. What are the facilities of the church building (kitchen, lounge, gym, library)? Would a program conflict with other activities currently taking place in the church building? Is the church accessible by public transportation?

b. What equipment and supplies are available (bus, mimeograph, tables, chairs, games)?

c. What is the financial situation of the church? How would it be possible to raise funds needed for the program?

d. Who belongs to the congregation? What skills and interests do they have? What groups within the church might be interested in working on a program for senior citizens? When are they available? Are there other groups that use church facilities which might want to become involved? (For example: Scout troops, community groups)

Draw Up a Plan

After considering these factors and deciding on an approach, the committee should draw up a plan for each specific program. The plan should include the following components:

1. Statement of the goal(s) of the program, and the specific objectives to be achieved during a target period. Objectives are specific ends to be reached and should be stated in a concrete way. (For example, an objective might read: To develop a volunteer shopping-assistance program to serve at least five older people each week ... )

2. A discussion of how the program will be organized and implemented. Consider how many volunteers and/or



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