Dr. Mary Manz Simon,
ALOA Board of Directors
“The walls are too high to climb. I went a couple times, but couldn’t break in.”
The gray-haired woman was talking about the older adult group at her church. The daughter of a former esteemed pastor of the congregation, her disappointment was obvious. Upon retirement, she had hoped to become active in the older adult group. Months passed; she finally gave up.
Yet I wasn’t surprised. In our personal desire for connections, we might forget that others have a similar need. Sociologists have a fancier explanation, but the bottom line is the same: a group can spiral downward into a private club. Networks can become so deeply entrenched, not everyone feels welcome. As seen in the real-life example above, this can happen even at a church. In middle school, we labeled it a ‘clique.’ As older adults, we might simply say, “the walls are too high to climb.”
With today’s epidemic of loneliness, connecting older adults with their peers becomes an urgent social need. In what ways does your older adult ministry welcome newcomers? Before fall activities get underway, consider integrating some of these strategies:
- Reduce “first time” jitters. As a teacher, I suggested that parents have their preschooler walk into school with a friend. Adapt that idea by having personable older adults waiting at the entry to pair off with each new person who walks in the door. The physical presence of a “welcome buddy” boosts social confidence for a new attendee.
- Offer a conversation starter. Include a “Let’s talk” topic in publicity for each event and on signage at the entry. This common “beginning point” not only triggers mental activity (valuable for older adults) but “evens out the playing field” for everyone. For example: our ‘Let’s talk’ topic for August is, “What I like(d) about my all-time favorite church.”
- Utilize media. Video tape people by using a Smartphone as they tell, “why I attend older adult activities.” Post the message on your church website. The brief, honest clips become unpaid endorsements, highlighting what attendees value in your ministry. Invite online visitors to look for the conversation starters before each scheduled event. This serves as a nonverbal welcome mat.
- Bring out the food. Update traditional church hospitality with charcuterie boards. At any age, eating is a social event. Feature various food groups throughout the year. Publicize charcuterie themes in advance; trendy food can be a big attraction. Older adults smile when offered healthy options.
At the end of your calendar year, assess the results. How many new older adults did you welcome?
Image by WOKANDAPIX
Check out this video hear more ideas on how to increase participation in older adult ministry activities in your church.