One weekend this summer, worship attendance went from 80 to 150. How did we do it? We did it by holding worship in three senior living communities in our area.
My Entry Into Ministry To Senior Communities
Before my in-laws moved into a senior independent living community, I had thought of most senior housing as merely apartments, institutions, or places that offered special care for elderly.
But I was wrong … dead wrong. These places are their homes. And we have the opportunity to minister the Gospel of Jesus to these people right in their homes.
In October, 2015, Gethsemane’s GoodLife Community Partnership began an intentional ministry partnership with area senior residential centers, that is, in the homes of seniors.
This intentional ministry began at American House Village in Rochester Hills. This senior community consists primarily of independent living and assisted living residents. Our strategy was to develop this community as a satellite of Gethsemane. In order to make this happen, we knew it would have to be more than just a once-a-month, drop-in devotion. We actually wanted to develop this site as a place our congregation would recognize as an integral extension of our ministry. Equally important, we wanted people at this site to recognize Gethsemane, Pastor Fischer, and its members as participants sharing in this ministry—and not just “visitors.”
Two Ministry Targets
In order to build this ministry, we focused on two major ministry targets.
- Worship: At American House Village we hold Sunday afternoon worship services twice each month. The services include familiar hymns, a simple liturgical worship, and a sermon. Special prayers are also offered, as requested, for residents with special needs and petitions. A free-will offering is collected.
- Building Relationships: Twice a month, on the Monday immediately following the Sunday on which we worship, we conduct a “Conversations Café.” Roughly modeled after such ministries as LifeTree Café and other ministry café models, these one-hour café experiences have become a great open door for making new friends and building relationships which, of course, are the foundation of ministry relationships.
Over the past ten months, there have been several exciting measures of progress in this senior satellite ministry. First, worship attendance is consistent and growing as attendees are becoming “regulars.” They—and us—eagerly anticipate our time together in worship, in prayer, and in conversation.
Second, the “Conversations Café” is providing a great opportunity for us to build more than just a “stained glass” relationship. These people are really welcoming us into their homes. Much quicker than we imagined, they are becoming our friends.
Third, the staff at American House Village are recognizing the value of what we do … and becoming our friends, too. And it’s not just the administration. It’s the janitors, the kitchen staff, the custodial staff, and the health care providers.
And it’s opening doors for ministry to their families, too.
One day, as I was waiting for the elevator, I said “hi” to a middle-aged woman also waiting for the elevator. I asked if she was a friend or family member of one of the residents. She said, a family member. “Who is it?” I asked. She said, “Vi.” As we got on the elevator, I introduced myself and shared how I knew Vi from our ministry there. I also shared how I had visited Vi (who was her mother-in-law) at the local hospital and, like other residents, was wondering where she was and how she was doing.
As we got off the elevator, I asked if I could follow her and say “hi” to Vi in her new apartment. When we arrived there, Vi’s son and daughter-in-law were also there. After introducing myself, we had a brief chat together and joined hands with Vi and prayed for her and her family. It’s then that I realized two things. First, God is opening doors for ministry. Second, I realized that I’m now becoming the Village chaplain. This truly is a ministry to which God has directed me and my congregation. And we are blessed!
Since 2009, I and Gethsemane’s guitarist, Matt Drinkard, have provided a monthly devotional worship at another American House–Elmwood. Building on the success at American House Village, we talked with AH-Elmwood Life Enrichment Director and Gethsemane member, Patti Adams, about expanding our ministry presence there. Using that model, we have begun offering one worship services there each month and one Conversation Café’ each month.
Just this past week we experienced another blessing at this ministry site. Following our Conversations Café feature entitled “Made in Michigan,” one of the residents asked, “Pastor, how can I become a Lutheran?” In response, we are now in the process of setting up a membership class at American House-Elmwood and, by it, sharing the love, grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ … right in their home.
Also, like other congregations, we have set up a once-a-month Senior Lunch/Worship for area residents in group homes, adult foster care, senior living facilities, and individuals with special needs. These are held on the first Wednesday of each month at Gethsemane. Worship is conducted at 11:30a.m., with free lunch following in our fellowship hall. Gethsemane members are invited to attend to provide hospitality for our senior friends and develop mutual friendships in Christ.
One of the other great joys of this ministry is that it provides opportunities for partnering on several levels. First, this ministry provides opportunities to partner with other pastors and congregations, such as Pastor Keith Lemley and the members of Crown of Life, Rochester Hills. As we share in a ministry to Sanctuary Bellbrook Senior Living in Rochester Hills, we have enjoyed having joint choirs from the churches provide special music at worship services and seasonally at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and patriotic holidays at American House residences.
Second, this ministry is providing opportunities to partner with other ministry professionals. Rev. Dr. David Prout, now interim minister at Peace, Warren, has found remarkable joy in this ministry. Not only does it provide opportunity for his own renewal in ministry, but it has provided me with the blessing to share ministry with a brother in Christ … and a great friend in the Lord.
Third, this ministry also opens doors to encourage individual members to become partners in ministry at these residential homes. In order to reproduce this ministry, we are training two new Conversations Café presenters and recruiting at least one host or hostess to be part of the team. The most exciting thing about this is that you don’t have to be a large church. Nearly every church can develop teams of 2-3 people for this ministry. And who wouldn’t want to be in a friendly, receptive, and welcoming atmosphere to do ministry for Jesus Christ?
Fourth, this ministry is developing partnership with the senior communities at several levels—with residents, staff and administration. Members of these communities know us, recognize us and enjoy our conversations, chit-chats and sometimes prayers as they share their needs and desire to know Jesus.
There’s More To Come!
As God blesses this ministry, we hope to further develop and expand it. We are especially thankful to the Michigan District, LCMS for their financial support and to Rev. Dr. Robert Kasper for his guidance, support, and encouragement to expand ministry in our community.
Another District congregation which has been reaching out to adult care facilities is Christ Our King, Saline. They offer worship services and Bible studies at six different facilities. Pastor Tom Schroeder says, “These ministries have been absolutely incredible for spreading the Gospel to the faithful and to those who have drifted away from the faith or never knew Jesus. Almost thirty people from these facilities have come to join us in membership at Christ Our King.”
What needs are there in your community? To which of these needs is God calling you and your congregation? Experience the joy of watching God lead you and your congregation to provide opportunities for you to share with others the joy that is ours through Christ alone!
Photo (c) Troels Graugaard/iStock