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10 Ways to Honor the Elderly in the Congregation

MsDora, former teacher and counselor, is fascinated by the prospect of joyful aging. She explores and shares habits of happy seniors.

Honoring the elderly in the congregation.

Honoring the elderly in the congregation.

By comparison with the great effort to make the church service attractive for young people, there is minimal effort in some churches to make the service comfortable for the older folk.

Some seniors have participated in, and contributed to the church service regularly for more than fifty years. For them, the worship service is to their weekly schedule what the breakfast is to their daily routine. They will attend for as long as they are able, and they deserve the utmost respect and appreciation. Only when their eulogy is read will some of the younger members realize the extent of the old folks’ contribution to the congregation, and by then, it will be too late for the honorees to hear the applause.

Following are some suggestions for showing honor to the older members while helping them to endure and enjoy the worship service. “Endure” for those who have chronic pain which makes them uncomfortable away from the accommodations they have at home. “Enjoy” for all of them because the fellowship validates their happiness to belong. Every church may not render all these possibilities, but the seniors will appreciate any effort put forth in their interest. We begin outside the building.

1. Church Bus

For those who do not drive, and do not have friends or relatives available to drive them, being picked up by a comfortable church bus with a senior-friendly driver will relieve the stress of arranging a ride. The experience of meeting, greeting and riding along with their peers after a week’s separation may be the exciting start to another day of worship.

2. Reserved Parking

The seniors who still drive will welcome reserved parking near the entrance to the building. They do not all rush for handicapped stickers, although on some Lord’s Day morning, they may have aching knees. And even without the aches, most of them no longer desire to stride the width of the parking lot. They want to get seated as fast as possible.

3. Seating

In one specific church (there may be others), the older members are issued fans as soon as they enter and are ushered near the front to facilitate their decreasing sight and hearing. Through a nearby side door, they have easy access to the restrooms without traveling the length of the church aisle.

Raised toilet seats would be a welcome accommodation.

Raised toilet seats would be a welcome accommodation.

4. Restroom

For many, the ability to bend without aggravating their knee pain is limited. Raised toilet seats would be a welcome accommodation. They may even be content with one unisex restroom, if they comprise a small population.

5. Inclusion

Young church leaders are focused on recruiting new members and keeping up with contemporary worship styles. Young choristers sing songs which are unfamiliar to the older folk. Young presenters talk media language and display graphs to which seniors cannot relate. Subtly and gradually, the older folks are being left behind. They would feel included if their presence is recognized, if some of the old hymns are sung just for them, if presenters would add a short illustration to which they could relate, if they could be asked to offer the prayer or to participate in any other way. When they are no longer able to participate upfront, let their wisdom be sought and acknowledged by church officers and members who visit them at home.

6. Special Days

The nearer the elderly get to the end of their life’s journey, the more significant the celebration of life’s milestones becomes. Recognition of their birthdays and anniversaries heighten their sense of gratitude to God, and what better time and place to mention their achievement than in the worship service. Just a short reference during the welcome, or a note in the bulletin, or a flash on the big screen will remind them that their church family shares their joy.

Tiredness or anxiety may lessen their attention to a long sermon.

Tiredness or anxiety may lessen their attention to a long sermon.

7. Sermon

Since the sermon is the main feature of the service, and usually what the seniors anticipate most, they may assess their total spiritual and emotional experience by the way they feel during that time. If the sermon is so long that diabetics begin to crave something to eat, or seniors with other conditions begin to count the minutes to their next dose of medication, tiredness or anxiety may lessen their attention and their joy.

Charles Spurgeon, famous British preacher in the nineteenth century, wrote about a still older preacher who used to say, “We ought seldom to go much beyond forty minutes, or say, three-quarters of an hour. If a fellow cannot say all he has to say in that time, when will he say it?" That may still be too much time for some of the elderly and most of the Millennials.

8. Fellowship Lunch

It would certainly add to their positive experience for the aging members to know that a fellowship lunch is attached to the worship agenda. Especially for those who live alone, it would provide another reason to look forward to the weekly service. The hospitality staff could arrange this is several ways:

  • The meal may be prepared in the church kitchen to be enjoyed there by those who are able to remain, or for take out by those who have to hurry home;
  • Church families may be assigned to host a certain number of elderly members on assigned weeks, or to carry the meals to their homes.
  • Lunch visits could be arranged for members to help prepare the Sabbath meals in the homes of the elderly and dine with them there.

9. Worship Service at Home

This may be challenging, but shut-in elderly members who attended the worship service regularly when they were able, would appreciate an occasional worship service at their home. When they can longer get to the church, it would be great for the church to get to them—even once in a while. Both the shut in and the visiting ministers will enjoy a mini-worship service prepared in love for an old worship veteran.

Every church needs senior saints.

Every church needs senior saints.

10. The Golden Rule

The Bible refers to the church as a building (Ephesians 2:20). Better to prop up the old bricks, not push them out when they begin to crumble. Propping up will enable the old to disintegrate peacefully while the new expands to fill the space that is left.

Bear in mind that the aging process in the congregation is ongoing. The modern stones today will become aged in the future. Let the leaders of this generation establish a protocol of respect and compassion for the elderly, which they would like for themselves when they become old.

© 2019 Dora Weithers