I hesitate to use the word “preach” because of the overtones it carries. However, what I want to ask is, “How do we speak with seniors about the Lord?” Here are eleven suggestions to remember when you share in a seniors’ community setting:
1. Know your audience. Some seniors may live independently, in assisted living, or residential care. A professor of mine once suggested seniors may be “Still go. Slow go. No go.”
The “still go” crowd will attend church and have some level of independence. The second two groups have decreased levels of general health and cognitive ability. Some senior groups love deep teaching, so long as it applies to their lives TODAY! Others with less cognitive or attention abilities need shorter talks with more simple messages.
2. Keep the message short. The attention span of many older residents has shortened. Know the audience and what they can absorb. Better to end too soon than too late. Furthermore, the reading of scripture still has impact ( “My Word shall not return to me void.”) and should be read slowly articulating words well. Have one or two points to share with them which should have immediate application.
They may also be dealing with powerful emotions like fear, guilt, sadness, joy, family tension, and boredom. Be wary of using the same sermon you used on Sunday, unless you have adapted it to their setting. If you are unsure how to apply it ask the chaplain or any senior you know from your congregation.
3. Assure them that the God of your their youth is the same God who knows them intimately now as well. As one senior said to me, “Paul had his prison experience. So do I with my pain and isolation from others."
4. Preach the familiar. Since memory loss has impacted some in your audience, repeat the same messages they have heard through their lifetime. God will take care of you. He never leaves us. Jesus died for our sins. Heaven is our final home. And please do share the gospel as some seniors may not have yet trusted the Lord as their Savior.
5. Talk slowly and clearly. Please do not shout unless you discern someone is hard of hearing! In some settings, hearing aids simply cannot handle the noise and may hurt ears. Seniors may hear you but it takes a little longer for them to grasp a concept and let it sink in to their mind and soul. Smile as you speak and look into their eyes. Be careful to use words that they understand. Avoid complex theological church words. Avoid using slang words or colloquial expressions that are unfamiliar to them. And above all: please do not refer to them as, “you guys”.
6. Preach Christ. Speak of his life, promises, death, resurrection and second coming. It is possible that they might not have actually heard too much about the Saviour in their earlier life.
7. Share a story from your own life or from another relevant person- especially another senior. Talk about how this message impacts your own life or someone their age that you know. Seniors, particularly in the latter two groups, learn best from stories.
8. Challenge them to keep living for the Lord. Where can you serve today-even from a wheelchair? One senior woman expressed, “ When I pass another resident while in my wheelchair, I stop to say hello and check to see if the blanket is covering them.”
9. Avoid criticizing other religions or churches. Be positive and focus upon Jesus.
10. Preaching through Dementia. Dementia is a broad term that covers over a dozen specific diseases of the aging brain (the best known is Alzheimer’s disease). Dementia impacts a growing number of seniors and their ability to remember and to think in a logical reasonable manner. The message of hope and comfort must speak to their “now” moment. For some in advanced stages, they may not remember what was said even ten minutes from now. However, the message may comfort and encourage them in their “now moment”. Seniors struggling with dementia may be frustrated with themselves, frightened, insecure and wondering if God still loves them. The Holy Spirit's work is not hindered by dementia.
11. Thinking as a child, but treated as an adult. Some seniors may become more childlike in their ageing years but remember that they are adults who have lived a full life with jobs, children, financial responsibilities and respect. As possible, let them tell you their life stories.
Written by Dr. Daryl Busby