Dr. Whitesel, I have seen that a sub-congregation in seed form already resides in nearly every U.S. nursing home – all 16,100 of them (CDC, 2013). Yes! Yes! Yes! Most churches should use nursing homes as a venue.
Nursing homes are prime locations for planting sub-congregations, especially low-income skilled nursing facilities financed primarily through Medicaid. These are going to be the most common type, to be certain, because of the anticipated tripling of the U.S. elderly population, and quadrupling of the population over age 90 we can expect over the next 25 years (He & Muenchrath, 2011). They are good places for “good deeds” but “good deeds” through occasional, intermittent entry into the facility are simply not enough to build relationships. One of the charges the Bishop made when I was ordained was to the priesthood was to gather the scattered sheep of Christ Jesus in the midst of this sinful world. I have been compelled by the Holy Spirit to search for them at a nursing home. We found out over the years that the deliberate presence of people in the lives of people living in nursing homes is of paramount importance (after prayer).
I can say with confidence that I am an expert in this particular type of ministry – and I have seen many churches come and go, flashes in the pan, providing worship services for a time, but eventually leaving. I think the reason could be that the leaders do not fully understand that the most important aspect of nursing home ministry is faithful presence through the whole process of arrival, orientation to the new culture, learning there is hope for the future and that life has not ended, and being invited to be part of the lives of fellow residents and the local expression of the Body of Christ in the place. A sacramental approach to life, including Holy Communion, is helpful. Clergy who rely upon oration alone are often frustrated because about half of the residents have dementia and are therefore unable to comprehend phrases longer than five words, let alone a whole sermon. I have seen pastors try to minister but leave because nobody complimented their sermons. Nursing homes need a different ministry emphasis, but any church can do this (Shamy, 2003).
A culture has to be established – the local Christians must unite, cross denominational lines, and impact the lives of others through loving God, one another, and their neighbors in the small world in which they live. This sort of ministry cannot be done well with merely having an occasional worship service. Those are not bad, but they are not what is really needed. It takes years to gain the trust of the management, the staff, and the residents. Most American churches are not willing to sacrifice for several years because it is not in our instant access cultural mindset to be faithful for long periods of time to build relationships in the community. The payoff is huge, though, if we are faithful for longer periods of time. I can go into the facility and go anywhere I desire, any time I want without any sort of escort, and anybody I endorse in that place is immediately given the same privileges because the management knows I have gone through the effort of checking peoples’ backgrounds, and I have vetted them carefully before endorsing their presence. This is because there is trust. Trust is like the oxygen in a relationship. Once a church has trust in a venue, that church is very effective. I know that more than half of the people who come into the facility we serve will either rededicate his or her life to Christ after as many as 70 years of estrangement, or seek to be baptized. I have seen it happen hundreds of times, even in a facility with an average total population of only 81.
The answer to your question is YES!! (I apologize for yelling, but I cannot stress this enough). Yes sub-congregations can be developed. I have seen it. We have done it…Well, God did it and let us help. Every church should adopt at least one nursing home, making it a venue. I would give anything, anything to help large churches adopt several! A nursing home is a prime venue for the Church of the 21st century if we can but see reality. I am not exaggerating – before the end of this Century there will be more than 400 Million people who live in nursing homes (Vincent & Velkoff, 2010). The Church is largely absent today. Nursing homes want the support of churches and they will welcome us if we will but be faithful.
Yes, Dr. Whitesel, nursing homes should be a venue for most churches.
If anyone wants help doing this, we will give it. We will support such endeavors with everything we have! In all truth, my ministry exists to help the Church do this!
Thank you for your question, Dr. Whitesel.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2013). State of aging and health in America. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/features/agingandhealth/state_of_aging_and_health_in_america_2013.pdf
He, W., & Muenchrath, M. N. (November 2011). 90+ in the United States: 2006-2008 American community survey reports. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Shamy, E. (2003). A guide to the spiritual dimension of care for people with Alzheimer ’s disease and related dementia: More than body, brain and breath. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Vincent, G., & Velkoff, V. (May, 2010). The next four decades: The older population in the United States: 2010 to 2050. U.S. Census Bureau, Administration on Aging. Retrieved from http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/(S(2ch3qw55k1qylo45dbihar2u))/Aging_Statistics/future_growth/DOCS/p25-1138.pdf