Organizing a nursing-home ministry requires more than making the decision to start one. You'll need to determine which nursing home to adopt, how often the ministry will visit, what visitors will do at the nursing home and how to get the word out so church members will participate. Follow these strategies to ensure a successful nursing-home ministry.
Call nursing homes to ask whether they are open to churches setting up a ministry relationship with them. Most likely the ideal location would be close enough to your church so members are more willing to participate on a regular basis.
Establish guidelines on the ages of participants. Some nursing-home ministries open the service opportunity to the entire congregation, including children. Many elderly folk enjoy little kids, and the relationship may end up mutually satisfying. Some parents like to bring their babies. You'll need to encourage them to carry them instead of bringing strollers that may not be easily maneuvered in halls crowded with wheelchairs and medical equipment.
Deciding When to Visit
Decide on the day of the week you'll be visiting the nursing home. Some ministries choose Sunday afternoons because it's convenient for their members to go after regular church services. Others prefer weekdays or weeknights. Choose the frequency of your visits: monthly, bi-weekly or weekly. If the visits will be monthly, select a date that will be easy for people to remember such as the first Tuesday of every month.
Determine what kind of activities your nursing home ministry will participate in. Some churches like to put on formal "services" in the nursing home dining hall, including a short sermon and worship singers. Others prefer to visit on an informal basis, going from room to room to visit immobile residents. Visitors can pray for them, give them literature or just engage in friendly conversation. Some seniors appreciate visitors taking the time to play games with them--board games or cards. Check with the activities coordinator to see which residents would enjoy a game partner.
Many nursing home ministries incorporate music into their visits. Seniors tend to prefer songs they recall from the past, so consider classic religious songs. Hymns are popular with this crowd: "Amazing Grace," "How Great Thou Art," "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." If children are along for visit, have them sing kid classics such as "Jesus Loves Me" or "This Little Light of Mine." Determine whether someone will play the guitar or whether everyone will sing a capella. Some nursing homes have a piano in the recreation room you can use for the worship service.
Getting the Word Out
Consider ways you will be promoting the nursing home ministry to enlist volunteers. Along with announcing the launch of the new ministry during services, you may want to include a flier in the bulletin and put extra copies on the information table. List the visitation date on the general church calendar. Think about putting up posters at church for the launch. Make phone calls and emails to get the word out.