Lessons Learned from Nursing Home Ministry

Daniel Bausch and Gerald Sisto

New Horizons: December 2022

The Church in This Place

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The Church in This Place

Rebuilding in Appalachia

An Unusual Reflection on Christmas

For more than twelve years, Calvary OPC in Ringoes, New Jersey, has had a monthly ministry at a local long-term care facility, otherwise known as a nursing home. This ministry is small, it is ordinary, and it has produced limited visible fruit. Yet, the Lord has used it to encourage and bless individuals outside the church doors in meaningful ways. Our hope in this article is to share how the Lord may use a nursing home ministry in proclaiming the gospel of Christ and to offer some practical suggestions for congregations who are either considering or engaging in a ministry like this.

Need and Opportunity

According to the CDC, there are more than fifteen thousand nursing homes and twenty-eight thousand residential care communities in the United States. These facilities vary widely in size, cost, quality, and safety. When you read “nursing home,” a few connotations likely come to your mind. You might think of people with chronic medical needs requiring continuous care to function, you might imagine seniors watching television all day, or you might recall painful memories of seeing your own loved one suffer. Few of us primarily think of nursing homes as places in our community where our neighbors live, where Christ’s children continue to serve in his kingdom, and where gospel opportunity is abounding.

Why focus on a ministry like this when there are so many other worthy ministries a church can pursue? Here are three reasons to consider.

First, because God cares for the elderly and those who experience affliction. “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you” (Isaiah 46:4). God does not neglect, discard, or disuse the elderly or persons with disabilities. He promises that his children “still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (Psalm 92:14). Second, as part of the Great Commission, Christ calls us to share the good news with all in our society—the rich, the poor, the young, the old, the free, and the institutionalized. Finally, many nursing home facilities are regularly seeking volunteers to provide “activities” for residents, opening the door for faithful Christian ministry where none may exist.

Ministry Approach

At Calvary, our nursing home ministry began with simple outreach to a local facility to see if there was a need for a church ministry. That contact led to a monthly visit, which occurs between our fellowship meal and our evening service.

Our typical visit is usually attended by five church members and lasts for one hour. We begin by singing a few popular hymns from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, with the hymns available in large, easy-to-read print. Our team includes those who play the piano or flute to accompany the singing.

After singing, we present a simple, ten-minute message from Scripture. The message always includes our state of misery due to sin, our deliverance through Christ’s death and resurrection, the invitation to belief by faith, and encouragement to live in Christ. After the message, we close with prayer, final hymns, and time spent engaging one-on-one with each participant. These conversations are an opportunity to build relationships and learn about needs. The Lord has used this time to bring about wonderful gospel conversations, tearful prayers, and precious moments of comforting those undergoing loss and affliction.

Lessons Learned

Our nursing home ministry has had both highs and lows over the years. Here are some lessons we have learned.

1. Focus on the gospel essentials. The time you have with residents and nursing home staff is limited and precious. Present Christ and his gospel (not you and your nice church) through Scripture, teaching, song, and conversation.

2. Keep your teaching short and clear. To best serve your audience, limit your messages to a few minutes in length. This is not the time to practice full sermons or to have a detailed Bible study. Remember to speak loudly, use familiar passages, and avoid jargon.

3. Engage and respect all residents and staff. Each resident should be treated with dignity. Make sure to speak individually to each person in attendance (even if they can’t speak to you), listen when they express a desire to leave or need assistance, and adhere to the facility’s rules and regulations.

4. Be open to adjustments. Changes in plans, new facility requirements, and frequent disruptions are very common. Remember to be patient and to accept changes based on resident or facility needs.

5. Stay accountable. As with any ministry of the church, it is critical to have the oversight and wisdom of the session. One or more ordained leaders should be actively involved in the ministry.

6. Trust in the Lord. It is easy to grow discouraged with nursing home ministry. Remember that the Lord uses weak means to bring about his purpose, and his word does not return void (Isa. 55:11).

7. Share updates with your congregations. It can often feel like there is little news to share with your brothers and sisters. However, failing to share updates deprives your congregation of the privilege of participating through prayer and encouragement. This is the entire congregation’s ministry; share regularly and invite others to come and participate.

8. Be in prayer. Remember to pray for any Christians who attend your ministry, asking the Lord to encourage them and to use them. Pray for those who are not followers of Christ, that the Lord would change hearts so that many might turn and be saved. Pray also for the staff of the facility, that they would know Christ and care for the residents well.

It is glorious to see the Lord work through a simple nursing home ministry. We hope you might consider the value and opportunity such a ministry can be for you and your congregation.   

Daniel Bausch is a deacon, and Gerald Sisto an elder, at Calvary OPC in Ringoes, New Jersey. New Horizons, December 2022.

New Horizons: December 2022

The Church in This Place

Also in this issue

The Church in This Place

Rebuilding in Appalachia

An Unusual Reflection on Christmas

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