This past weekend there were three senior adults working in our preschool ministry. One of our most faithful volunteers is also one of the most opinionated. Ms. Bettie is a stickler when it comes to what is going on in the preschool ministry. If she doesn’t think something is being done right, she is sure to let me know. But on the other side of things, if she likes what she sees, she is in 100 percent. All of the preschoolers know Ms. Bettie because she’s so faithful. As part of the 11 a.m. service rotation, she’s our number one Sunday school substitute teacher. But as much as Ms. Bettie loves to be around the preschoolers, I have to do my part as a minister to foster the relationship between us, as well.
Senior adults are a great resource to the church and especially to children’s ministry. The Bible speaks over and over again about the importance of older generations interacting with younger generations. Senior adults have years of experiences, accumulated knowledge and wisdom that can be quite helpful.
Begin by building a genuine relationship with senior adults in the church. Be wary of falling into the “encyclopedia trap” where you pull senior adults off the shelf when their help is needed, put them back, and ignore them until the next time there is a need they can fill. Instead, have real conversations about their life and be interested in them as individual people. One of my methods of getting to know senior adults is to ask them to tell how they met their spouse. The conversation can go from there to whatever topic comes next. It’s a faithful opener. When people, especially senior adults, feel someone is interested in them, they in turn become interested in the life of that person. After getting to know them a little bit, it’s easier to have an idea where they might fit into the children’s ministry. Truthfully, most of the first conversations never mention the topic of children’s ministry. It would be sad for someone to feel the only value they have to me is their “spot-filling” value. Seniors need to know that they are valued as people first and volunteers second. Even though as children’s ministers we look at everyone as a prospective volunteer recruit, make sure to remember that they are people also.
As we’re getting to know one another, I’m not giving a recruiting speech, but simply allowing them to see my heart and my passion, which happens to be my ministry. When they see your heart, they become invested, want to see success, and doors will open for them to be involved. There will be occasions when they offer to help simply because they have seen how important it is to you.
Go to them
Be conscious of where you connect. Make an effort to go where senior adults are in order to get to know them. We’re blessed with a great senior adult ministry in our church. The first Thursday of every month this ministry has a potluck lunch. You can bet I’ll be there! Yes, there’s a part of me that goes for the free lunch, but I would feel guilty if I just went to fill up my plate with food and leave. Each time I attend, I try to find some people who aren’t familiar to me. Not all of them are on my volunteer list, but some are. There are others who are becoming more interested in me and what’s going on. Best of all, they’re sharing more about themselves with me. By going to this lunch once a month, invitations have been extended to me to attend breakfast with a group of senior adults on a Saturday morning. All of my time is not spent with senior adults, but it can be advantageous to accept any invitations. When they invite me to their Sunday school class breakfast, that tells me they enjoy my company.
Unfortunately, there are some adults in my church who barely know about me or the children’s ministry and they are perfectly okay with that. All of my time and energy is not going to be spent convincing them that being a part of the children’s ministry is the next step to heaven. Everyone has his/her different feelings and interests and it’s best to respect that. There are plenty of senior adults who have already shown interest, so they can be recruited first. Senior adults talk a lot. I bet you’ve noticed that. And, that’s a good thing, because those who are serving in your ministry will talk to their friends about what’s going on. What a great recruiting tool!
Look for untapped potential in everyone. When getting to know senior adults start to look where their talents and even needs and desires lie. For instance, some of the greatest senior adults to recruit for the ministry are grandparents who do not get to see their grandchildren as often as they would like. These are adults have so much love to share but not many opportunities to share it. Help them find their sweet spot in ministry.
Another thing to keep in mind about senior adults is that they are not keen on big commitments. This is especially true of those who are retired. They like the freedom that they have and don’t always like to be tied down to a weekly or even once a month commitment. This doesn’t just apply to those who are “jetsetters.” There are plenty of seniors who never really go anywhere, but they don’t want to be tied down in case they decide to. This means having a willingness to specialize a spot for them. During the main service in our preschool area, the volunteer commitments are one time a quarter. There are some who want to volunteer more often than that, but the minimum we ask of them is one time a quarter. Once in the door, they get to experience what is being done, so they’re more likely to continue and even increase the number of times they volunteer.
Sometimes, senior adults need specialization of their volunteer job. One example of this is an older lady, Mrs. Barbara. Mrs. Barbara really wanted to be involved with a group of our elementary kids, but she is not at all comfortable with teaching. We paired her with a volunteer teacher who could easily control a class alone. Mrs. Barbara loves to come in each Sunday morning and love on the kids in her fifth grade Sunday school class. She bakes for them each week. She also sends out postcards and letters to each of the children in her class if they miss a week or if there is something going on in their lives. Children look forward to coming into her class, because they know she genuinely loves them. Mrs. Barbara would not have had a chance to make such an impact on these children’s lives if we hadn’t been willing to create a special spot for her. I’m not saying that a particular part of children’s ministry needs to be completely restructured to accommodate senior adults, but I am suggesting a flexibility when assigning duties. Maybe even let two people fill the spot of one volunteer if it allows them to specialize.
Senior adults are willing to learn new techniques when they realize the benefit it will have to children’s ministry. Don’t be afraid to use technology or other techniques with seniors, but provide time in your schedule in order to ease them into it. There’s one older lady in our ministry who loves to volunteer. She helps whenever needed and will do most anything asked of her. A few months back we added a computer and worship DVD to our preschool Bible rotation. This lady often taught in there but was unsure about adding this component. Prior to the service, all of the equipment was set up for her, so all she had to do was push “Play.” That Sunday after church was over, she grabbed me and told me how much the kids had enjoyed singing with the DVD and how it pleased her to see them enjoying it. At first she was unsure about the change that had been made, but when she saw how it helped the kids, she loved it. She is now even able to set up the equipment by herself. Most adults use old techniques, such as old school flannel graphs, because it’s familiar and they know that it works. Just remind yourself to give them time to acclimate once you’ve shown them new techniques and equipment.
Many seniors have time on their hands and are willing to be involved with the next generation. They’re also looking for leaders who will help them become a part of their ministry. If we take the time to invest in the lives of the senior adults in our churches, we will witness them becoming invested in our ministries. Children’s ministries prosper when there are multiple generations present in the teaching of the children. Please don’t overlook this group of adults because they have silver hair and are labeled as out-of-date or too old. See them for who they are—great people and untapped potential for the children’s ministry.