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When Church Members Become Homebound

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Every church has them: once-active church members who now have limitations (temporary or permanent) that have reduced their involvement in church. They are known as the homebound or shut-ins, both of which are inadequate terms because they address people’s limitations rather than their gifts. Generally, though, the homebound do provide challenges to the church, because they require specialized care. However, they also offer substantial gifts to the community of faith.

In some churches, the homebound (who are primarily older adults and their caregivers) may be forgotten, ignored, or misunderstood. In other churches, these once-active members receive a few visits a year from pastoral staff and volunteers, but they are largely unknown to most of the congregation. Fortunately, there are a few churches that take a visionary approach to their homebound members. The visionary church says, “If our homebound members are unable to come to church, let’s take the church to them.”

One way of taking church to the homebound is through volunteer Communion visitors or Eucharistic ministers who deliver both Communion and community to those who are confined to their homes. The homebound need to have fellowship brought to them. They miss their friends and the fellowship of other church members. By receiving Communion from volunteers who visit their homes, the homebound church members develop new friendships and meaningful connections.

Another way of providing church is through volunteer “Comfort Callers” for the homebound. These are volunteers who are trained to hear when something is wrong. They make phone calls during the week to check on the mental, spiritual, and physical wellbeing of the homebound members. Older-adult church members make excellent volunteers for this ministry, and it requires little training and cost.

The homebound-friendly-church is a listening church. Its leaders listen to the homebound members. One of the best ways of listening is to do periodic assessments of what the homebound need and what they would like to offer the church. These assessments can be as simple as a mail or phone survey, or they may involve a visit with pastoral staff.

A great homebound ministry takes advantage of appropriate technology to connect with its members. Some older homebound members may not have adopted the latest and greatest technology. They may not have computers or cell phones. The visionary church will use the technology that the homebound are comfortable using so they can be fully engaged. Volunteers who visit with the homebound might use their own cell phones to show a recorded worship service or video greetings from the church.

The homebound-friendly-church is a listening church. Its leaders listen to the homebound members.

Homebound-friendly churches understand disabilities and the aging process and how these affect the psychological, physical, and emotional states of those unable to participate in worship and the life of the church. Homebound-friendly churches address the whole person, including the need to feel purposeful and meaningfully involved with the church community.

The homebound-friendly church recognizes the gifts of the homebound. There are a variety of ministries in which the homebound can participate from their homes. Such ministries include praying as part of a prayer chain, recording the history of the church, or teaching and sharing their faith on audio or video recordings. The tasks they are invited to do should have deadlines, specific instructions, and take into consideration any disabling conditions. But the possibilities are many!

Encourage your own congregation to become one of those visionary, homebound-friendly churches.

Here are three easy steps your church can try for homebound ministry:

  • Relationship Building-- Build relationships by using Skype or other video conferencing to allow the homebound to participate with church school, Bible studies, and small groups. If there is no one in the home who can manage the necessary technology, consider asking volunteers who visit the homebound to operate Skype for them. Consider using a speakerphone for small-group meetings so homebound members can continue to be a part of the Bible studies, fellowship groups, and church school. Better yet, arrange for these groups to meet in the homes of homebound people occasionally. Make sure there is a set-up team and clean-up team. Don’t forget to set up prayer chains to include the homebound and to offer daily wellness checks from friends’ networks.
  • Decision Making and Prayer-- Include the homebound as part of the decision-making and prayer ministry of the church. Keep them up-to-date with the prayer needs of the church. Provide them with a weekly prayer list. Consult with homebound members about important issues facing the church leadership. Consider asking homebound members to serve as consultants or as emeritus members of the council. Consider recording phone or live interviews of the homebound talking about their opinions on important church decisions.
  • Storytelling – Encourage youth to “adopt” grandparents or older adults and to make visits during the year. Suggest that they send greeting cards to older adults on their birthdays and other special occasions. Equip the youth with equipment and templates for recording or writing the faith stories of the homebound. Make copies of the recordings for the homebound and even play them back (with permission) during worship, so other members can get to know the homebound members of the congregation.

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