When the global pandemic hit, Greater St. John Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, had just started a food pantry. Gloria Triggs, a senior at the church, sewed 200 face masks in 10 days so that they wouldn’t have to pause food distribution.
“We needed her special skill set because you couldn’t buy masks then,” says Senior Pastor Nathaniel Brooks.
Even before the pandemic, Brooks appreciated the seniors in his congregation, who often work the food pantry, act as greeters during worship services, and take care of administrative tasks.
“They like doing anything that gets them out of the house and involved in ministry,” he says. “Many have thanked me for finding them something to do.”
The church has intentionally created activities just for seniors, including a recent movie day that 41 seniors attended.
“They brought their friends,” observes Brooks. “They were pulling up and dropping each other off with popcorn in hand.”
The church also partnered with Oak Street Health Clinic to present information on diabetes during a craft day just for seniors.
“It was a chance to have fun, learn and spend time with friends,” explains Brooks.
Greater St. John has seen a 70% increase in senior participation since COVID-19.
“Seniors will come to places they trust and feel safe,” he says, noting that this means offering wheelchair accessibility (including ramps and wider doorframes) as well as automatic doors.
During events for older adults, Brooks ensures others aren’t in the building.
“I don’t want a child to round a corner and knock [a senior] over,” he notes. “It’s important for them to have their special time when they have no responsibility except to just be a senior.”
Greater St. John offers a personal touch in keeping seniors connected to the church. Lorene Hansford contacts older adults about events just for them. “I love the fellowship we have with one another. Their leaving with a smile makes me feel like we’ve accomplished something.”
Brooks maintains that churches must reevaluate how to repurpose ministries to engage senior members more.
“You have to reimagine what ministry looks like when we involve all generations,” he says.