I just met with a colleague to discuss challenges in ministering to our senior adults. Due to budget constraints and a desire to optimize resources (and care for our environment as well), we've recently gone to a shorter Sunday church bulletin format. This has meant that announcements have been significantly abbreviated. We're steering people to our new Connections Center kiosk in the foyer (we call it the Narthex, but that sounds like a nasal spray). Here, volunteers can help folks find pertinent information about ministries and programs. We've also sought to point people to the Internet for more details. This is great...except for our 400+ (mostly senior) adults who do not have access to the web or email. So here's the rub: how do churches (and for that matter, non-profits or even businesses) with limited incomes stretch their resources to reach a wide variety of generations, some of whom aren't tech savvy? Do we spend most of our efforts and cash to reach newer generations? Do we reserve cash (and time, paper, and ink) to continue to print expanded bulletins and do costly mailings? Technology, the economy, emerging (and aging) generations--all of these get stirred into the mix. How do we keep the family together amidst such change?
Certainly, it requires creative thinking: we need to learn how to do more with less, to find ways to communicate that are cost-effective and yet, at least somewhat, generationally aware. My suggestion to my colleague was to establish phone-trees to involve older members in the responsibility for disseminating timely information to their peers. Also, we will need to educate our older population (and church visitors, too!) about skills needed to navigate a changing landscape of information (how to find the new Connections Center, whom to call, which brochure to pick up, etc). We've got to be intentional about including older generations, even as we rush into new technologies and ways of connecting.
It also occurs to me that we can't give up on our older adults and assume that many of them cannot learn (or are not interested in) new technologies. I know first-hand this isn't the case for everyone. Many of my friends in our congregation are 80+ and very familiar with the web. Still, we need to educate, equip, and include. I long for some way to link young people (maybe college students who have a bit of spare time?) to older adults, to coach them on setting up high speed internet access and learning to surf the web and do email. Added benefit and business tip: I suspect this could be niche market for a small business (or maybe there already are such businesses offering this type of intergenerational consultancy?). In the past, our church has offered computer classes to our older adults. The trouble, I've heard, is that these students learned on one type of computer at the church, but had a different system at home. At-home tutorials would seem to make the most sense, though they may not be the most efficient and time-effective.
In the multigenerational church, we've got our work cut out for us: how do we keep the family together? How do we let generations be where they are but not get left behind? How do we merge onto the information superhighway--embracing new people, new technologies, and new opportunities--but not leave our beloved seniors by the side of the road? Thoughts, anyone?!
What about creating an "electronic only" option, and encouraging members to switch over? Then, members who prefer the print version can still get it, but the number could be significantly reduced.
It's a good idea, John, and one some others have mentioned. We're in the process of a wholescale website redesign and an emphasis on "push" capacity. That will be an opportunity to promote your idea. Hope you're well!
Wow, that's an amazing number of older folks who are not online. But then, when I think of my own mother and stepfather who attend First Presbyterian Church in Everett, WA - well, they would be among such ranks. They finally bought a computer less than a year ago, before my mom turned 70, took a course on using the Internet at a local senior center, but rarely even turn the computer on. I've tried to create incentives (like, "you will only get photos of your grandkids when you open them as JPEG attachments") but it seems that the learning curve is just too daunting. It would be interesting to research or discuss where the 'cutoff line' is within our own church, i.e., the rough age at which we can assume that most people are comfortable and relatively facile with getting information online, versus those who are not. What would you guess--60? It would be interesting to have an all-church discussion (for anyone interested) about how to bridge these communication divides. I wonder if older folks feel 'left out.'
As for an all-church discussion, we'll be kicking off some of this during a gathering in November. It may be the first of more! Stay tuned...
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