A Case for Nursing Home Ministry

Scripture tells us again and again to be defenders, protectors, and providers for the widows and the aged. Our Lord Jesus wants us to honor and care for those who are frail, vulnerable and neglected. It is not His will that any of them should perish. Yet, there are currently over 1.3 million frail seniors hidden behind the walls of America’s nursing homes, many of whom have yet to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that 60% of these residents never even receive a visitor. Our observation is that over 75% receive less than one visit per month. This means that nearly one million seniors who are on the last leg of their earthly journey are without a friend to help them prepare for eternity – without a friend to help them find hope and peace in Jesus.

We must also realize that there is an average residency turnover of 2-1/2 years. This means that during the past ten years, over 5 million of our neighbors have passed away without a Christian friend to bring Jesus to them as they face the final and most challenging stage of their lives.

The Church’s Focus:

Over the past 70 years, the Church has invested her primary evangelistic resources in reaching children and youth. It is wise of her to invest into their lives. This was vital in advancing the cause of the Church, especially with the arrival of the post-WWII baby boom. Now, the “baby boomers”, our nation’s largest demographic, are fast becoming the senior boomers. In just 15 years (2035), the number of people aged 65+ will outnumber those under the age of 18. Millions of them are expected to spend their last days in a nursing home.

Of course, there must always be a significant focus on discipling the youth, but the current focus is disproportionate to the need to reach out to our often forgotten neighbors in the nursing homes. Nursing home residents are, perhaps, the most overlooked, unreached local people group of the American Church. They are lonely and fearful of their future and need the Church to show them that God loves them and calls them to Himself through the Good News of Jesus. The majority of nursing home residents are open to the Gospel when shared in respect to their culture and limitations. Our experience is that those who follow the principles in our training find that approximately 85% of the residents to whom they minister will take Jesus’ hand. What a ripe harvest field we have in our own backyards!

We must look to our Lord for direction and reach out in His love to rescue them before they enter eternity. Soon, our response to the challenges of caring for nursing home residents and the disenfranchised frail elderly will be applied to our own lives. The wisdom and compassion, or the indifference and neglect, will be passed on. Indeed, we are building the infrastructure for our own future, our children’s future, and generations to come.

Current Statistics:

  • 35% of all Americans will need nursing home care at some point in their lives. (longtermcare.gov)
  • There are 15,600 nursing homes in the USA housing 1.3 million residents. (CDC)
  • There are 29,800 assisted living facilities in the USA with over 1 million residents. (CDC)
  • The average stay in a nursing home is 835 days. (National Nursing Home Survey)
  • The average age of a person who moves into a nursing home is 79. (Morningstar, Inc.)
  • Women are more than twice as likely as men to live in a nursing home. (Kaiser Family Foundation)
  • As many as 1/3 of the residents in long term care facilities struggle with suicidal thoughts. (International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry)
  • There are over 1.5 million people on staff in senior care facilities. (Statista.com) Many staff and family members of residents have been touched by the witness of a church who ministers faithfully in a nursing home.

Loneliness is the Most Frequent Visitor:

The isolation and loneliness in nursing homes can be like a harsh desert for so many of our elderly neighbors who have outlived their closest loved ones. We can’t always take our neighbors out of the desert, but we can give them a drink of life-giving water. A visiting friend is a great comfort to the lonely resident. Yet, it is the Christian friend who shares the life-giving word as it relates to the resident’s needs that satisfies their greater thirst. When our 20 to 60 minute visit is over, the resident has something – – – rather, Someone, who stays with them. If the resident truly takes Jesus’ hand in sincere prayer, He will never let them go.

Since 1994, God Cares Ministry has been training and resourcing Christians to adopt nursing home residents to share the love and word of Jesus through one-to-one visits and group services. Below is more information based on our experience, observations, and calculations:

  • On average, over 2,100 residents in America’s long term care facilities die every day.
  • 75% of nursing home residents receive less than one visit each month.
  • 1/3 of all Americans will spend all or part of their last six months in a long term care facility.
  • Less than 3% of American churches have a recognized outreach in a nursing home or assisted living facility. (We define “recognized” as an outreach that is included in the church’s budget and has a ministry coordinator who reports to the church leadership.)
  • One properly-trained Christian can minister to an average of 10 residents on a regular basis.
  • One properly-trained care team that adopts a nursing home can provide significant spiritual support to over 60 residents, and many staff and family members as well. (A care team is a group of 4-8 Christians serving together in the same care home.)
  • People living in nursing homes cannot go to church, the Church must go to them.
  • Over 47% of nursing home residents have some level of cognitive impairment. (CDC) However, the Lord has allowed us to clearly see that He is not limited by this when fulfilling the spiritual needs of people affected by dementia or any other mental or physical disease.
  • Loneliness, hopelessness, the loss of dignity, and a lack of real purpose are among the primary emotional and spiritual issues that residents face.
  • We estimate that over 85% of the nursing home residents who are ministered to by trained Christians will find hope and saving grace in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Most care homes welcome the spiritual caregiving provided by Christians who apply the principles shared through God Cares Ministry’s training.
  • The impact on a church body whose pastor embraces and supports adopting a nursing home in their community is life-giving and far-reaching. A church that has an outward focus learns what love is and what love can do in her community. The Lord will bless those who love the least of these brothers of His.
  • A church can establish an outreach to a local nursing home and maintain it for 4 years for less than the cost of sending one person on a short-term mission trip overseas.

The Road Ahead:

  • Health care costs are generally highest at the end of life. A disproportionately large percentage of all Medicare expenditures are incurred during the year prior to death. (Kaiser Family Foundation) Much attention is being directed toward reducing costs for end-of-life As the world seeks cost-effective alternatives, the Church must realize that assisted suicide and euthanasia are on that list.
  • Public opinion research has shown a shifting of opinion among doctors and the general public about hastening death for the terminally ill. 72% believe the law should permit assisted suicide. (2018 Gallup poll)
  • Physician-assisted death or “aid in dying” is legal in 10 jurisdictions: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. (CNN)
  • People need to know that their lives matter. Nursing home residents find a true sense of value and significance when they are loved and actively loving others. The result is that they want to live. We can help our struggling neighbors reach out in love as believers in Jesus. In this, He gives them genuine purpose and a desire to live for Him.
  • What would Jesus have His Church do about these neighbors of ours?

 Matthew 25:31-45         Luke 14:12-14                    James 1:27

Leviticus 19:32               Deuteronomy 14:28-29     Psalm 71:9 & 18, 82:3-4

 

The Heavenly Dream:

Many of the boomers attended church in their younger years, but did not choose to follow Jesus as Lord of their lives. They grew up seeking fulfilment from the earthly things this world has to offer. They were promised satisfaction and a full life, but many are now in their senior years, asking, “Is that all there is?” When the American dream proves to be empty and unsatisfying, let us be there for them to proclaim the heavenly dream that Jesus came to make possible.

The Final Opportunity:

The nursing home mission field gives us an opportunity to partner with Jesus in reaping a very white harvest. It is also the final opportunity for millions to take Jesus’ hand before they take their last breath. He is very concerned for these neighbors of ours and has told us, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” ~ Matthew 25:40

You Can Make a Significant Difference:

God Cares Ministry provides three ways for Christians to make a significant impact in this mission field:

  1. Volunteer to visit residents as a friend who can help them find hope and peace in Jesus. We provide needed training and ministry resources to help you and/or a team from your church thrive in this outreach.
  2. Become a ministry prayer partner. Our praying partners receive monthly letters with specific prayer requests to petition the Lord on behalf of residents, volunteers and God Cares Ministry.
  3. Become a financial supporter. God Cares has a number of secure ways for you to minister financially. These include: monthly giving plans with auto withdrawals from your credit card or bank account, planned giving options for those who want to leave a long lasting legacy, and non-cash donations.

 

Two prayers for all who want to participate in this

great mission field:

Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” ~ Matthew 9:37-38

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” ~ Isaiah 6:8

 

Let us know how we can serve you in your efforts to help care home residents take Jesus’ hand and find hope and peace in Him.

May the Lord richly bless you as you care and share to bless others!

 

In Christ’s service with you,

Chaplain Bill Goodrich

Founder/President


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