Reach Out To Nursing Home Residents with Home Bible Study
The Evolution of the Idea
Buck Stanley became a Christian in 1987. A few years later, he and his wife, Clarice, were invited to visit a nursing home to sing and minister to the residents. Using a small, $85 keyboard, Buck sang and played for the seniors, assuring them that Jesus loved them and that they were precious in his eyes.
During that visit, Buck observed a woman whose nose and eye were ravaged by cancer. “The Lord put it on my heart to go and give her a kiss,” Buck remembers. “But I argued with him. I didn’t want to do it.” Finally Buck obeyed, and an amazing thing happened. He saw a twinkle in her eye as she responded to this expression of God’s love. And from that moment on, Buck was hooked.
He eventually left his job with a Florida power company to attend to his nursing home ministry full time. He and Clarice bought a motorhome and set out, armed with little more than a boombox, a few instruments, and hearts set on serving God.
The Heart Of The Ministry
Steeped in old, bluegrass gospel music, Buck and Clarice traveled from nursing home to nursing home, singing for and with the residents and spreading the gospel. Then Buck decided to start a church to further their outreach.
The church began with a little building at the intersection of two busy highways in Grandin, Florida, and an old bus that had been used to transport migrant farmworkers. Instead of just visiting nursing homes, Buck began driving to the homes, picking up interested residents, and taking them to his little church for services every Sunday afternoon.
“Buck saw a need for someone to go get those residents,” explains Nikki Schaub, who married Buck in 1994 after Clarice’s death. “Some of them felt trapped, especially the people in wheelchairs. They felt like prisoners. Buck wanted to help them change environments for a while.”
“You know that movie, The Apostle, where the preacher goes out in the bus and brings people to his little church? That’s Buck, only he brings people in wheelchairs. He’s so on fire for Jesus!”
-Nikki Stanley Jacksonville, Florida
Sometimes churches would drive their members from the nursing homes to the church, but they usually didn’t include people in wheelchairs. “Buck fixed up that bus, added a lift, and went out and got those people,” says Nikki. “He was willing to step out in faith and do something radical. The rest of us just followed along, waiting to see what Buck would do next,” she laughs. The bus could accommodate 12 to 16 people, depending on their needs.
The Ministry Grows
In 1994, Nikki and Buck bought a bus that could accommodate more wheelchairs and residents. The couple ministered to nursing home residents at the nursing homes during the week (their “road ministry”) and brought the residents to their church on Sundays (their “bus ministry”). “At one time,” Nikki says, “about 75 nursing homes were part of our road ministry. Most of them were in Florida, but some were in North Carolina as well.” Of course, Nikki and Buck couldn’t visit them all in a week, so they developed a rotating schedule.
Sometimes they approached the nursing homes’ activity directors and requested permission to deliver services to the residents. Other times, activity directors who had heard of the ministry called them directly and asked them to come.
Today the ministry calls Jacksonville, Florida, its home. “We don’t live in a motor home anymore,” says Nikki. “We have a little house, and we built a little 60×40-foot church behind the house. To accommodate wheelchairs, it has no pews and a tile floor.”
“We’ve worn out a few motorhomes and trailers since those early days. We’ve gone from a boombox to sound systems.” -Nikki Stanley
The ministry now has four buses that deliver 50 to 60 nursing home residents to Sunday services each week. During the week, Nikki and Buck continue their road ministry. Nikki estimates that they reach about 1,000 people each month.
The ministry also offers nursing home residents a newsletter, which is also featured on a weekly radio show in North Carolina.
Sharing the Gospel
“The more I got involved,” says Nikki, “the more I could see the ministry changing lives.”
One woman, for example, regularly attended the church service. “She came every week, but she was hostile and angry-very hurt. She never talked. She might even scratch you if you tried to hug her.”
“But we just kept loving her and bringing her to church each week. One Sunday I got on the bus and sat next to her. I put my arm around her as we rode. The trip was 23 miles each way. As we passed an open field, she pointed and said, ‘Cows!’ Somehow just being outside, with people who accepted her, broke her hardened exterior.” From that time on, Nikki says, the woman became open, loving, and full of joy. “She just needed someone to show her God’s love.”
Recently, Nikki says, a woman in their ministry became a Christian. “She had attended our services for years; she loved attending. After hearing the gospel again and again, she finally made a faith commitment.” This particular woman, says Nikki, had had a stroke, which had made speaking particularly difficult and laborious. “We’ve learned to be patient, continually showing the true love of Jesus.”
And it’s not only the residents who are touched by the gospel. Sometimes members of the administrative staff listen to the services, and sometimes nurses or aides are in the room during services. “Some staff members have made a faith commitment. Others have said they had strayed from their faith and have realized their need to return.”
Funding the Ministry
Funding for the ministry has come in several forms over the years. But the source is always the same, declares Nikki. “There’s one source, and that source isn’t man. It’s God. God always provides.”
“There’s such a harvest. More and more nursing homes are being built, we’ll all be living in one before you know it!” -Nikki Stanley
In the beginning, Buck used his own savings to fund the ministry. Today, in addition to personal resources, money for the ministry comes from four avenues:
1. Nursing homes. “Sometimes the nursing homes’ activity directors use money from their entertainment budgets to pay us,” Nikki explains. But that didn’t happen overnight.
“You’ve got to pave the way,” says Buck. “You have to prove yourself and show that the residents need and want what you have to offer. A workman has to be worthy of his hire.”
2. Family donations. “Sometimes family members of the residents donate money; some even make monthly contributions,” says Nikki. “They appreciate what we do for the residents.”
3. Missionary offerings. Since the ministry is non denominational, it doesn’t benefit from a denomination’s mission support. Still, several churches have adopted Nikki and Buck as “home missionaries.” For example, says Nikki, one Baptist church in North Carolina has called the workers in this ministry its missionaries for 13 years.
4. Random donations. Nikki has many stories about individuals who have contributed to the cause. “Sometimes we’ll be driving along, and people in another car will motion ‘us to pull over. They tell us they read our sign on the motorhome saying this is a nursing home ministry, and they want to encourage us. Then they’ll hand us a $50 bill,” says Nikki. Or someone in a gas station will offer to fill the tank.
“One time, out of the blue, a doctor’s wife called and said she wanted to donate money to the ministry,” recalls Nikki. “She’d been in one of the nursing homes during our service. We didn’t think about it too much, but the next week we got a check for $4,000!”
Then there’s the owner of a campground who lets Nikki and Buck stay there for free, fills their tank, and gives them free propane when they show up during their travels. “He’s also given us cash donations,” Nikki says. “He even feeds us!”
“It’s like Elijah being fed by the ravens. Everywhere we go, we’re taken care of. It’s an exciting adventure.”
Other support comes in the form of gifts For the nursing home residents. “People give us stuffed animals and other tokens of love to give to the residents,” Nikki says. “The residents keep them in their rooms as reminders that we love them and that we’re praying for them. Those little gifts encourage them and help them deal with pain and lonely nights.”
We want them to know that the lord’s with them through it all, we encourage them to run the race to the end and cross those wheelchairs over the finish line. -Nikki Stanley
One of the great joys of their nursing home outreach, says Nikki, is seeing how it strengthens the residents. “They return to the nursing homes encouraged and renewed,” she says. “And they become lights to the people there.”
Nikki and Buck encourage the residents to be prayer warriors in their facilities. “We encourage them to be content where they are and to find peace and joy in God. God has a purpose, and he’s coming back for them. In the meantime, they can pray for their nurses and aides. They can pray for other residents. They can forgive past hurts and find rest in God’s love.”
And according to Nikki, some of the greatest blessings come to the ministry, not from it. “We receive more than we give,” she says. “We see the faith of these people, and we’re blessed and strengthened ourselves.”
The ministry has also helped Nikki and Buck face the future. “We’re not afraid of what lies ahead of us,” declares Nikki. “We see the joy possible in a nursing home, so if God places us there one day, we’ll just view it as a mission field.”
You’re never too old or weak to be strong in the body of Christ. -Nikki Stanley
As this ministry has developed and grown, Nikki and Buck have learned many lessons. But the most important lesson they’ve learned is a valuable reminder to all Christians contemplating how to serve and bless others to trust the Lord. “Walk with the Lord,” says Nikki. “That’s all that matters. Just be faithful day by day, and you’ll see great and wonderful things.”
Implementation: How Your Church Can Reach Out to Nursing Home Residents
If two people with a heart for nursing home residents can reach 1,000 people a month, imagine what your church could do if it were committed to this neglected-and growing-segment of the population! If this idea resonates with you and your church, remember these principles as you develop your own outreach:
Principle 1–Do what’s necessary to develop meaningful relationships with nursing home residents. Many have shut down emotionally because few, if any, of their past relationships exist and no one has invested the time or energy to get to know them. Look beyond vacant stares to the person within.
Principle 2–Recognize the riches many of these people possess. Their experiences, their values, their perspectives can be invaluable to younger people, whether they’re children, teenagers, adults just starting careers and families, or middle-aged people.
Principle 3–As much as possible, enable the residents to leave the nursing home temporarily in order to experience new surroundings.
Principle 4–Recognize how important anticipation is in everyone’s life, especially those with unvarying routines. Without something to look forward to, it’s easy to become discouraged and apathetic.
Principle 5–Find ways to integrate nursing home residents into the life of your church.
Steps to Take
1. Spend time in prayer to discern whether God is calling your church to this type of ministry.
2. Talk to the people in your congregation who have a special compassion and affinity for the aged, and identify ways your church can reach out to them.
3. Decide how far-reaching you want your ministry to be. If yours is a small church, you might want to begin by adopting the residents of the nursing home nearest to your facility. A larger church might decide to minister to the residents of nursing homes within a 10-mile radius of the church.
4. Meet with the activity directors of the nursing homes you hope to reach. Find out what the most pressing needs are and how your church might best serve and honor the residents.
5. If you decide to take your ministry to the nursing homes, determine what type of service you want to provide. While Nikki and Buck don’t deliver the same service in each nursing home, they do follow a general outline: lots of music, a gospel message, and Scripture reading. “We read from the Bible so the residents hear the Word of God. We tell them the good news about Jesus. And they love to sing the old songs they remember.”
Favorites, says Nikki, are hymns such as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “In the Garden.” But they usually start with a few upbeat, joyful songs to get those toes tapping. Nikki and Buck provide background music soundtracks on their Website for other churches to use (www.nikkiandbuck.com).
6. Consider offering audiotapes of each service. “We bought a duplicator,” Nikki says, “and right after the service, I make tapes to hand out. I’ve been told that the residents listen to them until the tapes are worn out.”
7. Identify plenty of ways for the members of your church to interact with the nursing home residents. Be sure to vary venues for your get-togethers so that the residents are stimulated and have things to look forward to. Consider intergenerational Bible studies and small groups, coffees at church before or after the service, and celebrations to mark significant events in the nursing home residents’ lives.
We’ve got it down to a science now. We have all our musical equipment on carts so we can just wheel them in and get started. In four minutes, we can be plugged in, set up and singing. -Nikki Stanley
Final Thoughts On…Giving Up
Nikki urges anyone embarking on a ministry to nursing home residents not to become discouraged. “Sometimes the residents won’t seem to be alert. They won’t respond. Don’t let that prevent you from returning,” Nikki cautions. “Look beyond it.”
After the service, she advises, talk to the residents. Sometimes even if their eyes are closed, they’re wide awake. “One time after a service I went up to resident who I thought had been sleeping the whole time. She opened her eye and smiled, saying, ‘I really needed this.’
“Don’t ever doubt the Holy Spirit’s ability to reach these precious people.”
From: The Guide to Outreach. Dale Ploombe, Editor. Group Publishing, 2006. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”