We know that music touches our hearts in many ways. Christian hymns, songs and choruses connect us with God. They strengthen our trust in Him. God’s Word, whether it is spoken or sung, gives us peace over our past and current circumstances and hope for our future. We know our lives are in His hands. But what about those who have not received Jesus as their Savior and Lord? What about those who live in assisted living facilities and nursing homes? Your outreach ministry to these needy souls may be –
Their Last Opportunity to Hear Ministering through Music in Assisted Living Facilities (ALF)
Is this you? You may know or just suspect that God has gifted you with musical talent. You may have joined your church’s worship team and even had the opportunity to minister through solos or in small groups. On many occasions, you have kneeled at the altar and cried, “Jesus, use me.” Submitting yourself to God’s Will is a necessary part of growing in our relationship with the Lord and our ministry to others. Perhaps you desire a greater leadership role in your church. Perhaps God wants you to humble yourself and minister to those who have great need. Only God can reveal and confirm these things to you.
Let’s look and see what Jesus said in Matthew 25, starting in verse 31: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
For the years, I have taken my acoustic guitar to an assisted living facility and ministered to senior adults. I also visit the memory care section where I minister to many precious souls who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. From the beginning, I realized that for both groups, this may be their last opportunity to hear about the love and mercy of God. They need to know it is not too late. God wants to forgive them and save them. And for those who already know Jesus as their Savior and Lord, they need to be reminded that God is with them and loves them very much.
And now, from my experiences, I would like to share with you some important ideas and strategies to consider as you minister in an assisted living facility. Some information I share will be spiritual, while other information will be basic and practical. I pray that both will help to make your ministry effective, ministering into the hearts and lives of many.
SUGGESTIONS FOR MINISTERING IN ASSISTED LIVING FACILITIES 1. How can you get involved in assisted living/nursing home ministries? Ask your pastor if there are any groups from your church already involved in ministering to senior adults in assisted living facilities. If there are, you may want to join them. More voices and more people who can show that they care may be just what your church needs at this time.
2. What if there is no group you can join? If no one is currently ministering in an ALF, you may want to start a group. Of course, if this is to be an outreach from your church, confirm this with your pastor. It is always good to have support, especially prayer support, from your church leadership.
3. How can I find out if there are others in my church who are interested in going with me to minister? Talk with your worship leader. This could produce a list of others who may be interested. Keep in mind, you don’t need “perfect” singers. You need caring people who consider this a ministry. However, you should have someone who can sing fairly well to lead, but a trained professional is not necessary. Some people who go with you may not even sing, but instead pray and assist you in other ways.
4. Can I directly contact the ALF myself? Yes. But you need to have some idea of what you have to offer. You will need to speak to the director and/or activities director. Before you make contact, read this entire article so you will have some idea of what you are realistically able to provide.
5. What if you don’t have a ministry team and it is just you? For me, I often find myself alone, but I know that God is with me. He will be with you, too.
Whether you go alone or not, a great way to encourage others to participate is by sharing a testimony at church about how God is touching hearts and lives at the assisted living facility. God may have been speaking to others all along, or else their circumstances may have changed and they are now available to join you for ministry.
6. Pray before you start. You may pray in private or with the residents. Pray in the name of Jesus. You may argue that this is not politically correct. Know this, any assisted living facility that allows your Christian group to sing and minister there should not be surprised when you use the name of Jesus. Don’t give up your freedom of speech just because you are in a public setting.
7. How can you make the residents feel welcome? ► Of course, greet them and tell them your name/s. Do not get stressed when they do not remember. Just be happy that they are present. ► Make an attempt to learn their names. Relax. This won’t happen all at once, but over time, you will be able to greet them personally by saying their names. ► If family members are visiting, welcome them and invite them to sing along.
8. Am I allowed to speak as well as sing? Yes. When God leads you, talk about forgiveness, salvation, being kind to one another and to family, etc.
9. What should I not talk about? Do not talk about how bad things are in the world. They do not need to hear about all of the bad news on TV. At this time in their lives, they are usually more focused on daily living and the challenges of getting older.
10. Should someone share a devotional reading? You may have a designated time for a devotional or share between songs – as I do. I freely offer scriptures and words of encouragement to trust God. This is very important: Do not speak too quickly. Many residents have difficulty hearing. Many have dementia and sometimes the words get a little scrambled in their heads – especially if you are speaking quickly. Some may speak up if they need to hear what you said again. Others will not speak up and just sit quietly – a little lost. Slow down; there is no need to hurry. Make it easy for everyone to hear your very important words. Maintain a cheery attitude even when you are asked to repeat and repeat again. You are God’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). Your cheery attitude will endear you to them, and they really will want to hear what you have to say.
Hymn Sing Time 11. Will I need songbooks? Yes. What songs should I include in the songbooks? Include songs to which the seniors can relate. I use hymns, music written by the Gaithers and some older choruses. No matter how wonderful current music is, our goal must be to minister to their generation. They love to sing hymns. They need to sing hymns.
Obviously, your songbooks will not contain every hymn. Over time, I have collected approximately fifty songs, to include ten Christmas carols, for their books. I chose a variety of songs that are well known and full of the Word of God. Feel free to select your own songs from a hymnal or other resource or use my list.
I always begin the same: Assisted Living I always start with the chorus from God Bless America. I tell them that this is one way we can pray for our country. We always sing this chorus twice.
Memory Care I always start with Jesus Loves Me, followed by God Bless America.
The following is my list of Hymns, Songs, and Choruses: Leaning on the Everlasting Arms In the Garden Amazing Grace As the Deer Blessed Assurance He Touched Me Glory to His Name Wonderful Peace What a Day that Will Be Have Thine Own Way Lord, How Great Thou Art Give Thanks He is Lord His Name is Wonderful I’ll Fly Away The Old Rugged Cross ‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus Lord, I Lift Your Name on High Victory in Jesus What a Friend We have in Jesus When We All Get to Heaven I Love to Tell the Story He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need I Surrender All Because He Lives Standing on the Promises Near to the Heart of God Jesus, Hold My Hand When the Roll is Called up Yonder The Star Spangled Banner America the Beautiful Battle Hymn of the Republic Brighten the Corner Where You Are His Eye is on the Sparrow Just a Closer Walk with Thee I Know Who Holds My Hand
Christmas: O Come All Ye Faithful Joy to the World Away in a Manger Silent Night We Three Kings Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! What Child is This? O Little Town of Bethlehem We Wish You a Merry Christmas! Go Tell It on the Mountain!
More about songbooks: ► Setting up the songbook • Use large type, usually about 16 font. • Number and type each verse. I usually include all of the verses of each song. Most of their lives they have sung all of the verses while in church. I eliminate a verse if I cannot fit all verses on one page. • Include the chorus only one time, but underline it. The residents will learn very quickly to go back to the underlined section for the chorus. This allows you to place each song on one page. • Instead of numbering the pages, number the songs (Song #3, Title). Once in a while, I am able to fit more than one song on a page. • I use a yellow highlighter to help everyone identify the title of each song. • Don’t be concerned about placing the songs in alphabetical order – not even the hymnal does that. • I place a numbered list of songs at the front of the songbook.
► Use one-inch, soft-sided notebooks. This way the books will be comfortable for the seniors to hold. Place the songs front/back in sheet protectors. You may say that you do not want to spend that much money. Making copies every week will cost more in time and money than following these suggestions. I have been using the same notebooks, copies and sheet protectors for four years, and they are still in great condition. Sam’s is a great place to purchase sheet protectors, and either Walmart or the Dollar Store is great for notebooks. Be careful selecting the notebooks – not all are the same quality. Some notebooks crack easily, producing sharp edges. Safety, of course is always a priority. Pray and ask God for just the right supplies for your ministry.
►Store the songbooks in a rolling cart. Check out your garage/storage area. You probably have a piece of luggage that will be just right.
► Make sure that whoever accompanies the group has time to prepare the music, lowering the key on many of the songs.
12. You will probably minister to residents from a variety of denominations, to include some who have never attended church. Do not stress denominational differences, but encourage all to sing. Many will easily remember the old hymns. Believe it or not, some will even learn ones they never experienced in their churches. Not only is this good for their souls, it is good for their memory function.
13. Do I need accompaniment? You can sing without accompanying music, but with accompaniment, it will be easier to find the key for the song. You may think that you will just use CDs. CDs, though very professional sounding, have some problems: ► The key is usually too high for elderly singers. If you are singing hymns, they need to be lowered a couple of keys. ► You may be limited to two verses when there are actually three you would like to sing. ► You cannot go back and sing an extra chorus. ► If you lose your place in the track, it will cause confusion.
Pray for God to provide someone to accompany you on a keyboard or guitar. Perhaps you or someone at your church has an instrument in the closet, just waiting to be dusted off and used to glorify God. Yes, some practice will be needed to effectively minister to others. This requires an investment of time. Your music does not have to be perfect, just well done.
14. Will I need to direct the singers as I would direct a choir? No. Just sing with enthusiasm and from your heart. Are you excited and thankful for what God has done in your life? Let your love for God show as you minister through music.
15. Can I use a microphone? Yes. Use a microphone and turn up the volume a little; however, don’t turn the music up so loud that it sounds like a “rock concert.” What if they don’t have a sound system? They probably won’t, but you can invest in a karaoke. Ministry of any kind involves an investment of talent, time and finances. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). If you play a guitar or keyboard, you will need to self-regulate your volume. You may be well experienced with this, but from my observation, many are not. If you sing louder to reach those high notes, you cannot pull the mic away from your mouth when your hands are busy playing your instrument. When you sing louder, you will need to lean back a little to maintain a comfortable volume for your listeners. When you sing softer, you will need to lean closer to the mic so that you can be heard.
16. What about harmony? Make sure your harmony does not overpower your lead singers. When the harmony is too loud your audience may be confused and not participate. For a good balance, melody should always be a little louder than harmony.
17. What about style? Keep it simple: Sing so the residents can follow. You may be gifted with an amazing singing style, but too much embellishment will only confuse the ones who desperately need to hear and receive the words in the songs. They may be so distracted that they give up and quit singing. Our purpose is not to present a show, but to minister to each heart and life.
18. How do I determine what song will be sung? I always let the residents select the song from the songbook. This allows them to have some choice in what we sing. I encourage the person who selects the song to tell me the number and title of the song. Sometimes two song numbers are called out simultaneously. I tell them we will sing them in the order that the songs were called. I do not take more than two requests at one time. It is too hard to remember three.
19. What if a person requests a song you have previously sung that day? In your most cheerful voice, tell them, “You always select some of the best songs, but we just sang that song. How about we sing that song the next time I come.” (And we will, if that song is selected next time.) Sometimes I need to say this more than once, but usually this satisfies everyone present.
20. How can I help residents know which verse to sing? Even when you sing the verses in order, many residents cannot concentrate long enough to know which verse follows. To help eliminate this confusion, starting with verse two, I always say the number of the next verse ( “Verse 2”).
21. There is something very interesting about many people with Alzheimer’s disease: even if they can’t hold a conversation, they very likely will be able to sing. This is especially true of people who have grown up in the church and sung those old hymns for decades. Those songs are deep in their hearts. Many will know the words without a songbook, but having a songbook is still important. And, in schoolteacher talk, having the words in front of them is actually a strategy that can improve focus.
22. What other assistance will I need? Since the residents may have difficulty finding the selected song, it is very beneficial to have a couple of people who can walk around to make sure everyone is on the right page. Since I play the guitar, I do not get up from my chair to find their pages. Usually there are a few cords connecting my karaoke and microphone underfoot. I have found it quite dangerous for me to attempt to step over these cords and get back to my seat safely. Recognizing this, I try to have others available to help.
23. What should I do when things do not go according to plan? It is important to have a plan, but many times life gets in the ways of our plans. Do not be offended. Your cheerful attitude and cooperative spirit will do much to demonstrate God’s love. Be Flexible. The world is watching to see if our God does give us peace in the storm – when things don’t go our way.
24. Wrapping it Up ►At the end of a Hymn Sing, I always close by thanking the residents for coming to sing and praise God with me. And then I say, “Maybe you didn’t sing, but just thought about how good God is to you. It is your relationship with God that is important. I thank God for you. It is a blessing for me to be able to come and share with you.”
► You may end the Hymn Sing with a general group prayer for the residents. You may also ask if there is anyone who would like you to pray with them after you end the hymn sing. Pray for individuals who request prayer. (In the assisted living facility, residents are adults who have the right to make their own decisions. They are not children. If adults request prayer, you may pray for them.) You may want to ask if anyone has a special need. It could be a prayer for family members, for their own personal health or even a prayer for salvation. God has placed you in a very precious position. You don’t have to be a pastor to pray for someone. You just need to be a willing instrument that God can use. It doesn’t have to be a long prayer – sometimes older people cannot focus that long. Pray in the Name of Jesus. Pray in faith and expect God to answer the prayer. Remember to thank God for His answer.
► Be sure to extend a warm invitation for them to join you next time.
► When it is time to collect the books – many residents will want to keep your songbooks, which of course means that the books will become lost and never seen again. Gently assure the residents that you will bring the books back the next time. To make sure your songbooks do not end up in their apartments, be observant during the session. Many times a resident will attempt to leave with a book. If possible, send a staff member right then to retrieve the book. Of course, keep a cheerful attitude the entire time.
► If possible, when the Hymn Sing is over, find a little time to chat with some of the residents. Be friendly and encourage them with smiles and caring words. Many are lonely and appreciate your sincere care.
25. What’s Next? Sometimes another activity will follow your time with the residents. Be respectful of their schedule and finish on time.
26. Other concerns: ► What if a resident is angry and says something to disrupt? I give a gentle answer and redirect his/her focus to another topic. I say, “I am so glad you are here today,” followed by a compliment and a smile. If the person is standing, gently instruct him/her to “Please sit down.” If the person is still agitated, hopefully a staff member has noticed and will step in to assist you. If not, you may need to call for a staff member. Keep in mind the residents are usually so happy to see you that there will not be any issues.
► What if you cannot understand what the resident has said to you? Many times, if people have dementia or Alzheimer’s, their speech is very confused. If this is the case, I do not spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. I thank the them and then say, “I am so glad you are here.”
► Since safety is always our first priority, be very careful with your equipment and cords to ensure that you/your group is not causing a trip hazard.
Do not allow residents to help you carry any of your supplies or equipment. They could get hurt, and you would be responsible. Instead, just thank them for their offers to help. Tell them that you prefer to do it yourself. Again, thank them for their kindness.
► Request (require) at least one staff member or more to remain with you throughout the session. Staff members are available and responsible for the safety and well-being of their residents. If someone needs emergency help, a staff member needs to be present. If you are alone, report this to the activities director. Even if there is not emergency, staff members can help residents find the correct page for the song. You can even encourage them to sing along. Be sure to thank the staff for their assistance.
27. Be faithful to the ministry God has Called you to do. Yes, there may be times you cannot be present, but treat this opportunity to minister as a priority in your life. Be consistently faithful: be prepared, present and on time.
If you know that you are going to be absent, give the Hymn Sing leader as much advance notice as possible. Even more important, if you are the leader, notify the assisted living facility as soon as you know you will need to cancel or reschedule. Not only is this the polite and responsible thing to do, but it also influences the ALF’s perception of your church.
28. Relax and be blessed as you bless others. As with any ministry, God will challenge you, equip you, strengthen you and encourage you as you trust Him to accomplish His Will in your life. Honor God by maintaining a thankful attitude as you give Him all the praise.
Finally: I hope the information I have shared with you will help you as you become involved in ministering to your community’s precious elderly people. Thank you for allowing God to use you in such an important outreach ministry.
One last thought – perhaps ministering through music in an assisted living facility is not where God wants you to be at this time. Perhaps He wants to use you elsewhere. The important fact is: God wants to use you. If you are idle, just sitting in your house waiting for ministry to fall into your lap, you are miserable. Take a look around. Pray and ask God what you can do to reach this lost and dying world. And always give all the praise, honor and glory to Him.