When you think about the members of your church, your mind may automatically settle on the people who are present at services every week or those with whom you serve on committees or in small groups. There are likely others who are just as much a part of the church but don't immediately spring to mind because they are not able to attend in person. Developing a strong homebound ministry helps these people stay connected and, in doing so, enriches the life of the church with the talents and impact their contribution brings to the table.
The initial focus most people have when starting a new ministry centers on the needs it is meant to fulfill. The challenge in addressing this focus as it pertains to a homebound ministry is that every person is probably going to have different needs:
- Mobility issues
- Chronic illness
- Immunity concerns
- Transportation difficulties
Identifying the reason a member is homebound may be helpful, but don't assume that you know what his or her needs are based on this information alone. For example, even if people have difficulty arranging transportation, that doesn't automatically mean they want someone to pick them up every week and take them to church. They may not want to have to depend on a ride or wait around until their volunteer chauffeur is ready to leave after service. As with any assessment strategy, the best way to find out what people need is simply to ask them. Having a conversation about what homebound members want and expect from the church is vital to serving them well.
Perhaps the most important aspect of homebound ministry is maintaining vibrant, healthy relationships with members who cannot attend in person. Loneliness is a common experience for those who do not leave their houses very often, particularly if no one else lives with them. Just as there is no one way to love everyone else in your life, there is no one way to forge solid relationships with your homebound members. Find out how each likes to be contacted. That way, you're not trying to call people who would rather talk in person, and you're not showing up uninvited to people's homes when they would rather receive thoughtful notes or letters. Keep in mind that it doesn't just have to be the people on the ministry team that reach out to them. If they enjoy video chatting or email, several members can check in throughout the day.
As your relationships with homebound members deepen, it's important to stay aware of new needs that arise. For example, if their mood shifts drastically between visits, ask how things are going and see if there is anything you can do to offer more support. If you believe they need professional intervention, refer them to counseling services that are well equipped to offer it. Of course, you want to respect their autonomy and not pressure them into decisions with which they are uncomfortable, but you can still offer suggestions when they are open to them.
A frequent criticism of homebound ministries is that they tend to relegate these members as strictly recipients of service. Those who stay at home, however, are just as likely to want to be active participants in the congregation as other members. Find ways to incorporate their feedback into your decision-making processes. If the church is voting on new council members, mail a paper ballot or collect virtual votes for those who cannot attend that week so that their voice is counted too. Open up committee and small group membership to all members, not just people who can attend meetings in person.
Helping homebound members remain an active part of your church takes intentional effort. Build strong, consistent relationships and ask for continual feedback to ensure that you are including everyone.