Can Seniors Learn To Do Virtual?

Well, Grandma went to Woodstock...

Seniors are more ready for online church than you might have thought.

Covid has uncovered all sorts of surprises about the church. We were talking with our friend Dale Sellers of 95Network this morning, and he shared a soundbite he’d heard from Karl Vaters: Grandma went to Woodstock. Yes, I was surprised. You mean, my mother and father?

That is, the old folk in your church who seem so behind the curve technologically — well, they’re not quite as allergic to change as you might think.

They may fumble a bit with the camera on a smartphone, and may be challenged to figure out how and when to use the mute button on a Zoom call. But, given the promise of a worthwhile experience, and they will trek a long way to get there.

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We heard a wonderful story from a pastor about two seniors living in separate units at an elder care facility. They have not been able to come to church for awhile, even before COVID. Back in the spring, the church began using Zoom to have church together. Both women would join by calling in from the nursing home. After a few weeks, one of the women told the pastor “I don’t feel like a second-class citizen anymore just because I can’t come to the church building.” These women suddenly were able to participate in church like they hadn’t been able to in a long time — it was like a homecoming!

According to Pew Research’s Tech Adoption Among Older Adults, Fully 58% of adults ages 65 and older say technology has had a mostly positive impact on society, while roughly three-quarters of internet-using seniors say they go online on a daily basis — and nearly one-in-ten go online almost constantly.

Steven Smith, Multisite Pastor at Houston’s First Baptist Church, says “I underestimated my people. I would have never thought in a million years that we would have some of our Sunday school classes, some of our live Bible study classes, want to be able to gather online like they’ve been doing. I would never have thought that our 70- and 80-year old adults would say, ‘sign me up, I’m here, on Zoom, whatever it is, I can learn it.’ I’d always thought, in the back of my mind, short of a pandemic, they’re never going to do this. Well, we’ve had that. I wish that I would have given my people more credit to learn something new, and engaging like the way we’ve been doing.”

One particular senior woman used her iPhone to record herself doing a reading from scripture, to be used as part of a pre-recorded church service. She was having a some trouble finding a stable shelf on which to place the phone that would provide a good angle for capturing her face in the camera frame. After several frustrating re-takes, her husband of 40 years volunteered to be the cameraman.

Remarkably, now that the husband — a longtime non-churchgoer — had some ownership of the video asset, he had some gleeful anticipation of watching his handiwork as it was streamed to the full church audience. As in… he went to church!

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Since then, he has volunteered his cameraman skills each week, and has become a regular ‘attendee’ on Sunday. In just a few weeks, he even suggested that perhaps he himself could do the scripture reading! After 40 years of sitting at home while his wife went to church, this man has become part of the church body.

How amazing is it that there are people for whom hybrid church has actually “opened” doors to community!

This has been a season of great loss of lot of things we’ve held as “normal”. But as with any season of disruption, we are suddenly able to see things from a new perspective. Let’s be pleasantly surprised — and become used to — how technologically motivated the Woodstock generation can be.