One of the women in our church has a hard time attending on Sundays. Her daughter brings her occasionally, but not very often.
Recently, I discovered why.
“I’d love my mom to go to church more,” the daughter told me one Sunday. “But I live in California.”
When her daughter isn’t in town, the woman watches the service online. In these post-pandemic days, that’s at least an option.
However, as we all know, technology doesn’t always work. Sometimes, seniors struggle to get their devices working properly. Sometimes, a glitch happens in the church’s system.
Even if the technology is working perfectly, there’s something special and — dare I say — vital about attending church in person. Our Sunday morning worship service is how we celebrate the day the Lord has made as a community.
What does it mean that a whole group of people doesn’t attend these functions, and other social gatherings like it, because they don’t have a ride?
We’ve been exploring the issue of transportation for seniors. Today, I want to think creatively about possible solutions. I want to invite the community to think outside of the box with me.
Let’s start with the potential role of the church in tackling this challenge.
How can the church help with transportation?
I know most churches want to help seniors in their congregation. In a perfect world, every church would like to have one of those 15-passenger disability-accessible vans and plenty of help to pick up as many seniors as wanted to attend on Sundays.
Practically speaking, those vans run about $100,000. And it’s even more complicated than the high price point.
The challenges of providing transportation
Years back, I had a conversation with the leadership of a church who had the funds to pay for a van. They knew there was plenty of demand from their congregants for transportation, just from the requests they were receiving.
Ultimately, they decided not to purchase one. The liability that comes with transporting people who are vulnerable is significant.
I get that.
Someone once donated a 15-passenger van to the church where I’m a pastor. It was towed to our parking lot, and we all took a picture in front of it.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to keep it. We didn’t have the resources to invest into getting it running again. We weren’t prepared to find or equip someone with the license to drive it.
It just wasn’t the right time. Maybe it wasn’t the right bus.
On one hand, you have churches that are willing, but they’re too small and don’t have the funds. Then you have churches that are big enough to handle the funding, but hesitate when considering the potential legal ramifications.
It’s a conundrum.
The value of the investment
How does the faith community step in? Is our senior population in danger of being out of sight and out of mind?
Some churches are stepping into the gap, but not always for the best reasons.
A couple years ago, I gave a ride to an older woman, who was on her way back from a church event. I was familiar with her church, and I knew they had a strong ministry to seniors because they prioritized picking up folks from across South Florida.
However, as I drove the woman back to her modest home, I was shocked when she told me how much she paid to attend the special event. My encounter with her made me question the motives of that ministry to seniors.
Despite my reservations, that church does get one thing right: They understand the investment they’re making to bring seniors through the doors.
My desire is to see all churches invest into seniors. Not for the value of their tithes and donations, but for the value of their wisdom and presence within our faith community.
How can nonprofits dream bigger about transportation?
Heart2Heart fields a lot of requests for transportation. Our volunteers help us fill the need by driving seniors to their doctors appointments, around town on errands and to church.
Recently, we started contracting transportation services to help large groups of seniors attend our special events.
However, I wonder if that is the threshold of what we should do.
Here’s how I see it: We don’t expect kids to navigate to school on public transportation. As a society, we have decided that kids need their own set of school buses to help keep them safe.
I would argue that many of our older neighbors are similarly vulnerable. As we’ve said before: once a man, twice a child.
Why not provide a specialized transportation system for seniors?
As a faith-based organization, I believe we should do everything with excellence. My vision is to tackle big problems with big solutions.
Therefore, I think Heart2Heart should have its own buses.
That’s me thinking big. I don’t yet know how the idea might work out in funding, logistics or feasibility. This blog is a chance for me to think aloud and hear feedback from the community.
What do you think? What ideas do you have to solve the challenge of transportation for seniors?
Are you willing to cast a big vision for the future on behalf of our seniors?