In a perfect world, all those in the faith could attend church every week as they desire. Life, however, presents all sorts of challenges making church attendance impossible or difficult for some families. There are some individuals who are homebound long-term due to a health condition and cannot attend church. Some families, like mine, have temporary homebound times which may occur after a child recovers from a surgery or serious illness, for example. Other families do not feel their child has a safe place in their church, because there is no one there equipped to handle their child’s needs or behaviors.
Whatever the reason, there are families who desire to attend church but cannot. Listening to sermons without attending church is relatively easy as many churches share them through podcasts, online videos, CDs, and social media. These outlets are great but hearing a message and feeling connected to a church are two different things. Interacting with people, having an opportunity for face-to-face prayer with someone, and receiving little words of encouragement are all missed by the family that is homebound.
What can you do to help these families feel connected to the church while they are home?
1. Plan a visit: Don’t underestimate the importance of a visit to the family’s home. We often think about those in leadership making such house calls, but anyone connected to the family should consider stopping by. If there’s a Sunday school class or small group that the family is associated with, then occasionally a few members could visit the family or hold a short small group at the family’s home. Prayer can be a part of these home visits, but please ask the family what their request is so you can really hear what is on their heart.
Every family has a unique situation, and you will need to know how the family wants to be reached. Some families may desire personal home visits, while other families may fear the germs guests may bring in the home. There are some families who have busy schedules and intense care with their loved one. They may desire personal interaction, but every week may turn into a burden for them. Ask the family what their preferences are.
2. Use technology: There are multiple video phone conferencing methods these days which can be perfect for homebound families, especially if germs from visitors are a concern. If a small group or class is meeting, it may be possible to video conference in the family to help them be a part of the group. Two people with an iPhone can easily make this happen. Leaders in the church may want to consider monthly video calls or telephone calls to keep in touch with the family. Emails and text messages should not be discounted. They are easy to send but can let a family know someone is thinking of them. If your church has bulletins or newsletters not available online, then mail a copy to the family, so they can still be aware of happenings in the church. Maintaining personal relationships in any way is so important as the family desires to be part of the church but physically can’t.
3. Offer assistance: Actions often speak louder than words. The church body can show they care about the family who is homebound by doing something. Meals are wonderful ways to help a family. Organize people to bring meals to the family. There are websites that easily allow these to be scheduled. (Personal tip: Bring food in containers that are disposable or ones you don’t want back to make it easier on the family.) Another option would be to organize a frozen meal drive where members can bring in frozen meals or side dishes that the family can thaw out and use as needed. Gas cards can be helpful if the family travels often for appointments. Offer to mow the yard or perform some other task that may be hard for the busy family. The homebound family may be needing assistance in some way but may not ask for help. Something extraordinary doesn’t need to be done often. However, the church can certainly fulfill a need for the family in some way and demonstrate their concern for the family periodically.
If there is a family who is homebound in your congregation, the best thing you can do is reach out. Talk to them. Understand their position and situation. Ask them how the church can specifically help them while they are homebound. Telling a family to "Call if you need something" does not sound sincere. Be intentional in your discussion and stress that you really want to reach out.
As someone who has been homebound for weeks and months at different times with my daughter, I can tell you that a homebound family faces many challenges. The isolation and lack of real support can create a sense loneliness and loss of connection. Members of the church can change that with a little effort and giving!
Evana is a wife and mother of two children. Since becoming a parent, Evana has spent many hours driving to specialty appointments, praying beside a hospital bed, and learning about her children’s diagnoses. Evana is also a pediatric speech-language pathologist and serves children with autism, feeding disorders, and other developmental delays. You can connect with Evana on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog, A Special Purposed Life.