This group hosts a lunch every Wednesday, with afternoon entertainment and Bible teaching. Many members of Good Companions are not members of the church. For the Holiday at Home event, guests stay each night in their own homes but attend daily activities (10.30am-3.30pm) at the church premises. The guests make their own way to church or are brought to the church building by hired mini-bus or by car.
The holiday at home aims to complement the ongoing work of Good Companions by providing a week of concentrated gospel teaching and relational development. This allows for both a clearer assessment of where individual spiritual needs lie and deepens relationships within which to maintain gospel witness. Bible teaching is overtly at the centre of the event.
The aims of the events have been: to have fun, to serve the guests, to consolidate our friendships with the Good Companions and to provide a concentrated block of Bible teaching.
Summer months are a great time for churches to organise holiday clubs as this is when elderly people can often feel most isolated, with family members or friends away on holiday and many of their regular activities closed down for summer.
A key aspect is that all guests are allocated to tables (in the same way that young people on camps and house parties are allocated different dormitory groups). Most of the day’s activities take place in these groups. This is key relational time. Two team members are allocated to each table group of six or eight, and stay with them throughout the event. Guests are encouraged to attend the whole event to promote consistency in the level of attendance at each table.
In running our first Holiday at Home we drew heavily on the experience and best practice of our children and youth teams in running holiday clubs, camps and house parties. Gospel ministry is gospel ministry after all, even if the sphere of application is different.
The Holiday at Home team is firstly made up of the regular Wednesday team, who organise the event as a whole; activities, speaker and so on. Additional helpers are recruited from the congregation. Many helpers are needed in order to make the guests feel really served on their ‘holiday’ and to enable those focusing on relationships with elderly people to be able to do just that. Additional helpers are brought in to help with preparation of the premises. A great deal of effort is made in order to make the event really special; for example: catering, waiting on tables, first aid, health and safety, driving, organising table leaders and prayer partners.
Given the size of the team needed, the Holiday at Home, is well advertised at church six months prior to the event. A presentation is used during Sundays in February and in March. A training morning happens prior to the holiday club, when the teaching scheme is introduced to all. Various practicalities, such as health and safety etc. are dealt with at this point too.
Typically, we have run Holiday at Home on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, with a service on the Sunday morning followed by lunch and the event’s conclusion. We find any more consecutive days can be too tiring for the elderly. We also have a main stage, where the teaching and activities are explained, with six or seven tables set around the room.
Altogether, the teaching element takes up approximately 45 minutes of the day; but this is broken up by coffee breaks, activities and meals, so that no single part of a talk ever exceeds 15 minutes in length. Because the teaching element is at the heart of what we do, event titles and daily activities are themed around the passage or theme that we are focusing on. The sermon at the Sunday service is often delivered by the Holiday at Home speaker and ties in with the event’s teaching. Our teaching themes have included a Bible overview and parables.
In terms of outside help, we have used speakers who we know and who we trust to be zealous, clear and faithful presenters of the gospel in addition to being able to engage with this age-group. Speakers have included a former vicar of St Peter’s and a retired former London City Missioner and Vicar.
All our table leaders are members of St Peter’s, but we have used some outside catering help and we hire our usual Wednesday minibus for the whole event.
Our follow-up takes place as part of our ongoing work with Good Companions. Guests are given the opportunity to join a daytime Christianity Explained group - or a smaller group in their own homes. Table leaders produce confidential reports based on progress made in their groups, which the regular team use to make an informed decision over one-to-one follow-up.
Our experience of running Holiday at Home has been a tremendously positive one. It has been good to use speakers we know and trust but who are nonetheless, fresh voices from outside. This is because there is a talk every Wednesday and most of the ‘home’ speakers are well known. In any given year a number of members of the Good Companions group will die and so we take heart in every opportunity that has been taken to explain the gospel to them in a clear and engaging way.
The table leader system has worked really well and sometimes we have found that more progress is made with some individuals during a Holiday at Home week than over a year (or years) of Good Companions work. Time is limited with the elderly and it has been a real blessing to have these units of ‘special’ time with many individuals.
Christian members of the Good Companions group have been delighted to have been able to pray for their friends, particularly in the light of an up-coming event. We have also seen church members deepen relationships with each other as they serve and pray together for this gospel ministry. For one fringe couple Holiday at Home was crucial in their journey to faith as they served with the rest of the team and saw the attitude of dependence on God in prayer.
These, and the fact that the elderly people we reach feel genuinely served by what we do, encourage us at the end of one tiring event to ask ‘When shall we do it again?’