Using Tablets in Ministry to Christian Seniors

Roger Woller (Mankato, Minnesota USA)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Pastor Roger E. Woller has served six congregations in Wisconsin and Minnesota, longest at St. John’s in Fairax, Minnesota. Retiring after 40 years in the ministry, he began working as chaplain for three senior care facilities. Among the positions he has held are DMLC Board of Control, MVL Board of Directors, and Jesus Cares Coordinator for St. Paul Lutheran Church, North Mankato, Minnesota. He and wife Millie have six children and 17 grandchildren.

1. What got you thinking about using a tablet when you made pastoral calls on elderly people?

First of all we all have different gifts as pastors, teachers and students. I learn visually and teach using visuals. The laptop computer and the projector was an answer to my prayers. But to take a laptop along on a shut-in or hospital call wasn’t convenient. A tablet because of its size and the memory it has is the answer. A tablet can be used with the people in the hospital, the young or elderly people, especially individuals with dementia or Alzheimers.

2. What kind of tablet did you use?

Because of a generous gift I was provided with a Samsung, Model SM-T560NU, Galaxy Tablet. Android operating system. Sometimes I attached a separate speaker to improve the sound for elderly ears.

3. Was the tablet easy to use? what were the challenges with learning how to use it?

I had to learn how to use a tablet. Many people use tablets to play games, watch movies and whatever. For me it wasn’t easy to use; I needed help to learn it. The screen was very touch sensitive — just touching it by accident would stop or change what I wanted the person to watch. However, I feel the potential is there for a pastor or layperson to use the tablet on a visit with the elderly or person young or old in the hospital.

4. What did you put on it, to use with those you called on? Where did you get the materials you used?

In my experience I have found that people with dementia or Alzheimer’s sometimes need a memory trigger. It might be a picture of a Bible story, or a familiar hymn that they learned in their youth. The simple song “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” brings memories back. Pictures and hymns can be downloaded to the tablet and played for the person. Maybe just one verse of a hymn is needed.

Following are some links: This Lutheran Quartet has recorded a number of Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal. I use a lot of these hymns for my Bible Class at KingsPath Senior Living, Belle Plane and Highland Regency House, New Ulm. Both places are managed by The Lutheran Home, Belle Plaine, MN.

I have also made a number of YouTube videos that others can use. I use a lot of these in my Bible Class.

I have also made a number of Power Point presentations where I insert an MP3 file of a choir singing or an organ playing and the words of the hymn are shown on the tablet. People can either sing along or just follow along with the words of the hymn.

Chris Dreisbach has composed and performed many good Christian songs that are fun and useful to use.

Bible Story Pictures can also help bring back memories — old Sunday School pictures and Bible History pictures. There are a lot of free pictures that you can find if you Google for them. [An earlier GOWM conference contains a wealth of free Bible visuals.]

5. When you used the tablet with people, what did you do?

I used the tablet with a person who was in hospice care. I asked her if she had a hymn she wanted to hear. She said, “I am but a Stranger here, Heaven is my Home.” I was able to play it for her. I held the tablet so she could watch the words of the hymn, with pictures in the background and the words being sung on the screen. I also used a small speaker hooked up to the tablet so the sound was better. Heaven is now her home.

I ministered to a member who had dementia. She didn’t remember anything. She didn’t know who I was and I had been her pastor for years. I would show her a picture of the church and she would stop talking gibberish and then I would show her a picture of Jesus on the cross and for a few seconds she was back, sometimes even enough so that I could give her the Lord’s Supper. She could confess her sins and receive absolution. Hymns and pictures can trigger memories.

6. What did not work as well as you hoped? Why not, do you think?

The tablet I use is very touchy. I have to be careful that I don’t touch the screen when I am holding it to be viewed so that the presentation doesn’t stop or change. But I still feel the potential is there for a pastor or lay visitor to use a tablet to bring the comfort of the Gospel to those who are suffering.

7. Any suggestions to someone else for using tablets for this demographic? What to do, what not to do?

Give it a try. Use this gift of technology for Kingdom Work. Don’t overdo it however. Know when to use it and when not to use it. Don’t overwhelm the person. Be gentle and humble in bringing the message of Jesus to those who need it.

Pastor Roger E. Woller emeritus
Chaplain at KingsPath Senior Living , Belle Plaine, MN.
And Highland Regency House, New Ulm, MN.
Both managed by The Lutheran Home, Belle Plaine, MN.

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Emily Sanchez (Bethany ) 2019-10-22 12:20:47am
I think it amazing that you are so open about this future! The future is developing and I'm glad you want to hop on the train to make the world easier with the use of technology. Many people do not see how useful technology is because they want to keep it old fashioned. There is nothing wrong with that but new generations aren't learning the same as older generations. For example, even babies prefer watching youtube videos the playing with toys. I am glad that you are making technology useful and hopefully you see all the advantages it has.
Pastor Roger E. W. (Lutheran Home Chaplain) 2019-10-22 8:55:03pm
Thanks Emily for your encouraging comments. If I were still an active parish pastor, I would find even more ways to use a tablet in making calls.
For the Bible Classes that I conduct at the Senior Living places, I use Power Point with pictures, clip art, Christian songs and hymns, the Bible lessons are projected so that everyone can follow along. My first slide is a welcome slide followed by pictures of church bells and the ringing of the church bells. This gets everyone in the mind set for Bible Study and worship. We end the Bible Class with a Bible Bingo called Loved. This was developed by MLC students for the Jesus Cares Ministries many years ago. I have made my own Bible Bingo Pages that follow the Bible Stories both for OT and NT stories. This is a review of the story while having some fun.
Jack Vogek (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-23 6:42:17pm
Pastor Woller,

I have always thought that technology is the key to reaching out to people. Many seniors have a hard time reading and hearing. Many seniors cannot make it to church on a regular Sunday. The tablet helps you present to seniors many things with easy access and a travel easy way. Shut In visits would greatly improve with the tablet.

My pastor uses a tablet during our service. It is connected to our screen and has the liturgy and hymns on it. It provides a lighter version of books and can be a great tool during a sermon using a screen. How do you feel about using tablets not only with Senior but with a congregation as a whole, especially during worship?

Thank you for sharing your article.
Pstor Roger E. W. (Chaplain TLHA) 2019-10-25 2:34:57pm
Thanks for your comments, Jack,
My thoughts about using a tablet with a congregation as a whole, during worship. Take it slow, don't overpower the congregation with too many fancy pictures keep it simple.
If I were to start over in my ministry I would use it a lot. At St. Paul's N. Mankato, MN. the screen is right above the altar. The liturgy, hymns, Scripture readings are all projected. Easy to follow, most of the people follow the worship on the screen. Quoting my wife, "Sure wish I would have had that while raising our six children. It is hard to hold a hymnal and a small child." I of course was no help with the children during the worship service, I was up front conducting the service.
Jack Vogel (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-04 7:06:37pm
Thanks for your response. Thanks for the advice and your experiences.
Jack Vogel (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-04 7:06:47pm
Thanks for your response. Thanks for the advice and your experiences.
Noah Bruckschen (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-24 5:31:09pm

Hello Pastor Woller,

I think that tablets are a great idea for catering to our elderly members. From my own personal history, whenever I preach chapel at MLC, my dad will bring his phone to the nursing home the next day to show my grandmother. She doesn’t know how to use it too well but she loves seeing the chapel and listening to the service and the music. I think there is extreme potential for the future, especially since every generation that passes will have more knowledge of how to use these things.

Do you think that if these elderly members used tablets more often, their memory would improve over a course of time?

Thanks for your thoughts.
Pastor Roger E. W. (Chaplain TLHA) 2019-10-25 2:55:40pm
Noah, Thanks for your comments,
That is awesome that your dad is bringing her grandson into her life via the phone. Being a grandparent myself, I am sure she is so proud of you that she is able to see and hear you in person.
A tablet would have a bigger screen. Here is another idea. I use this with my tablet at home to view movies etc. I purchased a "Wireless Display Receiver" hooked it up to my HD TV to display what is on my tablet. Most rooms in Nursing Homes or Assisted Living homes have TVs. The sound would be better, the picture would be bigger.
Grandma would think that her grandson is a TV personality.
Noah Bruckschen (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-07 6:13:16pm
I do like the idea that grandma thinking that I am a star. Thank you for your time!
Jamie Bruckschen (MLC) 2019-10-24 5:42:15pm
Dear Pastor Woller,

I love that you try to integrate technology into your lessons with seniors. I had a grandma with dementia and sometimes the best way to get her to remember something is to show her a picture. It is awesome that you try to use the gifts that God has provided you with in order to share the gospel message with others.

A question I have for you would be, do you think that these senior members appreciate the table or do they also find it difficult to use when trying to learn? Are most of them accepting of this method or do some of them ask for a different medium for your lessons?

Thank you for your advice on teaching the elderly. Technology can be a great tool for young and old.
Pastor Roger E. W. (Chaplain TLHA) 2019-10-25 3:13:37pm
Jamie, You have experienced that memory triggers for people with dementia are important.
My answer to your question, the use of the tablet is only a tool to use with people with dementia. You the visitor use the tablet not the senior. You don't want to overwhelm the senior with technology. Your personal visit, talking with them getting them to relive some memory and when the time is right show a picture of Jesus, Bible history picture, play a verse or two of a hymn they might have learn in their youth. "Beautiful Savior, Jesus Loves Me, Amazing Grace" etc.
Jamie Bruckschen (Martin Luther college) 2019-11-07 6:18:21pm
Thank you for your response. I understand now that the tool is for you not for them too try to fumble around with. I think that is a good idea considering that many of them may not understand how to use it.
Gabe Jacobsen (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-24 5:48:46pm
Pastor Woller,

I am so happy to see technology in such a helpful light. As you know, the world is full of sin and darkness, with technology only adding to the mix. However, I worked in a nursing home with dementia patients; and I can confirm that what you said is correct! Residents will not remember who their children are, or that coffee time was five minutes ago, and yet when they hear a hymn, or see a picture of Jesus, there are moments of complete recollection, and they know that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. The use of tablets to make these things more accessible is a phenomenal use of technology in ministry!

How do the residents react to viewing things on a tablet? I have worked with some that cannot seem to grasp what exactly it is they are seeing on a smartphone or tablet. Has that been an issue in your experience?

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom in this area, and leading the way for others to utilize technology in their ministry!
Pastor Roger E. W. (Chaplain TLHA) 2019-10-25 3:26:28pm
Gabe, Thanks . Your experience with Christian people who suffer from dementia is that they are still Believers in Christ just because they can't remember even their children doesn't mean that their faith in dead. That is why Jesus told his disciples He would send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit creates faith, not our reasoning.

How do seniors react to viewing a tablet? Sometimes they just don't. Next best thing is to print out a color picture so that they can hold it and touch it.
Gabe Jacobsen (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-07 6:14:52pm
I appreciate your response Pastor! It is encouraging not only to those suffering with dementia that the Holy Spirit creates faith, not reasoning. I love to see that faith goes above and beyond and completely outside any human strength. God's power is perfected in weakness, and those who suffer from dementia are a prime example. They can't remember a majority of their lives, but what sticks is Jesus.

I also appreciate the ideas you posed to my question. Your words were very helpful in explaining different ways to reach out to those with dementia!

Thank you for all you do in service to the Lord and His people!
Nicole Rohrick (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-24 6:58:24pm

Pastor Woller,

I enjoyed reading through your experiences using a tablet in ministry to seniors or those in the hospital. I was especially interested in the use of the tablet to bring pictures and hymns (with organ accompaniment) to those who otherwise would not be able to view or listen to them. The impact it can have, like bringing back memories through a simple song, is astounding!

While your article goes through many of the benefits of using a tablet in ministry to seniors, and even some of the troubles you could have, I wanted to know if there have ever been problems for the members while using the tablet? I know of people getting distracted by technology or even getting upset. Have there been problems with seniors having difficulties learning how to use the technology? How do you deal with these problems?

Thank you for sharing your insights.
Pastor Roger E. W. (Chaplain TLHA) 2019-10-25 3:38:34pm
Thanks Nicole,
Use the tablet as a tool to bring the message of the Gospel. The tablet is not the Gospel it is a tool you can use to bring the message. If people are distracted by the tablet don't force it on them. Give them what is familiar for them. Be Patient. The generation of seniors now will have difficulties learning how to use a tablet. You use it for them.
Nicole Rohrick (MLC) 2019-11-07 6:16:35pm
Thank you for getting back to me, and thank you for including the idea about keeping familiar practices in worship. Patience is a virtue to work on in every situation and this is a perfect example. A slow progression is still progression and it's further opportunity to teach. Thank you again!
Noah Schaewe (MLC) 2019-10-24 10:54:10pm
I appreciate that you brought to the attention of many the great advantage tablets could be in ministry. I have seen a pastor use a tablet once during a Sermon to help show stuff on a projector screen, and possibly to help follow his sermon. This I think is good because it looks more formal than carrying around papers, but also allows for visuals on the screen. Mainly I found it very interesting how you used tablets when ministering to Seniors. Most would assume that technology would be used mainly for younger generations, but you made it very apparent that it is highly beneficial for older generations the like.

I do wonder if dependency would become an issue if people started using tablets more. We see how smartphones are used all the time and people really depend on them in most cases to function during the day. Could people possibly use a tablet in the same way (just to get through a devotion, sermon, or visitation)? How could we encourage people to make use of this tremendous gift in outreach, but also use the gifts given from God that they personally possess to help evangelize?
Pastor Roger E.W. (Chaplain TLHA) 2019-10-25 3:46:34pm
Thank you Noah S.
Yes, dependency is a problem. If God would take away everyone's smartphones right now for an hour people would go nuts.

You ask some very good questions. I am encouraging you to find answers by experimenting with ideas that you might have. The Gospel will always be the power unto salvation not the tablet. The tablet is only a tool we can use the bring the Gospel message to the people around us.
Noah Schaewe (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-07 6:28:05pm
Thank you for your response Pastor. It is absolutely true people would go nuts, which is an ever increasing struggle. Making tablets useful is something that I have an interest perusing in my future ministry, so thank you for your encouragement! I would also thank you for the reminder that it is the Gospel message, rather than the tools we use to spread it, that we need to promote.
God's Blessings
Zach Thiel (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-25 4:06:21am

Dear Pastor Woller,

It is very interesting how you discovered the advantage of using a tablet versus a computer or something else. I appreciated that you have shared this because it opens a door for many pastors and people everywhere. Specifically with the elderly, it is so cool how a tablet can be used to bring back memories of Jesus! Technology is an amazing blessing that God has blessed us with.

When it comes to visiting people that are in the hospital or the elderly, did you ever run into any problems with their reaction to the tablet? For example, did they elderly ever seem to feel intimidated or uncomfortable with the use of technology?

Thank you for this encouragement!
Pastor Roger E. W. (Chaplain TLHA) 2019-10-25 3:53:21pm
Zach, Your observations are right on.

When you make a visit with a person either in the hospital or assisted living, or nursing home you visit first to find out where they are in their comfort level. Don't force technology on them let it come naturally. The comforting message of Jesus that you have is what is most important.
Zach Thiel (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-04 7:10:49pm
Pastor Woller,

Thank you for response! I like the idea of first finding out their comfort level as all people are different and may be in different states. Thank you for your thoughts!
Evan Korthals (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-25 5:40:08pm
Pastor Woller,

I really appreciated your article about using technology and especially tablets to bring the gospel to seniors. You offered a lot of insight on how that area has gone for you.

I come from a congregation with a much more traditional pastor. He prefers not to use technology. Do you think by using tablets and technology, pastors can much more efficiently reach out to elderly people? I know that one of the duties of a pastor is bringing the word to the elderly in nursing homes. Could this potentially allow another member, such as an elder, to help pastors with senior visits, like where the pastor creates a presentation for said elder to present?

Thank you so much for contributing to the conference!
Pastor Roger E. W. (TLHA Chaplain) 2019-10-25 8:02:11pm
Be patient with your pastor, Evan. It is not easy to keep up with technology.
My answer to your first question is a YES. Also Yes to the next question. It is of utmost importance that the Pastor visits his members even if they have dementia, but the members of the congregation can be trained to make visits. They can read devotions to them, or play a devotion. The daily devotions from "What About Jesus.Com" are excellent. Pastor Zach Steinke does an excellent job reading the devotions in such a professional manner.
Hearing loss is common with elderly people. Using a tablet with a pair of headphones visitors could bring a devotion to a elderly person. The daily devotions mentioned above are short and to the point.
Evan Korthals (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-04 7:16:29pm
Pastor Woller,
Thank you for your thoughtful response! What you talked about opened my eyes even more to the possibilities for outreach to the elderly. Your advice will be useful in my future ministry, as technology will become more and more prevalent in society. Thank you for your contribution and your advice!
Aaron Stuve (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-10-29 12:00:54am
It's always good to hear stories of new technology being used in helpful ways, and seeing those methods in action. Many people assume some of these new technologies are mere play things, that nothing could really be accomplished by making use of new technology, and that is simply not true. Thanks to the Internet and smaller tablet devices, we have access the the total sum of all human knowledge and ability, it's possible to learn anything and teach anything, it just takes someone to set aside the problems and make use of what has been given to them. It's already here, and it's not going anywhere, so why not use it for good? It's so great to see things that are usually used for meaningless fun being put to use in a truly meaningful way.
Pastor Roger E. W. (TLHA Chaplain) 2019-10-31 5:13:23pm
Aaron Stuve, Thank you for your comments. Your observations of the use of technology are right on. Use technology for the Glory of God our Savior.
Nathan Sargent, Alexis Gantner (WLC) 2019-10-29 1:07:54am
Pastor Woller,
This was a very encouraging presentation to read. There always seems to be a stigma around our older generations using technology just because they might be slower learners. I'm happy to hear that you're using God's gift of technology in a positive way to bring the comfort of the Gospel to the elderly. Just because it may take someone a little longer to learn how to use something such as a tablet doesn't mean they shouldn't be able to use it at all. I pray that the Lord will bless your outreach efforts through modern technology.
Pastor Roger E. W. (TLHA Chaplain) 2019-10-31 5:17:57pm
Nathan & Alexis,
A person is never to old to learn. As we turn the pages of life, each page is a new experience, an opportunity to learn and grow in our faith. When we get to the last page of our life for the believer in Christ, it doesn't say "The End" but the "Beginning of Eternal Life with Jesus".
Thanks again for your comments.
Kelsey (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-10-29 2:23:15am
Thank you pastor for the article!

I love hearing stories about the news ways churches are adapting to senior citizen's needs. Tablets are a great way to connect with people of all ages, children through seniors. I really appreciated your example of the woman who had dementia. My Nana has dementia and we gave her an iPad to enjoy and continue to use her motor skills to keep her active and thinking. We put Spider, Suduko, number games, spelling games, and even a piano and listening game on there. She enjoys it so much and it certainly helps her remember things. This is a great idea and what is amazing is the older members of the church don't have to use the tablet on their own. The way that you are there guiding and assisting them in the process takes the pressure off them and gives them an enjoyable experience the whole time.
Pastor Roger E. W. (TLHA Chaplain) 2019-10-31 5:22:27pm
Old age and dementia that many times goes with it doesn't mean the soul is gone. We can use memory triggers with the help of a tablet to help bring back a memory if only for a minute. Kelsey thanks for you comments.
Taryn Christensen (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-11-02 3:26:17am
I find it awesome that you are so open about the future developing newer and more advanced technology. Many of the elders are not use to the new technology that is being developed nowadays. The younger generation is learning differently than how it used to be back then. There is nothing wrong with that, babies nowadays love being on a tablet or a phone to watch videos or play games. Same with the elders, some may not be able to come to Sunday services and this will help them be able to have options.
Pastor Roger E. W. (TLHA Chaplain) 2019-11-09 10:54:00pm
Taryn, Thank you for our comments. Use technology to spread the Gospel message. Use the Tablet as a tool. We don't want to forget that we need to talk to people, eye contact. What a tablet can do is bring the message of Jesus to the elderly, but it can not hold their hand.
Sashia Swenson (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-11-03 5:49:56pm
Technology opens new opportunities to spread the word. This is a progressive use of technology that I had not heard of being done before. I am so glad that devices are used in this way especially since the older generation may not be able to attend church or may have other challenges. I'm excited to see what else technology will be used for in the church and in spreading the word.
Pastor Roger E. W. (TLHA Chaplain) 2019-11-09 10:59:47pm
Sashia, Thanks for you words. I just wonder what kind of technology is still to come. When I started in my parish ministry I would have never imagined what can be done now with a tablet. Thanks again and God Bless.
Harold (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-11-04 12:14:07am
I have noticed over the past two-three years that a lot of pastors are starting to use technology in their ministry as well as in their outreach to people. Using technology is very beneficial and can help countless amounts of people be reached and learn about the word of God. It would be great for other pastors and churches to begin to use technology as a means to reach others. My church is even started to use audio recordings of the sermons to reach others, sending them out and having websites to reach people. My pastor even uses an iPad during the sermon for his notes and as a bible at the pew.
Pastor Roger E. W. (TLHA Chaplain) 2019-11-09 11:01:44pm
Harold, Thanks for your excellent comments. You are so right.
Skylar Cotten (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-11-04 5:48:19pm
I think this is a very good idea that should be done more. It is a great way to get people in the hospital still involved with christ and their religious beliefs. Most elders do not like the use of technology anymore, but I feel that it is actually very useful and has many advantages.
Pastor Roger E. W. (TLHA Chaplain) 2019-11-09 11:04:30pm
Skylar, You are so right in your comments. We need always remember, however, to use what God has given us to His Glory and not our own. Thanks again for your comments.
Al D. and Jessica N. (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-11-06 3:40:47am
Thank you for your contribution to the conference. I am glad that the tablet has been an enriching tool for your ministry.

You focused a lot on the positive effects that it has on your ministry but have you had any negative effects? My grandparents are personally a bit put off by technology and this is always a point of slight contention. Have you encountered this at all in your ministry and if so how do you deal with that? Do you think as we create newer technology it can also be effectively implemented in the church?

Thank you again for your article as well as your ministry as a whole.
Pastor Roger E. W. (TLHA Chaplain) 2019-11-09 11:14:55pm
Al. and Jessica, We don't want to force technology on anyone. If people like you grandparents can hear the Word of God in the KJV translation it might mean a lot to them. Or be able to listen to hymns from TLH again it would bring back memories. See pictures from the old Bible History books that they used when they were young.
The negative effects of technology is if we use it and think that is the only way now communicate. Be sensitive to the feelings of others especially the elderly. We need to show them respect for what they have taught us. Thanks Al & Jessica for you good thoughts and comments.
Zachary McNamer and Ian Starkey (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-11-11 7:36:48pm
First, I want to thank you for this topic as it is one that will be a talking point as technology will consistently change throughout time. It is something that has changed the landscape of how the gospel is spread throughout time as well. This is an amazing way to introduce elderly people to tablets as well. The introduction could be what helps them understand how to use the products or encourage them to take the "leap" into today's generations. Technology has the adaptability piece that books are missing as well. An individual can turn up the volume and make the text bigger. Such an amazing and intriguing topic.

Thank you.