Every Saturday morning at 7 am a group of local pastors and church leaders gather to pray at a different location each week. This group is a great blessing to me in several ways, not the least of which is the evidence of the unity of believers the Holy Spirit brings. There are Pentecostals, Lutherans, Methodists and non-denominal folks currently meeting (and have been for over 6 years now!). We come together to seek God for our community and we also spend some time simply talking with each other; highlighting the things God is already doing here in Central New York. We also talk about our struggles; knowing full well the challenges of ministry here.
I give you this background, so I can share a wonderful idea that was brought up just yesterday morning. Reverend Diane Wheatley, Pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Fulton, shared what had come to here recently regarding today’s technology. Like most of us who are closer to 60 than 50, the electronic age seems more suitable to the younger generation(s) than us. We use it as best we can, but honestly it creates more frustration with a hint of fear than it does any advancing of the Kingdom of God.
Pastor Wheatley’s insightful idea struck me as being brilliant. Basically, she said that instead of side-stepping technology, we ought to embrace and use it. She intends to start at her church by inviting people to take out their phone/devices at a certain point during church services and reach out to someone on their contact list. Using whatever venue they want, folks will be encouraged to let someone else know who is not at the service that they are praying for them, right now!
She also said the same for the preaching of the Word. Why not live-stream some or all of it, again with the purpose being to let others know what it looks and sounds like at a church gathering. The message could also be recorded by members of the audience to be posted to their various accounts later.
As I have pondered these thoughts during the day, I have gotten more excited about doing these things myself. After all, if we truly mean to be inclusive in our fellowships, shouldn’t we be reaching out to people in as many ways as possible?
The answer is a definite yes! As I look out at the various congregations I have the honor of being involved with, I see that most of the people in these churches belong to my generation. There are some young families attending, which is a great blessing, but for the most part the local church is still ministering in the old ways to an increasing older crowd.
In his book, Building a Discipling Culture, Mike Breen explains the reason why this is: Most of us have been trained and educated for a world that no longer exists (p. 11). I find this to be true in the clear majority of churches in my area. Pastors and leaders have been trained with an inward focus which has precluded most of them from engaging in any new way of communicating the gospel. All the pastors I know are hard-working and faithful shepherds of their flocks. Yet the demands on their time have kept their efforts primarily toward keeping to a minimum the number of folks who are leaving their fellowships, thus making any attempt at using technology to reach out to non-churched people at best extraneous.
The bottom line is this: the ‘tried and true’ method of being the church is tired and for the most part useless regarding reaching new/different people. The local church, as it currently is operating, is dying. Attendance is receding like my hairline and no number of committees or resolutions is going to stem the tide of dwindling membership.
What are we to do? Let’s run with Reverend Wheatley’s idea! After all, when Jesus walked the earth, He communicated a radical message in the best way possible then, He talked with folks. He shared the love of God in both word and deed. As the message spread, so did His audience. Our task is the same: Share what we know to be true about God through our actions and words. The biggest difference (other than us not being Jesus!), is the far-reaching and instant audience that is available to us. With the shrinking of the world because of electronic communication, let’s reach out to those who have never been to a traditional church with the means we have. The message of God’s love is unchanging. We ought to be sharing always and everywhere. The easiest way to do it today is already in your pocket or purse.
Now if only someone would show me how to use snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Tumblr . . .