“We want to continue connecting online after we regather!” That’s been the repeated message from church leaders who have found the reach of their online worship to exceed their usual church attendance. Since normal resumption of gathered worship has yet to happen, now is a good time to work on what it might mean to connect with people beyond our programmed times of gathering.
Why would we try to do it in the first place?
1. Some people lead busy lives
When we limit ministry and mission to the times and places that suit us, we implicitly require people to fit in with our schedule. We ignore their work hours, family activities, and extra-curricular activities. We even blame them for lack of commitment to us! Online activity can happen anytime and anywhere – when it suits them.
2. Some people have difficulty attending
Whether you are elderly, a single parent, disabled, ill or on holidays, there are plenty of reasons why attendance at church activities can be difficult. Lack of transport. No baby-sitter. Your mental health isn’t great at the moment. Or you’re just plain exhausted. Not everyone is busy all the time. Some people can’t bring themselves or get themselves to church on any given day. Or they’d still like to connect when they’re on their winter sojourn to North Queensland.
3. Some people are checking us out
Who are all those extra people who have been online? Some are already part of our wider community – former members, friends of friends, people who are part of our weekly programs yet who’ve never attended worship. Others are, for whatever reason, just touching base for now – seeking a contemplative experience, a hopeful word, a prayer for troubled times. Some have faith questions, others are wondering about our beliefs or how friendly we are. We already know that people who want to check out a church first go to their website (yes, get it up to date and looking good!). A next step is to see us “live”.
4. Some people feel that they wouldn’t fit in
While we may pride ourselves on being an inclusive, welcoming church, no community is perfect. Besides, others’ perceptions of church are shaped by experience, negative as well as positive. Whether because of sexual orientation or identity, financial status, cultural or language difference, family life, mental health or a host of other factors, people may fear misunderstanding or worse, rejection. They may have experienced Christians who are judgemental and even abusive. More than this, they may have views or questions about God and religion that they would never voice in public. Some people prefer to be with us, to listen to us, and to learn with us from a distance.
5. Most people have home internet
Yes, there are people without the internet, or computers, or electricity, or running water. But Australians have a high level of computer ownership and internet access. If anything these times have proven than many of our older members can get online, and in this time of isolation they’ve deeply valued the face to face connection. In fact, it’s been preferable to going out in the evening. My guess is that over the winter this will continue voluntarily. More people will be online more often, just because they can.
6. Most people have mobile devices
Again, Australians have a high rate of smartphone and tablet ownership. This means 24/7 access to stuff and people. Synchronous connection means at the same time – “live” worship. Asynchronous means something is sent at one time and accessed at another time, or any time – a web page, a sermon video, a Bible study to download, a prayer resource. People use their smart devices to read, listen, watch, pray, chat, etc. Not only are there multiple mobile apps to aid spiritual growth, there are multiple ways that churches can be present online AND curate (collect or point to) worthwhile resources. Whether it’s at 6am, lunchtime or late at night, sitting outdoors or (sometime maybe) travelling on public transport, there’s a spiritual growth opportunity waiting.
If we want faith to be embedded in people’s everyday lives, then it needs to be embedded in their daily habits.
If the church is people and not a place, then connecting church is about connecting people.
If faith is invitational, then the invitation shouldn’t begin when people enter the building.
- Do we want to encourage people to be online 24/7? I don’t think so. But what they do is their choice.
- Do we want to meet people where they are at? Yes.
- Is this the only way for people to grow spiritually? Not at all. However online offers a wide range of ways to engage spiritually
- Is this encouraging individualism? Well, spiritual growth is partly individual. However online can also mean greater connection, not less.
- What about those who can’t connect? Any church needs multiple options for people to engage in faith formation.
- Is this time consuming or expensive for church leaders? As little or as much as you choose to invest.
In the next post I’ll describe a continuum of participation choices in blended faith formation.