These past two weekends I have had the joy of being a part of installing pastors at two area churches. Doing so surely made me reflect back over the time since I have been installed at Parkway (in September of 2008). As I welcomed my two new brothers in ministry, and spoke with their nominating committees and congregations, I offered them in those moments my best advice in light of my own and many other experiences I have learned of over the years.
But more and more, I am focusing on one item that I didn’t raise to them at the time but I am growing increasingly convinced is a big issue in ministry in all churches in 2014. I think electronic communications are causing more problems for churches than helping them today. I’m not quite to the point of many essays I have read entitled, “Is the internet killing the church?” But I do think it is distracting us hugely from what is central.
When I arrived in 2008, I was told, by many sources, “Pastor, do you want to know what an issue is in our church? Communications!” Tell that to a guy coming off active duty with a penchant for technology and writing and I thought, “Well, this is right up my alley!” Since 2008 at Parkway we have created brand new Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. On top of this, we have redesigned our website (at least three times), put out a much more detailed newsletter than most churches twice our size produce, put announcements in bulletins, send out text messages, and, of course, email after email. We send out a weekly email called, “This Week at Parkway” which has all of our events. We also have something that is kind of a reverse answering machine which we can record information into and send out to all of our members and friends called a Phone Tree. We have made exterior signs and put up banners for various events. On top of this I have been posting sermons on Facebook and in the recent past, we put audio versions of the sermon on the website. We have actively pondered how to re-post choral pieces on line. And we have church physical mailboxes which always fill up with printed and written messages.
I’m not saying all of the above meets everyone’s standards of tastes or style. We regularly get input of, “We need more of this” or “less of that” in this medium or another. Nevertheless, if our issue was relaying information in the church, I’m ready, six years later to hang up the “Mission Accomplished” banner. There is no way, no matter how one prefers their church communications (a major issue in the 21st century as not everyone has embraced each of these communication mediums) that anyone even remotely interested in Parkway cannot easily find out when, where, and how of each and every event.
So, the church has gotten to that promised land of where we need to be, right? Not exactly.
If I could go back to 2008, when someone said, “Do you want to know what our problem is – communication?”, I should have responded, “Well, why aren’t we talking to one another?” I believe spiritual experiences happen between people, not between people and electronic media. If people were talking to each other, they would know what was going on. Hindsight, as it were, is always 20/20.
I’m not saying we can totally go back to 1999, or before, when there was little to no electronic media in church communications. We live in the world we live in. Our neighbors largely are not going to look us up in the Yellow Pages or make a decision on whether to go to a church or not by what’s on the physical sign out front. Website pages, Facebook pages, and the like need to be current and give people a visual image of what to expect when they come in the door.
But I do believe we have to get back to the concept that when people walk into the door – our churches needs to be spiritual places where people come to connect with God and with one another. And that is not going to happen via a newsletter, a blog, a Facebook post, a Tweet, or a text message. When we can’t be there, the old technology from 1999 is still probably the best – the phone – with a live person on the other end talking with you. But, better than that, is connection in person.
I know it is ironic that I am posting this on a blog which will get reposted via Facebook and Twitter. I probably am going to put it in a future church newsletter too. But, I would just say the one last piece of advice that I would give to new pastors is that you can have the best website, blog, and church newsletter in the business and it is not going to build your church. We need to get back to, “Where two or more are gathered, I am with you.” I believe it is vital.
I will still email sermons to folks who live out of town, or who were traveling. I will still post blogs now and again. At home, I will re-post and comment on items that I find interesting online on Facebook and Twitter. But I am going to stop trying to recreate everything online for folks who aren’t here. The person in the office or hospitality area is more important than twenty I can email. If people are curious (and are local) I hope they will come and see here at Parkway what is going on. Because what is special about Parkway, and so many other churches, is the people. It is through them that we connect with God and build community. And even with pictures and stories, you can’t connect with them online like you can in person. The more we get together, the more we are drawn closer to God. And if folks can’t get to church, we in the church need to go and see them, in person. That’s where I am going to put my focus in 2014, much unlike 2008.
Communication, in person, like it’s 1999. That’s my focus right now. Communication with God. And communication with God’s people.
What do you think?
Until Next Time,