Alan Jones, a former colleague at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, once talked about being in a Home Depot on a Sunday morning.
“Why do people go to Home Depot on Sunday morning?” he asked.
“So they can dream.”
He said he saw dads and sons checking out tools and moms with Starbucks cups… all having a good time dreaming about what can be. Their creativity is called out. Their commitment level is high. They are willing to make the investment of money, time, and hard work to realize their dreams. Their hopes for the future far outweigh their fondness and memories of the past.
Then Alan asked, “How can the environment at church be more like that at Home Depot?”
How about this for a church mission statement: “God can do it. We can help!”
I had an “ah ha!” moment in October 2007. And it changed at least two things for me:
the way I view interruptions, and
my approach to church communication.
I had been reading the fifth chapter of Mark’s gospel.
Jesus is on his way from a boat landing into town when a man possessed by a legion of demons interrupts him . Jesus stops and heals him.
Next, Jesus is telling stories to a crowd of people when a man named Jairus interrupts and begs Jesus to come and heal his sick daughter. Jesus stops what he’s doing and heads toward Jairus’ house.
On his way, a woman who had been ill 12 years comes up behind Jesus and touches his cloak in hopes of being healed. Again, Jesus stops and deals with the interruption. He says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
A light bulb came on in my head. I realized that a lot of good stuff happens on the way to doing something else. And if I’m too busy to stop and deal with the interruptions, I might just miss what God’s trying to do with me and through me.
And then I recognized how much I’d been immersed in these stories from Mark’s gospel. Jesus used storytelling as his primary method of teaching. Perhaps I should do the same.
As a church communication guy, I spent a lot of time and energy relaying information about programs and ministries, calendars and events. Now I began to see that telling a story is much more effective than reciting facts, dates and bullet-points… especially in spiritual matters.
I began refocusing my work. My new passion was telling stories and helping others tell their stories. On the church website, in the weekly TV program, and in every other channel of communication, we began to feature the stories of how people were living out their faith in their day-to-day lives.
You can see the first 50 or so of them here. And still more here.
As a congregation, Richmond’s First Baptist Church was on the way to something else. Ten months earlier, Dr. Peter James Flamming retired after serving 23 years as Senior Pastor. The Pastor Search Committee was still interviewing candidates for his successor.
We were dealing with an abnormal level of angst and anxiety in the congregation. I don’t claim that the stories changed all that. But I was an eye-witness to softening hearts as people recounted their experiences with God. And many of those who heard, read and watched the video clips melted into God’s grace as they resonated with those stories… many of which involved dealing with some sort of interruption.
Since we appear to be on the “bleeding edge” with this concept, I’ve been getting a lot of calls about why and how we do it.
Why do we do it?
Three of the reasons people show up at a church building on Sunday morning are to worship God, study the Bible, and connect with other people. For those who can’t show up in person, the webcast of the worship service gives them a way to participate from another location. The WebClass provides a way for them to participate in a Bible study. And, in a limited way, it provides a way to interact with the teacher and other class members.
It is a way to push out the walls of the physical building and make these church activities accessible to more people… some of whom will never set foot in any church building.
We have a page on our website with a video window and related materials for each week’s worship service and Bible study. When the webcast is “live” a big banner appears on our website home page, directing users to the webcast page.
We try to make the webcast easily accessible. There’s no registration required. Users just go to the page and click on the play button.
On the web page, there are two tabs: one for the worship service and another for the Bible study.
On the worship tab, there’s a copy of the Sunday bulletin, a place for comments, and, of course, a link for anyone who wants to make an online offering or contribution.
On the WebClass tab, there are resources for the current week’s study, a bio of the current teacher, and a link to previous classes.
The WebClass is a coordinated effort by the Ministry of Christian Formation, led by Steve Booth, and the Ministry of Communication, led by me. Steve takes care of the content. I take care of the technology.
Early each week, the teacher publishes the study material. We post that material on the website for anyone who wants to do some advance preparation.
When the WebClass is live, there’s a place on the web page to enter a comment or question. The comments go to an email inbox, which one of our crew members monitors during the class. She displays the message on a monitor and one of the onsite class members reads it aloud. That usually prompts responses from the teacher and other onsite and online participants.
The teacher uses an iPad for visual support. Sometimes it is a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation with a class outline. Other times it is a photograph, illustration or map. Using the iPad, the teacher may draw on the map or make notes as participants make comments. Everything on the iPad displays on a big TV monitor in the classroom.
Often, the teacher will use video clips to illustrate a point. Those clips are displayed on the video monitor, too.
There are two cameras in the classroom. One focuses primarily on the teacher and the monitor. The other captures the onsite participants.
The director selects the appropriate camera, the video clip, or the iPad using a video switcher.
The audio technician controls the lapel microphone for the teacher and the overhead shotgun microphones, which pick up the comments from onsite participants.
A core group of 8-10 folks make up the onsite class.
There are several members of our congregation who travel several months a year. On Sundays, they are able to connect via the webcast and get a little taste of home from the road.
On a recent Sunday, one of the regular online participants who lives near Richmond asked about another regular participant who lives in southwest Virginia. She hadn’t heard any comments from him in recent weeks. She wondered if he was OK. Think about it. They’ve never met, and neither of them has ever set foot in the church building. The only connection they have is by hearing each other’s comments and questions during the WebClass. But a sense of community has developed over the months. So the handful of people in the classroom and the couple of dozen online participants feel connected to each other.
Not long after we started the WebClass Bible Study, we heard from a lady in Oklahoma who was hospitalized, awaiting an organ transplant. She participated in the WebClass via her iPad from her hospital bed every Sunday morning. It was the only way she could participate in worship and Bible study. I’m sad to say that she died earlier this year. And all the WebClass participants, both onsite and online, grieved with her family.
We’re finding the live webcast an effective way to remove the walls of the church and let folks participate wherever or whatever their location or situation.