Post by Erik Simon
I am far from technology’s biggest fan. That doesn’t mean I’m completely inept. Professional reasons compelled me to learn more than I’d ever intended, yet whenever the choice was between tech and no-tech, I invariably chose the latter.
But one point my seminary has been driving home is that clergy must become more proficient in all that technology can do. The argument is basically this: people are not coming to church, and if you want to appeal to them, you have to go where they are. These days, where they are is usually somewhere virtual—Twitter, Facebook, YouTube—especially the younger set.
The pandemic jump-started virtual ministry for all of us. Still a seminarian, I was asked to fill the pulpit at my home church until they could get an interim pastor; our minister had left for a call to hospital chaplaincy. My first Sunday was the first Sunday of the official lockdown. Hmmm.
I saw the situation as a challenge, but honestly, I now see it as an opportunity. For it to be an opportunity, though, we have to rethink what we mean by community. It used to be our church community was pretty easy to define—the folks who showed up on Sunday, regardless of how often they showed up. But now, our community can be anyone across the country who has Wi-Fi, either via Zoom, Facebook, YouTube or whatever. And if you record the service, they don’t even have to show up on time or even on Sunday. It’s The Gospel On Demand.
I think that kind of potential is awesome, in every sense of the word. It’s no mystery that numbers are falling in many of our churches. One way to increase numbers could be by permanently opening our church’s virtual doors.
Yes, there are a lot of questions we will need to answer, details we will need to deliberate. Can someone in Illinois become a member of our New York Church? When churches do open up again—can the virtual worshippers in Colorado and Georgia participate in the Eucharist with their own Welch’s and Wonder (grape juice and bread)? And (deep breath) could someone in Montana be on the Session?
These are all questions we will have to confront, but rarely has the church ever known how to get from A to B until, through trial and error, it went from A to B. The point is, virtual worship could be a great opportunity for us to grow our communities in ways we’d probably not imagined even five months ago. Yes, it is a strange, new approach, but so was using the newly-invented printing press to widely disperse pamphlets at the dawn of the Reformation, and look how many new Protestant church members came out of that!