I remember as a child in the early 1970’s sitting down and reading select articles in our 22 volume World Book Encyclopedia. It was a vast source of information updated annually with a special Year Book. While they are still published in book form today, the main source of sales is through World Book’s online electronic subscription. The way we gather information has drastically changed over the past few decades with the popularity of the internet and the communication highway.
To highlight this point, one Sunday morning I engaged the congregation in a surprise experiment. Pitting the adults against the teens I announced that when I say, “Go,” the teens are to look up the capital city of Turkey and the adults look up Jonah 3:8. I wanted to see who could find the information quickest. One, two, three, go!
I heard pages riffling among the adults and saw teens reach into pockets for smart phones. Soon a shout from the back, “I got it,” broke the silence and a teenage girl proudly announced, “Ankara.” A few snickers from the adults, thinking Istanbul was the capital, were abruptly silenced when I affirmed her answer.
I am still amazed that we have nearly instant access to almost any bit of information at our fingertips. Even 10 years ago no one could have imagined that while sitting in a church pew, it is easier and quicker to find the capital city of a country than to find a Scripture in the Bible. Whether we like it or not, the way we gather information has changed. Our present culture has evolved to expect instant access to information. Failing to acknowledge this trend can have challenging implications to the effectiveness of church communication with the outside world.
At one time, outdoor signs were the main source of communication for a church. Placed near the front door, they were easily read by the passerby who was usually a pedestrian. Those same signs can no longer effectively communicate its message to a car that is speeding past. In fact, the front doors of churches today have become the least used doors. We must intentionally evaluate the way we communicate information and how effective it is today. Old questions such as, “How would someone find the times of our worship service” must be asked again as the answers have changed.
Never in history has information been so easily accessed. If, however, we do not build a new front door in the virtual world of the internet, our church will become the best kept secret. The web page and social media is the new church sign that people are expecting to find when they are looking for information about your church. Statistics show that nearly half of first-time visitors to a church consulted the website or Facebook page before attending. If someone on a Saturday night decided to attend your church in the morning, how would they find the time of the service? You can be sure Google might have something to do with it.
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Rev. John Zimmerman grew up in the rural community of Stoystown, Pennsylvania which is a few miles from the terrorist crash site of USAir flight 93 on September 11, 2001. He heard the call into the ministry just after graduation from high school and attended the University of Pittsburgh for his undergraduate degree and obtained his master’s degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Pastor John served 28 years in pastoral ministry in local church settings. He has always recognized the spiritual gifts of preaching, healing, and evangelism in his Christian life. God has allowed these gifts to be used in a variety of local church settings which include rural, suburban and city.
Beginning July 1, 2013 Pastor John left local church pastoral ministry and is appointed as General Evangelist in the United Methodist Church. He launched his current ministry as the founding director of About Face Church Outreach Consultants. He offers a consultant model of ministry with local churches around the country to engage in long-term relationships within the context of the local church mission field. He and his wife help churches move into this new paradigm of ministry that reflects more fully the New Testament Church.
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