Why connecting digitally is important now and tomorrow

How has the pandemic impacted your daily living? Tell the truth: Are you on a first name basis with your Amazon delivery driver? Do you relish the ability to fast forward through your pastor’s online video sermon?

The pandemic has forced many to order groceries over the Internet and choose contact-free pick up or delivery in order to remain safely isolated. Conversely, others overcome COVID-19 induced isolation by using the Internet to visit family and friends remotely. “Attending” worship via Zoom, YouTube or Facebook Live has become (and will remain) normal for most churches even if their pastors are dubious about that fast-forwarding during sermons!

In truth, COVID-19 has made visible the need to adopt technologies we should have been using long ago. This is true for the world and especially true for a church wishing to be relevant to the world. Everyone is online. People are looking for Jesus in ways with which they are comfortable, which means online for a growing majority. That is why Bishop Dillahunt’s Outside the Box Team and the Thrive Mission Campaign are joining together to help congregations and leaders more fully connect with the digital world. You will hear more in the coming weeks. For now, however, we will be sharing stories about some of our congregations already embracing the power of the digital world to make God’s love in Christ known. We begin with the story of Corey Wagonfield and his family.

COREY’S STORY

Why are people so focused on a digital strategy for churches? Does it really work? Where is the proof? While I can’t provide you with numerical evidence, I do have anecdotal evidence from my own recent past that I believe is worth sharing.

In the early 2000’s, while we were in our twenties, my wife and I were serving as youth leaders at our congregation. We poured into the lives of senior high youth for several years while our immediate family began to grow with the birth of our first two children.

Around 2010, we knew we needed to step back from leading youth ministry and find a church home that was well-equipped to pour into the lives of our kids. In case you can’t remember back that far, in 2010, Myspace was the big social media outlet and a new upstart called Facebook was just getting traction. Most churches were not early adopters of these social media outlets and so we looked to the internet to find our next church home.

My wife and I are on the cusp between Gen-X and Millennials, so we grew up learning new technologies on a regular basis. We enjoyed having loud praise music in our church services and enjoyed video screens and content during the service. So, as we started looking for churches, we knew a church with a well-designed website would most likely be a congregation that intentionally thought about reaching out to our generation.

We did a search on the ELCA website to find churches within a 30-minute drive of our home. I perused all of their websites; some had none, some had really bad sites, some had years old information, and then there was one that stood out to us. It was up to date, the content showed their focus on youth ministry, and it was clear they knew the power of a dynamic website. We attended that church the following Sunday and have been there ever since. We didn’t even have the desire to check out the other congregations for comparison.

If we had attended our current church and not felt welcomed, we would have gone to the next church on the list. There is no substitute for the community aspect of church that is present when we are gathered in person. But in order for people to find that community, I urge the Church to take seriously the power of the online tools that we have been given. Just as the Roman roads were a new tool that could be used to spread the message of Christ far and wide, these new digital roads can help us spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Pastor Corey Wagonfield
Member of Lord of Life Lutheran Church, West Chester

Editor’s Update: Corey was ordained September 5th and received his first call to Resurrection Lutheran, Lebanon, where he will begin on October 1st. Congratulations Corey!