Ministry has changed over the past 6 months and changed significantly. Like all other aspects of life, the pandemic has deeply modified how we are connecting with people. The irony is that technology has made a difficult situation easier . . . in some ways. I’ve been reading accounts of the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 and the correlations to the current Covid-19 pandemic are startling.
The biggest difference between 1918 and 2020 is our evolved technology. Not only is our medical technology better for treatment of the virus but our technology for life and communication is also far superior to what they had 102 years ago.
Today we have the technology to pivot from physical to virtual to hybrid. Today we have the technology to allow us to contact anyone, anywhere, anytime, and not just hear them, but see them as well. Today we have complex databases that allow us to keep track of who we’ve contacted and how they are doing. Today we have mountains of reports to help close the back door and not let folks slip through the cracks. Today the technology that is making ministry possible in many ways is also creating tremendous hurdles.
Connecting with people, in person or virtually, takes work. Building relationships has often been compared to building bridges. A bridge doesn’t just happen by accident. Building a bridge takes a lot of time, a lot of planning, and an incredible amount of effort – not to mention a significant investment of resources. In many ways connecting with folks on a personal level has the same requirements. Building bridges can also be messy and doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to. Unfortunately bridges collapse or fail.
Perhaps we need to spend less time clicking and more time concentrating on relationships. Ministry is not just clicking check boxes off on a spreadsheet or database. While tracking progress and results is important that can’t get in the way of building a genuine relationship. Perfunctory contacts fool no one. The person you are trying to build a bridge too needs to know it is out of an intentional desire to get to know them.
Mass emails, or phone calls, or required weekly contacts may be part of relationships but cannot be the only tool when it comes to connecting with people. Some want a phone call, some a text, others a video chat. Regardless of the technological method used the content and passion behind the relationship effort must be tangible. Bridges don’t just happen, and neither do quality relationships with those we serve.
Recent surveys suggest that the quality of a relationship a church has with those attending the better chance they will return when the pandemic ends. Surveys also suggest that many who claim to be watching church online now aren’t, making any return to in person worship even more challenging. It would be naïve to assume that folks will come back on their own. They need their relationship with the church cultivated, and encouragement in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Bridges aren’t built and done; they require continuous work – so do relationships. Getting people back to church will be in no small part directly related to how well we stayed connected while apart.
When it comes to connecting with people, a report showing the number of emails sent, or number of phone calls made does not indicate the value of the connections. There is an art to connecting with someone, if you have that gift, teach others. If you lack that gift, learn from others but do not assume everyone communicates the same.
Remember, once the bridge is built, someone must be the first to cross it. An unused bridge does no good. Even if they won’t admit it, many are lonely, and hoping someone will walk across the bridge towards them.
Pastor Jonathan Smith is the Director of Technologies at Faith Ministries in Lafayette, IN.