“If we can just get a better website, then I am sure young people will come to our church.” “If we just tweet, post, and pin great things then surely we will grow.”
This is the new lamentation that I hear around the church. This excites me. I am a geek after all. The church needs me and my gifts. New possibilities started opening up to me, I began speaking at conferenceslike the eformation conference at VTS, fielding phone calls and emails from all over the church about Facebook, Twitter and Google. I am seeing former church developer consultants all over the church who are now becoming social media consultants and gurus. The beatitudes are coming true, albeit with some translation errors. The Geeks have inherited the Earth.
However, the more I talked to churches, the more I had to admit something very important. Young adults, both families and singles, were not staying at churches because of flashy websites. Mark Zuckerberg himself could not design a Facebook page that would keep them coming back. These online services are only tools to aid healthy communities. They are looking for much more.
They are looking for:
Hospitality to the Stranger
Larry Benfield, the Bishop of Arkansas often says that we must see in the stranger the face of the resurrected Christ, and that when we do –we will be changed. When we see the face of the resurrected Christ in the visitor who walks in the door we treat them differently. We prepare for the differently. The way our churches engage the neighborhood changes when we see the stranger this way.
Young Adults like everyone want engaging liturgy that is creative, beautiful and full of meaning. This does not always mean bringing in showtunes or guitars. However this does mean that we must do what we do well. I am blessed to be able to visit churches all over the country and I am amazed that many places are obviously settling for mediocre worship experiences. We are the Episcopal Church. We can be proud of a long heritage of beautiful transformative liturgy. If we are not asking ourselves as congregations regularly, how can we do this better next week, then realize that we have have settled where we are at. I almost cried when I recently heard someone after a service with multiple obvious gaffes say, “It’s good enough for church work.”
The success of social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest are obvious signs that people want to be connected together. It is sad that we often know much more about the lives of our Facebook friends than we do about the people with whom we go to church. How can the church, like Facebook, become a place where we intentionally celebrate our joys and where we care for each other in tough times? A community where struggle with questions of faith together.
Until these three areas are addressed, there is no amount of money that you can throw at websites that will grow your church. It does not matter that you preach from an Ipad. It will not help that you have broken 200 followers on twitter. New members and especially young adults are still not coming back.