Amazing Grace: lost and found
The other day I was checking out one of our client websites and I came across a post “More Lost & Found.” There was no explanation, just a series of pictures of the flotsam and jetsam left behind in the pews.
A digital lost and found.
Almost unconsciously, I started humming the line from Amazing Grace, “I once was lost but now I’m found…”
And then I wondered – what if the digital lost and found wasn’t for the stuff that was left behind, but for people? Who are the ones who are lost? Who are the ones who can’t see beyond the pain, frustration, or confusion in their own lives? How can we use the digital space so that they might be found?
What might a lost and found for people look like in the digital space? It’s not an easy task, but to find people, to call them into relationship with God and one another, is at the heart of all that we are. Consider the person who is searching for love, for acceptance. The person who has reached a place where they are asking “Is this all there is to my life?” And consider if we could extend an invitation in the digital space that would then have the possibility to evolve into an incarnational relationship, an opportunity to embrace them in our community and to allow our community to be transformed by their presence? How do we do that?
Our church websites are crucial entry points in finding people, lost or otherwise. The vast majority of people who are looking for a faith community start by looking at the church website. When the Holy Spirit nudges someone to Google the name of your church, that person is going to examine everything they read and see on your site. Subconscously or otherwise, they will read between the lines; they will search for the implicit context. They will study your pictures for revealing details. If they’ve previously had damaging interactions with a faith community, they will scrutinize your website – and by extension your community – that much more closely. And no matter how they frame it, there really is only one question they hope to answer:
Will I be welcome?
Before you reply “Of course! All are welcome,” recognize that a generic statement of welcoming is neither invitational nor reassuring. In certain instances, it may not even be an accurate reflection of your congregation.
Each person who looks at your website will break down the question of “Will I be welcome?” a thousand different ways. Will I fit in or will I be rejected because of my age, gender, skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or economic status? Can I dress in my usual clothes at this church? Can I bring my kids, even if they might be fidgety or talkative? Will anyone hold my past or my current life choices against me? Will I have to talk to people? Will I have to make a donation? Will I be singled out in any way? Will I agree with what I hear from the pulpit and during coffee hour? Will anyone even notice me?
Like those strangers, I spend a lot of time looking at church websites, and it’s fascinating how much can be inferred about the communities they represent. Three staff members devoted to music? Music is obviously a priority. No Director of Children’s Ministry or Youth Pastor? Probably very few young people. A rainbow flag or pictures from a Pride march? It’s an inclusive church. Luncheons at the country club? Members come from a certain socio-economic status. Feel-good outreach initiatives? Good-hearted, but not so invested in community organizing for sustainable change. Homogenous leadership? Less receptivity to transformation or differing voices.
And lest I need further clarification, if the annual report online is online, the church’s priorities are crystal clear through the lens of their budgetary allocations. We fund what we value.
When we think about a digital space where those who are lost might be found, it’s crucial that we do the self-reflective organizational soul searching to acknowledge the ways we are prepared to welcome the stranger – and the ways we are not. We can then build a digital infrastructure that is an authentic represenation of who we are.
It’s all about relationships.
In the same way that a welcome sign doesn’t actually do any welcoming, when we think of finding those who are lost, we need to think about relationships. Those can’t be built and sustained entirely on the church website. Relationships take time and they take regular contact and connection. To facilitate this regular connection in the digital space, we need social media. And it can’t just be the “official” church social media accounts, with their tendency toward broadcast information, memes, and event announcements. We need to inspire and remind and equip all of our members – not just clergy and staff - to use their digital presence to connect with one another and with the wider world. Each member of the body of Christ is called to find the lost, the hurting, the hungry, the needy. What does that look like?
Honestly, it looks pretty much like it does when the interactions are face to face.
It’s engaging on social media with intentionality. It’s being fully present – taking the time to notice, to comment, to message off-list, to making phone calls, to following up in person. When replying to a post with a praying hands emoji or a comment “Prayers ascending” it’s actually take the time to pause and to pray for the person. It’s looking for the subtext – noticing that a usually buoyant friend is alluding to unnamed concerns, noticing when someone who is usually active goes silent, noticing and acknowledging a post from a friend who posts infrequently. It’s responding with loving words and grace when conflicts arise.
It’s participating in the larger “village” that rallies around someone when they suffer a hardship – using digital tools to plan meals, rides, or other support. It’s using the digital space to share their status in a respectful and non-taxing way, however the person or their family best deems appropriate. It’s facilitating ways for even those who live far away to lend their support by donating to a crowd-funded initiative or by sending cards or care packages..
It’s sharing our own faith stories, sharing the ways in which we engage in our faith community, or the ways in which we find God. Sometimes just letting people know we were at church (again) as part of a faith community might be the prompt they need to reconnect with their own faith. Those pictures we share of yet another church dinner, or mission trip, or outreach project, combined with non-judgmental support might be enough to remind those who have been damaged by faith communities that not everyone rejects them.
“I once was lost but now I’m found…”
Who might sing this song after building a relationship with us because we were intentional about listening to them, valuing their story, and responding in a way that validated and affirmed their status as a child of God? If we can use our digital presence to encourage more people to sing this song, truly it would be amazing grace.
And for a great version of “Amazing Grace” go ahead and splurge on the .99 cents to download the Sheldon Calvary Camp chapel version. Live recording of a different but powerful arrangement. Hallelujah!
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.