By Sara Herrington Jones
At Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, “Organizational Administration” is a course requirement. There’s been much discussion lately in this class on the impact of technology on both the “gathered” church experience and the “scattered” church as we live and move and have our being in the world.
I will admit that I have been rather skeptical about the value of technology in the life of the church if it is merely used to substitute meaningful personal interaction, but the question remains, “how do we equip our congregation to BE the church in the world in which they exist?” The world is technologically driven, and folks are squeezed for time and moments of meaningful rest, delight and true Sabbath at every turn. Could technology actually meet people in a way that both equips and nourishes them in the demands of everyday life?
The conversations from both classroom and fellowship discussions bled over into the staff at the church in which I serve. Inspired by the possibility of technology assisting congregants in an actual practice of spiritual disciplines and prayer, and in an effort of equipping church members with something to share with others who have no meaningful connection with a church at all, an idea for a podcast took hold. With the enthusiastic blessing of our senior pastor and the work of a very talented minister of outreach and communication, the “Wayfarer” podcast series came into being.
The Wayfarer podcast is offered daily during Lent by way of iTunes as a podcast or linked through the church website and Facebook pages. Initially more staff led, through the artful direction of the producer, the church itself is involved in this work. Focused on the “scattered” church – the members of the Body of Christ in the world as they interact at the grocery store, or work late hours, or find themselves waiting in line, or sitting in a coffee shop – the Wayfarer may be accessed at any time of day from multiple devices.
The format consists of opening sentiments and song, then voices of many in the church offering prayer, thoughts, interviews or conversation. To participate in production, congregants call – yes, call from their phone in their pajamas or coffee table or wherever – and leave a message with a prayer or thought which will be incorporated into an upcoming podcast. To access the podcast, congregants may use smartphones or computers in any manner that best suits their lives.
The podcast lasts about 12-15 minutes. It is “anti-media” by nature, however, it is an invitation to be interactive and a communal experience. Offering a daily invitation to prayer and listening, Wayfarer utilizes technology that was barely possible a decade ago.
Each Sunday the “gathered” community shares one of the prayers from the podcast as part of the service. If someone hasn’t listened to the podcasts, the individual is not left out, but rather finds more inclusion in the life and dialogue of the church by experiencing this intentional point of prayer.
What has happened with this use of technology has been transformational to our church.
- Congregants are hearing from, and praying with, other congregants via podcasts…
- Congregants are reaching out in inter-generational conversation over stories they have heard on the podcast (their normal circles of acquaintance did not include each other)
- Students, neighboring churches and members of the community have begun to listen
- We have had visitors coming to our church building – the “gathered church” in a building – finding us through the Wayfarer podcast and the website.
And what do all of these developments have in common? The people participating are living a shared experience of prayer and spiritual practices together, regardless of family background, political beliefs or economic status. It provides commonality that we have failed to realize as well in our regular Sunday services.
So, I am grateful to have a seminary that requires us to think about the future of the church in the world. I am grateful for a professor who strives to keep up-to-date with technology and how the church might move forward in the twenty-first century. I am glad to have my skepticism challenged and to witness what is happening in our community. Thanks be to God!
Sara Herrington Jones is a student at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky and holds numerous certifications through Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. She serves as Minister for Children at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.