We swim in a sea of opportunity today. Our cell phone has access to 1,800 new hours of video on YouTube every breath we take. Our social media feeds have sophisticated algorithms to limit the flood of meal pics and selfies that our thousands of “friends” post every second. Corporations and non-profits have content push schedules and sophisticated social scientists who know exactly which “six ways to get your attention and you won’t believe number 5.”
For the last hundred years, the main mode of the church has been to offer multiple opportunities for people to participate. We have a Sunday School for an hour on Sunday and a worship service or two. There is an opportunity to study the Bible on Wednesday evening and to feed hungry people on Thursday morning. That worked when people’s opportunities were limited to three network channels and a public library.
Today those church opportunities are like tiny droplets falling into the sea of social media posts, corporate teases, viral videos and games in which every person swims all the time. It is little wonder that people are choosing the church’s opportunities less frequently.
Thoughtful churches are responding to the sea of opportunity not with more opportunities, but with a deeper, personal, relational engagement with people.
- Instead of dropping one more post onto social media, their pastors and leaders are sending a personal SMS that says “You matter to me. I’m thinking about you.”
- Not just listing their opportunities on a web page or calendar, leaders are making personal, specific, compelling invitations to those all-too-rare face to face encounters that a Sunday School Class or Bible Study provides.
- These thoughtful leaders are moving from opportunity toward intimacy, from viral manipulation toward authentic, personal human connection.
Lowell McNaney, the senior pastor of the very large church that I often attend, sends a text every once in a while. It is short, as texts should be. One Sunday it said – “It was good to see your bald head out there today.” Another time it said, “I was looking for you in worship today. You doing ok?” When I spoke to him about how connected those texts made me feel, he teared up. He sends those texts to a couple of dozen people every week, just to make sure people know that they matter to him. In such a large church, the pastor can be a distant figure. He wants people to know that they aren’t just a bunch of numbers to him, but that he thinks of each of them with love. Such a small intimate gesture is like a life vest in that sea of opportunity.
Your church’s opportunities may look like this:
But here is what an invitation looks like. Don’t be distracted by the technology on exhibit. Watch the human connections being formed.
There are sharks in the sea of opportunity in which we swim. Thoughtful churches aren’t staying out of the sea, but they are drawing closer to the people God has entrusted to them so the love of Christ isn’t just an opportunity but the face of someone who we know loves us.