Preaching to the Almost Churchless

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Wooden Pew Seats.

Well, it’s the week after Easter and, if you’re like me, you’re still feeling the afterglow of a full sanctuary, marvelous music, and the best sermon of your entire ministry (if you do say so yourself).

This Sunday will soon be upon us, however, and it often comes as kind of shock after all the celebration. There’s a reason they call it “low” Sunday! In fact, Easter often reminds us of what could happen in our worship services, but the weekly reality is quite different as people begin to go back to old patterns. With spring here and summer soon to come, people are going to be on the move for graduations, vacations, and outdoor activities that will take them away from your church. Even more disconcerting, however, is the fact that regular worship attendance, even among committed Christians, is getting more and more tenuous.

According to David Kinnaman, in his must-read book Churchless, even many of those who love your church now see themselves as “regular” attendees if they come once every four to six weeks. Says Kinnaman:

[Families] are under enormous pressures of activity, busyness, and distraction. Between school-based programs, and extracurricular activities, many kids (and their minivan-driving parents) are on the go seven days a week. Add in Mom’s online class to finish a degree and Dad’s out-of-state travel for work, and you’ve got intense competition for that family’s time and engagement… The insanely busy family schedule is creating a whole new species of well-meaning but less-committed churchgoers. They are almost churchless, not because they intend to be, but because church involvement is one among dozens of demands (110).

In other words, a lot of your people are stuck in a kind of self-imposed diaspora. They’d like to join you for worship, but they are overwhelmed in a culture that exiles them to the slavery of activity and busyness.

We can shake our heads and wag our fingers at this trend, but it’s not going away anytime soon. We can lament the empty chairs in the sanctuary, or we can develop a way of preaching that is less focused on the attractional model of Christendom and more like the ministry of the apostle Paul, who got the word out to the scattered church despite the limitations of travel and mail service. The good news is that we have no such limitations today, given the fact that out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to cell phones, which is more than have access to working toilets (4.5 billion). Your people may not be in church this Sunday for any number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean they have to miss church. You can literally put your message in the palm of their hand.

At our church we use a number of apps and platforms to deliver content to our “almost churchless” church members each week and all of them are free to use. Here are a few that you might consider as you look to get the word out to those soccer fields, vacation sites, hotel rooms, and coffee shops where your people might be on Sunday morning:

  • Periscope is a free app where you can do live video broadcasts of your sermon to a worldwide audience. All you need is someone to open the app on a cell phone or tablet, start the broadcast, and film your sermon live. You’ll be able to see who is watching and from where (we have a dedicated group in Russia who watches us nearly every Sunday, for example). I’ve had some of our church familes tell me that they’ve watched the sermon live while sitting on the soccer field between their kids’ games on Sunday morning and then shared it with their fellow parents. Others have gotten up in the middle of the night while traveling on business in Japan to watch the sermon live. The video stays archived for 24 hours and can be shared on your social media networks as well (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
  • YouTube allows you to video a service and post it permanently on your church’s “channel.” Posting sermons on YouTube gives people the chance to catch up on all the sermons in a series and share them with friends and family. All you need is a video camera with decent audio and a rudimentary knowledge of editing software like iMovie to produce great content. Visitors will often check out this channel (linked from your web site, of course) before coming to the church in person.
  • Podcasting allows you to upload recorded audio of your sermon to your church’s web site or to hosting sites like iTunes. People then download the podcast and can listen to it while they’re commuting to work or while they’re sitting on a beach somewhere. Podcasting also allows people access to an archive of sermons so they can binge listen to a whole series at once or share them with friends. All you need is a way to record audio (you can do video podcast as well) on Sunday morning. A decent, inexpensive handheld digital recorder placed on the pulpit works great for capturing the message.
  • A Pastor’s Blog lets you post the text of your sermon for those who love to read the message and digest it. I’m amazed at the number of hits my blog (bobkaylor.com) gets every week from all over the world. People are hungry for good content and if you’re delivering it from week to week you will build an audience. You can start a blog for free, just make sure you update it regularly.
  • The Bible App is a great free tool for inviting people to read along with the text and outline of your sermon on their smartphone. Simply create an account, set up your church or organization, and publish a “Live Event” each week that lets you include all the pertinent info from your sermon, along with a link to listen or watch it online. You can also develop Bible reading plans to go with your series that will keep people in the Word even when they’re traveling.
  • Twitter and Facebook are popular social media platforms that preachers can use to “tease” sermon content during the week and then post links to text, audio, or video when the sermon is done. I will often pull interesting quotes from my sermon and post them on Thursday and Friday to draw people in while promoting all the ways they can listen to the sermon. On Monday morning, I post links to the sermon itself for those who missed it on Sunday.        

These are just a few ideas for reaching those who may be missing from the pews on Sunday morning. Your people may be coming to church less, but that doesn’t mean you need to leave them churchless!

Image attribution: daseaford / Thinkstock

 

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We at Seedbed believe that a new revival of that movement is poised to once again break out in churches and communities across the world and the Preaching Collective is designed to give those who bring God’s Word to people, be they men or women, clergy or laity, serving in small rural churches or suburban megachurches, the tools, ideas, and resources that we pray will enable us to “shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.”

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