The other evening, with a matter of Actual Interpersonal Significance on my mind, I found myself doing just about anything to avoid addressing it. The weather. The news. Every other app on my phone (already relatively free of social media) that might have an update. Even the dishes.
Welcome to the digital age: With smartphones, we have a bottomless pit of distraction in our pockets. The illusion of learning, or getting up to date, or crossing something off the list, adds to the human tendency we already have of avoiding real work, or change, or the person next to us. When we look up, time has passed, but we haven’t moved.
The same applies to our faith communities. It’s hard to build relationships or listen to each other when we’re chasing different goals and pursuing conversations that respond to whatever the latest topic is – whether it’s actually urgent, or just new and distracting. Outrage and the lesser angels of our nature, displayed on social media, only add to the dynamic.
One approach you might take in response to our collective penchant for distraction: Rather than pursuing more formation-as-entertainment, invite your community into one conversation with multiple access points. This pedagogical strategy might not be the sexiest thing in your inbox right now, but I’m telling you: it’ll save you time in the long run, and more importantly, it’ll help your faith community actually attend to what God might be doing among you.
In a faith community, one conversation with multiple access points might look like this: Choosing a topic, theme, or skill that you believe is an invitation to deeper life together with God. “This year, in everything we do we’re going to make a connection to the baptismal covenant.” “In the coming season, our faith community is going to grow our skills in listening to each other and to God.” And then, rather than constantly grasping for a new point of insight, the content you share gets to speak to that theme across all the platforms you use:
- Sermons that explicitly teach on and point to the topic
- Blog posts or newsletter articles, linked in your social media feed
- Bulletin wrappers (which might include be the same text from your blog post or last week’s sermon)
- Vestry or Bishop’s Committee goals and tasks
- Content for ministry with children, youth, and young adults
From the outside this looks like a lot of work – the advance planning (a teacher might say curriculum planning) of a whole season’s worth of content. And it is a lot of planning. But it means that you get to focus on something big and meaningful, while you get to re-use content from one access point (blog, bulletin wrapper, small group, even pastoral visit) to another. So this approach may actually be less work. Secondly, since not everyone attends church every Sunday (or reads every single email), it allows you to share consistent content in a way that will reach more of your contacts.
Most importantly, though, it sets up your church to think of itself as a learning community – a group of people not just doing life together, but doing life in the same direction, wrestling together toward God’s dream of Beloved Community. Newcomers, longtime members, the 8am crowd and the youth ministry crowd, the digital natives and the print newsletter folks will have a shared point of conversation and learning. I believe that shared learning translates to shared identity and shared capacity for positive engagement in the name of Jesus.
Efficacy over efficiency. Meaning over entertainment. Information over data. Learning over likes.
I hope you’ll see that strategy taking root in how the School for Formation communicates ECMN’s Mission Opportunity this year: Engaging God’s Mission of the Beloved Community: Living the Way of Love. We believe this theme is important enough to pull together to teach about it and offer you resources you can use, in the practicalities of your daily lives and your ministry. We want to make sure the content we create takes substantive steps in a meaningful direction, rather than delivering ‘the latest news’ on a monthly schedule (though we do intend to do that as well).
To that end, check out the content your ECMN missioners shared at the 2019 Convention in Bloomington. We’ve captured it all in one place – video, text, with leader and participant guides, along with the liturgy resources we used as well. We hope this is useful for your faith communities if you choose to engage the Mission Opportunity for this year: Engaging God’s Mission of the Beloved Community: Living the Way of Love. Find the links below. We’re excited to move into this content with you over the course of the 19-20 program year.