As we have seen over the past two weeks, many of the assumptions that we make about those who are spiritually seeking are less than accurate. Today, our journey into the world of spiritual seekers draws our attention to the way that they connect. For many church people, the most obvious way to connect to a church is through worship attendance. We have built our framework of spiritual community on “entering his sanctuary with praise.”
Today, our sense of community and belonging has shifted. People have friends that they may have never met in person. I know more than one gamer who holds the online friendships they have with higher regard than in person relationships. For many, it is easy to dismiss this new dynamic as false or lesser. This is not only unfair but is also rude. Many years ago, people had pen pals and charities have used letters from children who receive support to build “relationships” with donors. So why do we discount the connections people have in today’s world?
Social media and other online forums have become a part of the web of relationship we have. I know that I have connected at a deeper level with distant friends and family through Facebook and other social media tools. According to Barna, 83% of spiritual seekers ages 29-49 use social media everyday. We all know that there are both positive and negative aspects of social media. Yet, isn’t that true for every other aspect of our lives? Also, an overwhelming percentage use the internet daily.
It would be a mistake for us to not see how spiritual seekers connect and how they get their information. The death of print media is a glaring example of the shift in how people connect. Riding the Metro, you don’t see faces buried in a newspaper, you see folks scrolling through their phone. Of course that vision is often followed by a condescending remark of one ilk or another. When I was visiting my father he kept harping on the fact that I was on my phone too much. I reminded him that while I was on my phone reading an article, he had his nose in a book. We were engaged in the same activity with different means. Do we do this as a church?
Another aspect of the Barna study focused on what we now call “the third place.” According to Ray Oldenburg, who pioneered the study of third place, “Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction.” Our first place is our home where we have primary relationships. Our second place is our work where we spend the bulk of our time. In the past the church was a major third place in people’s lives. My guess would be that for many of you it still is. For spiritual seekers the third place has shifted from houses of worship to other public venues. Restaurants/coffee houses, parks and movie theaters are the dominant third places for those in the study. In the past, the church may have even been the default third place. Today, we need to “compete” for third place status. We may not like that thought but we can’t simply keep doing what we have always done and think people will show up. The definition of third place sounds very familiar. The church has always sought to be an anchor in the community and a place for creative interaction. So how then do we help spiritual seekers connect with that the church as their third place?
We need to begin by asking ourselves what makes Christ Presbyterian Church our third place? It is important that we speak to our friends and family about how we experience church as an anchor in our lives? Yet, we also need to be willing to meet people where they are. We need to find new ways to move beyond our walls into other places that spiritual seekers value. We also need to recognize that people connect in different ways and connect with them through those means.
Recently, we began to regularly stream our worship services on Facebook and posting them to our website. This is not only a great way for regulars to stay connected with the congregation when they are not able to attend but is an outreach to spiritual seekers. I have heard some say “it’s not the same.” That is very true. For most of us, watching a worship stream online would pale in comparison to being in the sanctuary. Yet, for some this can be a great point of entry. How then can we embrace the opportunity to welcome people into our lives regardless of the means?
Here are a few coaching questions for you to ponder:
- Do you find yourself judging others use of electronic devices or social media?
- How is Christ Presbyterian Church your third place?
- What are some ways that you can share you experience of Christ Presbyterian Church with others?