“We are in a (new) Pentecost moment,” the Rev. Ruth Santana Grace, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, told more than 200 church leaders gathered at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia for Money Mission Media, a conversation about the challenges and opportunities for 21st Century digital ministry.
In changing times, the church must collaborate. “This morning matters because we are together,” she said.
This equipping event for congregation leaders was co-sponsored by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, the Presbytery and the Seminary. Keynote presenters were the Rev. Adam Copeland of Luther Seminary, the Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, a campus minister and social media specialist, and the Rev. Keith Anderson, author of The Digital Cathedral and co-author of Click 2 Save.
Copeland, Luther’s director of stewardship leadership, broke the ice by talking about the church’s most difficult subject – money. The church avoids talking about money at its peril, he said. And the best time to talk about it is when a congregation is not asking for it.
“Generosity is a learned virtue,” Copeland said, and the good news is that mature givers can pass that virtue on to others. “Struggles with money and possessions are at the heart of people’s lives,” but embracing God’s news on money and possessions sets us free, he said.
Churches today are learning an emerging paradigm of generosity, he said. No longer do people give to, or trust, institutions out of a sense of duty. People give by choice, because of a sense that their gifts create change and power a vision they resonate with. Many donors today gravitate to the convenience of electronic giving and crowdfunding, as occurs on websites such as GoFundMe.com. And above all, he said, it is important to thank givers for their contributions.
Kim-Kort framed the use of social media channels as a sacramental practice.
“A sacramental practice is a creative endeavor to integrate all the ways of our being and deeply connect us to the Body of Christ,” Kim-Kort said. She described her own journey of experimenting with blogs, podcasts and social sites as a grace-filled journey of becoming, allowing her to try out and live into various aspects of her personality.
New media, she said, gives occasions for the Christians to enact and tell stories revealing God’s presence in the ordinary moments of life, she said. These can be opportunities to invite people into God’s story, but churches also have to make sure that their interactions online are “life-giving,” she said.
“Everything is in flux,” Anderson observed in his presentation on reverse engineering the church. “This is terrifying. And beautiful. And amazing,” he said.
Huge majorities of Americans are engaged across the range of social media platforms, and the church must be where people are, Anderson said. But all connections are not made online.
Our connections with our communities, whether digital or in the flesh, must be a process of relationship building, he said. Congregations need to look outside, into their communities, and invest in causes and projects, viewing their neighbors as stakeholders. “There’s this deepening of connection that happens when you just keep showing up,” he said.
Anderson shared a number of case-studies of congregations deeply rooting in and partnering with their neighborhoods, including St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, Humble Walk Lutheran Church in St. Paul, MN, and Sanctary Church in Marshfield, MA.
Story by Bob Fisher, photos by John Kahler