Early on in my ministry here, I threw a softball to my council to see how they would react to a little responsibility. I knew that a large chunk of my council were very concerned that I take care of the shut-ins (those members who for health reasons are unable to attend normal Sunday morning worship). I knew that I should be able to visit them in their homes on a monthly basis, barring emergencies (and I have indeed kept that schedule). However, as I presented this to the council, I told them, “They have the desire to worship with other Christians more often than once a month. We can serve them better. What are some options? Bring me some ideas.”
It felt like this: They knew they were other people, but they only worshiped alone. We can do better for them!
Now, my intention was to get a group of elders started – some men to visit each shut-in once a month on weeks that I wasn’t making my visits. However, I wanted them to come up with whatever idea they came up with so they could own it. Well, I didn’t get my wish of an elder. I got something… unique.
An early idea that they proposed was to simply record the worship service and deliver the recordings. A fantastic idea many congregations implement, but it wasn’t really practical for us. Our shut-ins have a wide gamut of technology; over here is a couple that still haven’t made it to the VCR level, while over here is another shut-in who Skypes with her great-grandchildren. We considered by mp3 players for each shut-in and training them how to use them.
Despite the stereotype, there are plenty of old geezers who can geeze on the internet breezily!
Then one of the councilmen had an ingenious idea: no matter what level of technology they were at, every single person had a phone of one type or another. Why not have them call a phone number and listen to Sunday morning worship live?
As I considered, I found a lot to like with this plan. When watching television or any recorded media, we tend to be docile. We’re not interacting with what we see; we’re merely sponging it in. But a telephone – now here’s something different! We’re used to interacting! And it’s live – it’s not merely a recording, but something that’s happening right then. A person doesn’t prepare for watching a recording; a person might prepare if they have to get up in the morning to listen in.
So, we pursued the options. Ideally, we’d find a way to patch our microphone system directly into the phone line for the hour-or-so every Sunday morning. No dice; at least not in any inexpensive way. We did find an inexpensive service for conference calls, though. It would mean I’d have to wear a Bluetooth during the service. That would take some getting used to and necessitate I use the lapel mic instead of the one that hung off my ear, but I could handle that. The system was easy to use for both our tech staff to set up as well as the shut-ins at home. Let’s give it a go!
I don’t look nearly so dynamic as this guy. Nor as well-groomed. Nor as cheesy, I hope.
Yesterday was the third week straight of this new program. Our tech staff (generally confirmands and recent confirmands) have gotten the hang of it; the hardest part is them talking on the phone to welcome the callers. I’ve heard from our shut-ins that they’re loving the program. They’re feeling like they’re part of the congregation again! They not be present in the body, but they are listening and participating!
I’ve made a big deal since getting here that we’re family. Here we simply see one of the ways that plays out: even if you can’t be here in body, you’re still a member of the family. The congregation has accepted the Bluetooth; I’ve not heard a single negative about it in a congregation that can get pretty darn vocal about change. I’ve heard nothing but positive from the shut-ins.
There’s one unexpected side-effect from all this; not only are the shut-ins able to join us for worship, but they’re fellowshipping! I’ve encouraged them to call in at least ten minutes before the service starts so we can sort out any bugs if they pop up. During the time before the service starts, they’re talking to each other on the phone. They’re sharing each other’s’ lives – granted, it’s not in a deep way, but it’s more than they’re used to! They’re encouraging each other and enjoying being part of the family – not in a mental or spiritual way, but now also in a way they can experience firsthand.
The system isn’t perfect. Not by a long shot. Because I wear the Bluetooth, when it comes to singing, the shut-ins only hear me and not the rest of the congregation. That’s… disconcerting. I wouldn’t want to hear me singing solos for all the music! We need to find a way to fix it, but this is an inconvenience and certainly not a deal breaker!
And the neat thing about all this? I simply made a need known. I said, “Hey, let’s see if we can serve this one portion of the congregation better.” And the men took this and ran with it. They thought of the solution. They compared ways to reach the solution. They made sure it happened. I made a problem known and released the men to fix it.
I need to do this more often. I need to simply let the men go on a mission they believe in. I plan to practice that with some events coming up, but this success shows me that it can be done in this congregation with these people.
And the result is that even more of the congregation is blessed. Awesome!
Good job church council!