1. Lent 2012
During Lent, sermons and questions about the scriptures have been posted on Trinity’s blog to encourage members of the congregation to think about the message during the week and respond. The scripture readings and a link to the blog were sent out in a weekly email, and a link to the blog was posted on the church’s Facebook. The questions were also handed out on Sunday for people to take home and use in personal reflection or group Bible study. We have only used two readings in order to narrow the focus. Finally, we put blank papers in the bulletins for people to use for writing their ideas or reflections. A cross in the back of the church has been the place where people can offer these reflections. As more papers are placed on the cross, it serves as a visual reminder.
Lent is a good time to encourage Bible study—people are willing to do something more about their faith at this time. But we have not been successful in building attendance at Bible study programs. We know that people are listening to the message; we hope for evidence that they are thinking about it as well. Since this system allows responses to remain private, we thought it would be less threatening than a conversation-based approach. We intend to measure the responses generated.
As Lent ends, we can see that hits on the blog averaged about 1/5th to 1/3rd of average Sunday attendance. In addition, at least one Bible study group began, using the questions provided. The cross in church has averaged 15 or so responses a week. In addition, at least one person each week has written their ideas in a blank book so that others can read their ideas. This program responded to all three of our challenges.
2. 21st Century Communication of the Good News
Based on the response from the Lenten program described above, we are going to build on the potential of our electronic communication tools. We will continue to post sermons and send out email links. We are going to teach people how to access and respond to the blog, using a Sunday morning teaching time for this. We are also going to set up the sermon recordings as a podcast. We will make improvements to the blog to build this as a center of communication.
Based on the response to the Lenten program, we think we are on the right track—there does seem to be interest in reading and responding to Sunday’s message in the week ahead. But we discovered technological barriers: posting on the blog was difficult for some people, plus not everyone is familiar with these modern things called blogs and so did not know what to do. Since getting people to gather at a time other than Sunday continues to be an issue, we want to create as many ways as possible for people to connect to the message without having to come to the church. We will continue to monitor use and adjust.
The Lenten obligation is a strong motivator. We do not know whether or not we will generate as much interest once Lent is over. Still, this is a good way to try to connect with people outside of Sunday morning and we expect this to be long-term process of changing behavior.
3. Bible Study Resources
Trinity subscribes to a one-page Bible study resource called Synthesis, which provide background and context for reading the Sunday scriptures. Use of this resource went up during our Lenten program. We plan to promote these materials through announcements and newsletter articles, and by putting copies of Synthesis in all the bulletins now and then during the summer. This will give information for preparing for the following Sunday.
Our second discovery is that people want to know more about the Bible, but we have not been successful in establishing well-attended Bible study programs. By offering the resources, we hope to meet the need and encourage members to engage in their own Bible study. We will know we are successful when more people are taking the materials provided.
This path doesn’t take much effort, and having the materials could be a first step toward talking in a Bible study, so this is a step toward challenges 2 and 3.
4. Community Art Wall
This isn’t about preaching, but Trinity has a blank wall in its parish hall which we use for displaying art shows. During the summer we plan to invite people to submit pictures of where they encounter God in their lives. We will post these pictures on collage bulletin boards for all to see.
As mentioned before, we have been somewhat successful in using “props” to engage the congregation in responding to the Word. However, these responses work because they are spontaneous and small, not the product of much thought or effort. In addition, the congregation grows tired of too many sermon projects. So we thought we would move the response opportunity out of the worship service and into the community life of the congregation. This will require more effort on the part of the people, but also allows for creativity. Our success can be measured by the numbers of pictures and the interest they generate.
This project has the potential of bridging the gap between church and the rest of life. Since it will go on all summer, we have lots of time to communicate and receive responses. We have been more successful in getting spontaneous responses—people writing an idea down in church in response to a sermon—but our Lenten program has opened the door to people bringing a response to church. We hope that people will be able to explain the pictures they submit, which will help us begin to hear each other’s interpretations, which is our third challenge.