By Gary Hatter, an incoming student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Keith Anderson’s The Digital Cathedral is a compelling treatise and a tremendous resource for ministry leaders—ordained and lay alike—who strive to comprehend the role and harness the power of digital media vis-à-vis the traditional church model and associated activities. Anderson’s personal experience as a church leader provides a solid foundation and unimpeachable credibility in this area, but the breadth of his research is even more impressive as the book provides numerous, diverse success stories that may be adopted or adapted elsewhere, along with sufficient empirical data to support his challenge for the church to embrace the new world that is (not ‘is coming’).
Attitudinally, I am not a troglodyte. Behaviorally, however, I plead ‘guilty’ inasmuch as I am barely into the Facebook ‘wading pool.’ Being of the pre-internet generation, I recall the rapid progression from e-mail to instant messaging to today’s texting-and-social media world, thinking early on that the challenge would be how to manage so many disparate channels. That is, in the language of this moment, how are we to be present, responsive and relational with all of one’s connections as the number of connections grows exponentially?
Frankly, my single significant criticism of Anderson’s book is that he barely touches on this information-management challenge. Importantly, Anderson includes among his concluding “fifteen rules for life and ministry in the Digital Cathedral” to “take a digital Sabbath.”
Like so many things in life and ministry, there is no right answer, no one-size-fits-all solution; rather, we must each figure out how to manage the dynamics of the world as it is, especially as we seek to engage folks who are disinclined to frequent places and spaces that comprise our comfort zones.
Several of Anderson’s examples of non-traditional ministry initiatives were especially interesting to me, such that I am eager to try to incorporate them into the life of my home church or try out on my own:
- Ashes to Go: As a 400-member church in a rural setting outside a college town with a strong tourist industry, I believe our context lends itself to going where the people are to offer the imposition of ashes, either on the Downtown Mall or UVA Lawn, both areas of high pedestrian traffic. This could be part of a broader campaign to include ‘offer a prayer’ set-ups on campus (especially prior to and during exams), at Saturday farmers market, etc.
- Cathedral in the Night is likewise compelling, as Steph Smith said, to ask “’What is church?’ Is it the big building or is it the people?” One critically important point is that the church needs to think of it as, “not an outreach to… rather… focused on being a church community together,” inclusive of ‘the last and the least’ who would never make it all the way out to our facilities. Passing the microphone is a strong affirmation, and the idea of distributing tokens inscribed with words describing different gifts for congregants to place inside the hollow wooden cross is powerful indeed – “we don’t want a monetary gift… we ask for something greater… for you to become your own offering.” Amen.
- The Sunday evening worship service of House for All Sinners and Saints is appealing on several levels. First, I am a proponent of non-traditional meeting times, with Sunday evening being my personal first-choice as especially suited to a vespers-style service to provide spiritual breathing space ahead of Monday’s plunge back into the rat race. The practice of inviting folks to take a leadership role by setting out role-specific bulletins is a great way of achieving that surprisingly difficult task of hearing different voices in worship; to do so without prior read-throughs ‘messes with my head’ in a delightful way, being a stickler for being as prepared as possible to lead worship—what the heck, God works through it, however we might say it! [Since our son just completed a beautiful outdoor worship area as his Eagle project for Scouts, methinks I might prevail upon the Worship Committee chair (me) to experiment with a summer outdoor vespers service!]
- Being a social media neophyte (until recently perhaps a ‘denier’?!), I cannot go deep into the how-to, but I am moved by the idea of using digital platforms as a means for regular, themed communication during the seasons of Advent and Lent – importantly, to engage the digitial community in two-way—no, actually multi-party—communication, engagement and relationship building .