The unthinkable happened. After a lifetime in ministry I found myself out of full-time church staff and going "church shopping" with my wife. For 27 years I've helped create strategies to overcome the roadblocks that keep people from getting involved in the life of the church and growing in their faith.
They are the ones who have fallen through the cracks in the church floorboards, and unfortunately no one in the church even realized it happened.
Having moved from ministry into the tech world, now it was my turn to experience peering up through those cracks into a church, hoping someone would care that we even came.
When the church we visited was large, no one even realized that the people sitting beside them were new. When the congregation was smaller, we felt very awkward and conspicuous, or even worse, we were ignored entirely.
Churches have spent thousands on upgrading sound, lighting, visuals and environment to engage the congregation in the name of excellence, hoping to relate to today's culture.
I know all too well how much energy is spent in the planning and execution of a flawless Sunday morning delivery and yet, it has been my experience, that the dial has not changed much in spite of all our efforts.
We rarely get past or even come close to the 80/20 percentage mark where 20 percent of the congregation are truly engaged in faith-growing opportunities like small group, servant volunteering or taking on a ministry role. So what's the missing ingredient?
I believe it's personal follow up.
If we never know someone is new, how can we reach out to them? If we don't know someone is hurting or in need, no one is able to comfort them.
I sat in a service where the Pastor gave an altar call and said, "If anyone would like to accept Christ just raise your hand." Many did. It was a very compelling service, and the Spirit was moving, but then that was it. Raised hands went back down. Service over. No one else saw the man in front of me timidly raise his hand slightly below his shoulder. If we miss that someone has made a decision to follow Jesus, how can we encourage them in their walk?
Having been on several different church staffs, I am pretty confident that everyone in ministry leadership WANTED to disciple others or minister to anyone who was in need, they just didn't know about them.
Can technology make a difference with this problem?
I believe it can—especially with the right tools. We are in a situation that is unlike any other time in church history. Our mobile devices have impacted every aspect of our lives now. It is rare when I am more than 3 feet from my cell phone at any time. Gone are the days when we put up the slide before service starts, "Please Silence Your Cell Phones."
We read our Bibles, take our sermon notes, text and email or play Pokemon Go during church. (Have you noticed churches are some of the most common Poke Stops? We really need to take advantage of that but that's a different article.)
I believe if we want to reach all those who fall through the cracks, we ought to take advantage of the fact that we can easily connect to them through their mobile device.
Traditionally a church app is capable of delivering the content of the church website and playing uploaded videos. They send an occasional push notification that goes out to everyone who has downloaded the app.
But now, with the right church app, you can create a means for communication and connectivity that is powerful and personal and makes congregation and visitors feel like they belong to a church family.
You can use your app to take attendance with a virtual connect card that integrates with your church’s existing database. You could know who are truly the visitors, how often they've come and all of their contact information. Then you could follow up with a personal call, email, or send them a gift or an invitation. All the while, you will save a ton of money on printing costs, save on labor costs to do data input, and avoid embarrassing typos from transferring the information from a hard to read, handwritten, card to the computer.
An app can create questionnaires and real-time polls to gain insight into what your people are thinking or add a creative element that engages the congregation. You can send targeted push notifications to keep various groups and individuals on the same page or give them encouraging words or scriptures throughout the week.
Best of all each ministry within the church can have their own part of the app so info for Men’s Group only go to men of a specified age, without bombarding everyone with information that doesn’t pertain to them. The right app can provide interactive live video streams for those who are unable to attend in person. An online pastor could pray with the on-line viewers and respond as needed.
Because the app is personal and a comfortable way for the younger generation to communicate, it could instantly alert a Youth Pastor that a teen is hurting, needs prayer or has just made a commitment to follow Christ. Then, we have a way to expand the reach and depth of our ministry just because we know and can do something about it. After all, the key to strong ministry is following up with those in need.
Like my wife and I wandering from church to church, there are so many others doing the same, they're looking for a place to belong.
Meanwhile the church strives to upgrade their stuff in order to reach people where they are at. But where are they at? They're on their phones.