The Church and The Internet in 2018, Part 1

After CrossPoint launched, we noticed an interesting pattern. Like every organization, we had things that were working well and other things that we thought would work that were not working well at all. Taking the advice of Chip and Dan Heath’s book, “Switch”, we began to look for the bright spots that were rocking so that we could focus on them. 

One of the bright spots we found was our podcast. We had been posting our messages on our website and integrating them with iTunes. At some point, we looked at the analytics and were surprised by how many people were listening in every week. 

By most standards, it was not a lot of people but for our start up church it was about half of our Sunday morning attendance. In other words, we had an online community that was proportionately very significant. So, we began to muse about what it would look like if we really put some energy in to promoting our podcast. 

As part of this conversation, I asked a young leader in our church who listens to lots of podcasts (about 30 a week) for his feedback. He said, “I don’t listen to many sermons. Sermons are not really the way most podcasts work. Almost all podcasts are a dialogue — a conversation between two people. It makes for a more authentic and listenable format.” 

As I reflected on it later, I realized that there are very few formats in our contemporary society in which we ask people to sit and listen to one person talk for 20-25 minutes. TED talks may be the closest format but those tend to be 10-12 minutes. A university lecture may be 20 minutes or more but those are usually given by the professors to be endured, not the ones who are appreciated. 

As a result, we began to experiment a little with our Sunday message format. Instead of me preaching for 20-25 minutes, we tried an interview format. We would pick a topic or a passage of scripture and read, meditate, and research on it during the week. I would come up with an initial list of questions that we would use as a framework for our conversation. 

Like any conversation, the direction would often take twists and turns that we did not anticipate but usually it was very listenable. People got to know other people in our congregation and they were able to hear other voices besides me. 

One lesson we learned early on was not having too much dialogue before Sunday morning. This may seem counter-intuitive but one week I met with my conversation partner over coffee a few days before Sunday. We had a great conversation about the topic but when Sunday came, it felt like we had already talked about the issue. Instinctively we wanted to talk about different aspects of the topic but they were not as interesting as our initial conversation with nobody listening!

Another thing we noticed is that the application piece was a lot harder in a dialogue. When preaching, it is natural to make application and to communicate what might be the next step for the listener. A dialogue is good at looking at different aspects surrounding an issue but does not lend itself to application nearly as well. In other words, sometimes the conversation became more of an academic exercise about abstract ideas rather than a “sermon” with life application. 
Consequently, now we are working at integrating an application piece in to the conversation. “How does this idea work out for you in your day to day life? — As a parent? As an employee? As a spouse?” 

The other limitation is the shadow side to not knowing where the conversation will go. If I have preaching goals or outcomes that I am looking for in our community, it makes it harder to hit those targets with a dialogue rather than a traditional sermon. 

We are still playing with the format. As of today, we are trying to do a conversation format every 3 or 4 weeks. It will be interesting to see as we evolve whether we end up using the format more or less. 
 

Dana Hicks