Each week I join a Zoom meeting (like many, I have become accustomed to numerous online meetings and gatherings and have had more meetings using the app Zoom than ever before) with other pastors in our region. The purpose is to pray for one another, share concerns, and learn from each other new ways of ministering to and with our congregations during this time of social distancing and the inability of meeting together in large groups.
Most of us are finding this new way of coming together as a church to be challenging. I think each week a few pastors lament the lack of face-to-face gatherings while being thankful that we have more options now than ever for online streaming and internet-based meetings.
The lamentable growth of social media and all the negativity that comes with it (e.g. Twitter debates, Instagram envy, Facebook venting, etc.) has been moved aside as churches and ministries seek to redeem the online tools for the day. We have shifted everything we can to streaming and online groups. It is good, but not best and we long for the day when the church can come together face-to-face once again. We pray this is soon.
Not Everyone Is Online
As our church leadership has worked through our membership rolls, calling individuals to see if they have any needs and how they are doing personally, we have discovered a few things.
First, we discovered that many more church members have disabled their landlines in their homes and never informed the church. Therefore, we have incorrect information in our membership database for quite a few people.
Second, we found that we were talking to some church members who have not been to the church for years and actually either forgot they were members or have joined elsewhere and...never let us know. That's not their fault, but reveals how many times we as a church have let others "fall through the cracks."
Third, we discovered that the least used app on our smartphones actually works. I'm referring to the "phone" app that on most phones is an icon of an old landline headset and when clicked actually dials a number so that another phone rings and an actual conversation can happen. I say this in jest, but in the day of text messaging and email, we (well...I) just don't make as many actual phone calls as I used to.
Fourth, we found that some in our church membership do not have smartphones, a computer in the house, or internet capability. In fact, some of these dear saints have no desire to have any of these things and will not be getting them.
Connecting with Offline Members
This last revelation is not actually surprising. In most of these cases, the individuals are senior adults. They did not grow up using personal computers. Many of them retired prior to their companies moving to be fully-computerized. In some cases, the computers they have used were not WYSIWYG icon-driven point-and-click devices connected to the internet, but old-school, C-prompt green text on black screen devices and dumb-head terminals. If those terms to not mean anything to you, don't worry. It may just mean you're young enough to have never used such.
When social media took off many seniors eventually jumped on board at the insistence of their children and family members living in other states and regions. All the sudden the media platform designed only for college students (Facebook) became predominantly used by older adults.
Still, not everyone jumped on board for various reasons.
The challenge for us today was in how to keep connected with these church members who cannot join a Zoom meeting online, watch a service on YouTube, or even comment on a Facebook post?
Since these online options are the primary ones we're using, we discovered that we must find a way in addition to regular phone calls, to keep these dear saints connected.
As all of us know personally, these dear saints were saddened they could not be with their friends and church family members weekly. They also shared that they missed hearing our Sunday services. While they were watching some very good pastors preach on television each week, they stated that it just was not the same and that the church they watched was not their church family.
I thought about mailing (snail mail) a copy of my sermon transcript weekly to these members. I may still do that as needed, but even then, I knew I would miss some. I needed another alternative.
When I was a child I remember our little church getting a large phone bill one month. My mother was the church secretary, so that's how I heard about this. This increase baffled the pastor and office staff until it was discovered that the pastor's son had been using the church phone to call "Dial-a-Joke" numerous times. This phone line was a pay-per-call line and the young man didn't know it was going to charge the church. The bill racked up...and to be honest, the jokes weren't that funny.
I only remembered that story when I saw a church in the UK post that they had developed a "Dial-A-Sermon" option for their church members. At first, I thought "That's a waste." It sounded so old-school and dated and then I read more. It seems that this was a fix for the issue facing our church. By setting up this "Dial-A-Sermon" option, church members could call a number, hear a recorded voice state that they had reached the church's sermon line and then shortly, the audio from the previous Sunday's sermon would play. It's not ideal, but it works. A person can listen to a full sermon on their telephone (I would recommend a speaker phone for this.)
This is much better than Dial-A-Joke!
For a very nominal fee (about $1 a month) this was done.
I went to the website linked and in about thirty minutes had signed up for the app (Twilio,) chosen a number in our area code (one actually assigned to my town) recorded a welcome note and linked the previous Sunday's audio file to the app. So far the number has been called at least twenty times. I know that because I have called it twenty times throughout the week just to see if it still works.
I called the senior ladies in our church who had told me they had no way to watch or hear our sermons and gave them the number. They were so happy. It was as if they had been reconnected at least in one small way to their church in this age of stay-at-home distancing.
Since then, I have shared the information with numerous churches. I have seen a few begin their own "Dial-A-Sermon" option.
Maybe it is something that can help you and your church as well.
Rather than type up a step-by-step order of how to do this, I will just link the page where I found my instructions. It's on the Switched On Network site. Click here.
This is just one more way to connect with church members (By the way - personal phone calls remain the best.) If you have discovered others, please leave comments below. I would love to hear them.
If you're interested in hearing how it sounds, our Dial-A-Sermon number is 904-298-6417 (regular rates apply if you're calling long distance from a landline.)