I’ve spent the last couple of months working on two grant requests for the church from the MO Conference and the MO United Methodist Foundation. By the time you read this, they will be turned in and out of my hands. Hallelujah! We don’t know what the outcome of our requests will be, but I thought I’d share the vision behind them.
Livestreaming our church service has made a huge positive impact on the church. When I arrived, livestreaming was unfamiliar. My skills were more in video production (pre-recording and editing) and utilizing Zoom for live events. After I got used to livestreaming, Lee and I began to talk about what else we could do if we combined our skillsets. You showed up to Bible studies in great numbers, and we began to see that we needed to have our studies online to be accessed on-demand. Our culture has moved from “I guess I’ll watch what’s on TV” to “I can stream almost anything any time I want anywhere I am.” We knew we had the technology to record classes, but we struggled to get them to people online.
In addition, I keep hearing that we want to reach young people. We actually have a lot of young people online; we just can’t see them and we’re not engaging all of them beyond watching the livestream. My thoughts are that we need a fresh approach to our own local community, we’re drawing from a wider geographic area without really trying, and there are a lot of people who are truly United Methodist whose churches are disaffiliating. All of these kinds of people have shown interest in a small-town, strong, healthy UMC with a blended style and Wesleyan theology. To really be their church, we will need to offer something more online than the chance to watch along from the back of the room, which is really most comfortable for people who have already sat in the room. We need to offer a total online church experience and a Path of Discipleship (Connect/ Equip/ Send) with online options.
Our grant request to the Conference (for $25,000) is to launch a new intentionally online service. We would continue to livestream the 10 AM service. We’d have an earlier, shorter, simplified online service to serve as another door into our community. It would include an online fellowship hall experience and a dedicated Facebook group for communication. The grant money would go to purchase the equipment and software to set up a studio in the church to record worship, classes, music, etc. and to pay for 18 months of a Tech Director.
When I called the Foundation to register our church for a group learning experience in Digital Discipleship (MUMC has seven people participating!), I explained the overall vision. The Foundation staff I spoke with encouraged us to apply for additional funding (not for tech equipment or staff) to help us make this emerging vision a reality. They want to fund innovative ministry initiatives, particularly around Paths of Discipleship.
Our grant request from the Foundation (approximately $5000) would support our Path of Discipleship that goes along with these online efforts. This money is requested to help us develop a Digital Discipleship Library of on-demand classes from our clergy and laity (as well as from other clergy and laity) that people could use to grow in their discipleship. It would help us train Discipleship Facilitators who would help people through their next steps of discipleship while building important relationships. It would provide welcome kits to people who are connecting with the church and online classes. It would help us hold Homecoming Weekends, large events that invite our online community to “come home to Marshfield” twice a year.
I keep chuckling over how my career has come full-circle in Marshfield. I am technically a second-career pastor. My first career was in management consulting, and my specialty was web technologies. Our firm specialized in convenience store and pet food industries; now I’m doing that same work for the UMC. I’ve sometimes wondered about the value of that two year detour in management consulting. Was it just wasted time due to my reticence to answer the call to ministry, or would God find a way to use that time for good? It took 20 years to get the answer. “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
I want to thank all the readers and thinkers who helped along the way with online and Path of Discipleship planning — Nicholas Roberts, Ken Thompson, Susan Newcomb, Amy Ragsdale, Ann Owen, Clay Robertson, Becky Erb, Pastor Wanda Heidemann, Lee Roberts, Gail Barnekow, Charlotte Biddle, Karen McMillan, Rev. Lynn Dyke, Coach Mac, Carrie Sabo, DeAnne Rader, Cara and Maggie Melvin, Deb Drane, and Jay Polchow. If you have interest in more details, I would be happy to provide you with copies of the grant applications to start a conversation.