Leap-frogging technologies are a theme in our household conversations these days. When large swaths of people previously did not have access to certain improvements to quality of life, and a new way of creating access is developed to remove the barriers, people who never could get services in the first wave suddenly join the network by skipping a step. One example of this is phone service in parts of African countries such as Tanzania. Only people with certain income levels, living in developed areas, ever had access to landline phones. But once cell phones could run off towers or satellites, seemingly everybody got a cell phone, many skipping the landline step altogether.
Solar power technologies have great potential for leap-frogging, since people have more equitable access to the sun than coal or natural gas. My physician husband is very interested in this company whose drones deliver blood and other medical supplies, quickly and safely. But do you know where my mind goes?
As the pandemic gradually recedes, at least where I live, the issue occupying all my clergy colleagues’ minds is how and what to return to “in-person” in congregational life versus letting it go. I am pondering the leap-frogging potential that the pandemic has presented for ministry in some contexts, simply by more of ministry being done online. If congregational life is a “technology” for spreading the Gospel, who previously could not access it? When we took more of our communications, community-building, teaching and worship online because of the risks of gathering in-person, congregations developed online ways to connect faster than ever before. It turns out that people who could not access the Gospel through the ways our congregation shared it before, now had new access.
Leaders who were in the thick of church life before the pandemic were immersed in the community we could see surrounding us, myself included. We couldn’t even perceive the barriers, or if we could, often the demands of those present superseded the effort it would take to address the barriers for those who were not. What were some of the barriers to accessing our congregations for those seeking a group of people who would love and accept any child of God as they are?
- Physical accessibility
- Learning that the ministry exists in the first place
- Hesitancy to show up in person without prior experience of a particular community, to ensure that it is safe for us
Online ministry is a leap-frogging opportunity especially for those who have been burned by a prior church experience, or have only the public impression of “Christians” gained from the media. For those with internet connection, online engagement as a first point of contact can eliminate so much anxiety and risk for those who are curious and seeking faith. Especially for congregations explicitly supportive of marginalized folx, demonstrating that commitment online in interactive ways could be the advance proof people need to trust enough to engage. And those who have mobility, sight or hearing challenges may find that engaging with ministry online, when they can utilize their own assistive technology, affords them the most dignity, even after the pandemic risks subside. I cannot wait to notice all the ways congregations will interpret “hybrid ministry” in this next phase, leading to leap-frogging access for new people.