Our guest blogger this week is one of our very own Jim Fairchild. Jim attends Community of Christ in Topeka. Jim has been a co creator of this blog as he has taken on the responsibility of managing our website and doing all of our social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. He has learned a lot from this endeavor and is wanting to share some of that knowledge with you. So a big thanks for Jim being willing to share with us.
I have been a life long member of the RLDS/Community of Christ faith community. I was very active as a youth and attended Graceland College (University). Although I was seeking a career in health services, I was unable to find a suitable career path without further professional education. I was encouraged by friends, who also attended Graceland, to utilize my social science credits, to seek employment with the Missouri Department of Social Services. I worked in Child Protective Services as a rural field supervisor for almost ten years. I continued to remain interested in a health services administration career and obtained an administrative position at a Kansas psychiatric hospital in Topeka, which would permit me to attend KU and obtain a master’s degree in health services administration. I remained very active in the church in Topeka and served in the office of Priest.
After completing my professional training, I obtained employment as a healthcare administrator, working for several rural hospitals as a Chief Executive Officer. I spent the last fifteen years of my professional career as a healthcare administrator in the central part of the United States. While I had a successful career, my work took me far away from my faith community. Planning to return to Topeka upon retirement, I kept my membership with the Topeka congregation.
A few years ago, I retired and moved back to eastern Kansas. I also decided that in retirement I would maximize my time and talents in volunteer service to the church. I currently serve in the office of Elder, and serve as the Congregation Financial Officer.
My Invitational Ministry Plan
Early 1960s church membership statistics show the success of evangelizing methods. Effective use of the developing technology, personal evangelism materials, and a strong determination to proselytize, are among the many factors that account for the steady membership increase. I am very concerned about the decline of Community of Christ membership which was shared by Steve Veazey in his “Time to Act” message to the church. (September 2017)
In response to this “call to action” I looked for things that I could do as an individual, as well as, successful outreach methods that could easily be implemented in a local congregation. I have been always interested in Invitational Ministry, however my only experience was through proseltyzing “door-to-door” with tracts. Due to changes in cultural demographics and technology, this did not appear to be a viable option for Invitational Ministry.
Why Virtual Ministry?
I am familiar with D&C Section 155:7. But what does this scripture mean by “many techniques for proclaiming my word?” As Disciples, we are called to go places where we have never been, to do new things that we have never attempted and to be things we have never envisioned.
I decided to search the Internet for information regarding successful church growth strategies. There were numerous church growth websites, classes and books on the topic. I searched YouTube for presentations (videos) about successful ideas that other churches had used for church growth. I found many (free) video presentations on YouTube about using electronic outreach, including Church Websites and Church Social Media accounts to promote Church Growth. I thought outreach through Electronic Media might be a good methodology for me to utilize for invitational ministry, Invite People to Christ. I was computer literate but knew nothing about church websites or social media.
At the time, Community of Christ had very few resources on electronic outreach, however some Community of Christ Mission Centers were experimenting with this new technology, and sharing their information on line. (Community of Christ has since significantly increased it’s resources in this area and you will find a lot of this information on the Community of Christ YouTube page.) The Community of Christ Communications Department also provides free downloadable graphics which can be used for outreach.
OK, it’s time to act!
The Topeka Congregation had a free Weebly website which had been developed by a member, more than ten years ago. The website was still online, but no longer being managed, so I took responsibility for managing the Topeka Congregation website. The free Weebly software is limited and has ads. Based upon what I had learned, specific to church websites, I upgraded to the Weebly Pro website software and re-formatted the Topeka Congregation website.
I am not a Social Media person, and prior to this project I did not have an account, and knew very little about Social Media. However my research had indicated that churches should use Social Media for outreach, as it is a very effective outreach tool. So I learned (YouTube) about church Social Media. I established Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts for Topeka Community of Christ. Social Media is an ever changing technology. The learning is ongoing and systematic.
At the same time, Seventy Craig Hidy was developing a church group in Emporia, Kansas. This group is a “House Church” and doesn’t have a church building. Members of this group communicate by email concerning group activities. This group is also a Community of Christ Latter-day Seekers Ministry (Emporia Ministry). A website would be a good method to communicate the ministry’s presence in east-central Kansas for seekers.
Craig also thought a Blog might be beneficial for church outreach. I volunteered to set up and manage a website (website fees paid by MMC) for the Emporia Ministry, a Blog for Craig on the website, and Social Media accounts for the Emporia Group.
Aware of my success with Electronic Media Outreach for the Topeka Congregation and Emporia Ministry; Midlands Mission Center leadership asked me to do a presentation at the Fall 2018 Mission Learn. The Mission Learn presentation was titled: “Seize the 167!” An invaluable resource to my “Virtual Invitational Ministry” has been from a Canadian Company “Pro Church Tools” which sells software and services to churches for electronic and social media outreach. The company provides weekly videos on YouTube regarding the utilization of this ministry. This is a link to their “Seize the 167!” video for churches that inspired me to embrace this technology.
Progress, so far.
For the past two years I have been managing “Virtual Invitational Ministry” for one congregation (Topeka KS) and one group ministry (Emporia KS). How has that worked? As a congregation CFO, I am happy to report, that the Topeka Congregation has reduced their outreach expenditures (primarily for print ads) from $1100 per year to $150 per year for Weebly Pro Software.
In our previous efforts utilizing print media ads (yellow pages and newspaper) we had no measurable results for our expenses. We had not initiated any of the traditional prostelizing methods, door-to-door tracting, missionary home visits and special missionary preaching services for many years. Using Virtual Invitational Ministry, the Topeka Congregation Website averages over 1,000 visits per month and is open and working to extending our invitation to Christ, 24 hours per day every day of the year. The congregation also has daily posts to FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter. Website analytics indicate, other than our landing page, most visitors go to our “Activities” page to see how we are implementing the Mission of Christ in our community. I invite you to take a look at the Topeka Website and see what you think.
The Topeka Social Media accounts have a wide range of viewers, and I am focusing on improving engagement. I use these accounts to promote Community of Christ Mission Initiatives, Enduring Principles and Inviting People to join with us in Worship and Community. Our Twitter account averages about 8,000 views per month, with a high of 12,000 views per month.
The Midlands Mission Center pays for the Weebly Pro subscription for the Emporia Ministry of $150 per year. Using Virtual Invitational Ministry, the Emporia Ministry Website averages over 1,000 visits per month and is open and working to extending our invitation to Christ, 24 hours per day every day of the year. The ministry also has daily posts to FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter. Website analytics indicate, other than our landing page, most visitors go to this BLOG. I invite you to take a look at the Emporia Ministry website and see what you think.
The Emporia Social Media accounts have a wide range of viewers, and I am focusing on improving engagement. I use these accounts to promote this Blog, the Emporia Latter-day Seeker Ministry and Inviting people to join with us in Worship and Community. Our Twitter account averages about 6,500 views per month.
What can you do to help?
In a simple word “Share” and "Comment" on the Blog and Social Media Posts. Most of you probably have social media accounts. User data shows that FaceBook has over Two Billion active users per month, Instagram has over One Billion active users per month and Twitter approximately six-hundred thousand active users per month.
This is easy for you to do. For this Blog you will find a share link for FaceBook and Twitter at the bottom of each blog post. If you click share, you are inviting members of you social media network to visit the blog post.
You will also find links to the Emporia Ministry Social Media Accounts
A big thanks to Jim for sharing his knowledge and information with us.
This week please post something about your church online, share one of our posts, or comment on one of our blogs.
I have found God often speaks into our lives in a variety of ways trying to get our attention, we just have to be open to seeing, listening, and feeling that divine presence. They are often small nuggets of insight leading us to greater discovery of ourselves, others, and the mission of God.
One night many years ago I went to a parent teacher conference to assist a teacher in meeting with some parents about their kids behavioral needs. I pulled into the parking lot and headed into the school as I had done so many times before. As I turned down the hallway I noticed a table set up right in the middle, so no one could miss it. There were heaps of colorful, children's clothes stacked on top of the table. Taped to the front of the table was a little sign reading, "Help the lost find their home."
I was taken back immediately by this message. Of course I knew the sign was intended for parents to gather their kids missing clothes but it held so much more weight and meaning. Reading this made me think about the story of the lost sheep and in general people who do not have a spiritual home. The message was a reminder to me about the many people who have not found their spiritual home. Now I am not fond of the word "lost" in describing people. Despite this word nuisance I understood the challenge and call God has for us to nurture and guide others on their journey to finding a place where they feel welcomed, supported, and loved.
Let's explore the word home, how it is used in regards to faith journeys, and what insights this might provide for us in helping others.
Everyone's understanding and perspective of what home is comes from their experiences. Some people believe home is a secure, safe environment where people feel loved, understood, and cared for. Others may only see it as a location and physical place where they lay their heads. And for some home is something they run from because it has been unwelcoming, hurtful, demeaning, and traumatic. Its the place where the people who are supposed to care most about them do not and only create further anger and hurt. As much as I do not want to acknowledge this, I must because it is the reality that some people live. It is never right when someone is abused, demeaned or violated. If this has happened to you know that it is not your fault. I believe God is with you and has never left you not even for a minute. You have never been alone.
Whatever your experience was growing up or you are currently in I want to let you know home can be what you make it. It can be the place where you can be yourself. It can be the place you have always wanted it to be. It can be a place where love and compassion reign.
Spiritual homes are places where we can gather in community with others to experience the divine. Its a place to further our spiritual journey by deepening our faith and building relationships with others. The people and environment comfort us to be able to share and dive into deep questions about our faith and what we believe. This may mean challenging doctrine and long held beliefs to determine current views. There are also specific practices taking place focused on helping us connect spiritually. For the science behind spirituality check out this awesome blog article "The Science of Spirituality" by Catarina Lino.
Spiritual homes are essential for us to grow. However finding a spiritual home that fits our personality and needs can be difficult. What should we look for in finding a spiritual home? Here are some suggestions:
1. Welcoming Atmosphere - The environment and people need to be a place full of welcoming. A lot goes into welcoming others but essentially its about the atmosphere that we perceive and feel when are in this environment. This includes the unspoken climate right from when you walk in the door to when you leave.
2. Fits Your Needs and What You Seek - Before we search for spiritual homes an assessment of your personal needs should be done. What is the purpose behind finding a spiritual home? What in particular will help you grow deeper with the divine? How are you wanting to be challenged? Are you just wanting a community be a part of? Answer the questions about why you are seeking and you will have a better understanding of what you are looking for.
3. Diversity Not Uniformity - Spiritual homes need to be diverse places with a variety of thought. Churches are often comprised of people with similar beliefs and tend to not want to ask questions but seek uniformity. Spirituality is our individual connection with the divine and diverse community allows us to seek out ways to deepen that connection.
4. Spiritual Practices - Many times spiritual practices are things we do on our own but they can also be done as a community. Spiritual homes should have various ways you can practice your spirituality. This may be service to others in volunteering in your local community or meditation groups that focus on your inward journey. I believe the understanding that spirituality is a journey with others comes out of this collective group effort to deepen our faith. Check out our blog articles about spiritual practices if you are interested.
I hope that along your faith journey you can find someplace to call your spiritual home. A place that is welcoming, diverse, fits your needs, and helps you develop your spirituality.
I am grateful for those who follow this blog and want to invite anyone thats near by to join us for our monthly small group.
This week begin to assess yourself to get an understanding of what type of spiritual home you are searching for.
Many years ago, when I was working at Community of Christ in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we had a woman come in the center with her three boys, all elementary age. She had never been to the church on the corner of Glass and Chamberlain but had passed by many times. The center is located in the heart of the old part of the city that was now ravaged with poverty, drugs, and gang life. The church had a reputation for being a safe place among the violence surrounding it. This woman just felt the need to stop in and share with us.
The woman said she had made a lot of bad decisions in her life including drug use, relationships, etc. which had impacted her and her kids. While sobbing she said, "I somehow lost sight of God and today I realized I needed to make time for him starting now." She raised her wrist and had her boys do the same. On each wrist laid a watch they just purchased as a symbolic action of making time for God today and everyday moving forward. Looking at the watch was a reminder for each of them to create time for God.
After she shared we welcomed each one of them and gathered up in a circle. Each one of us gave a prayer of blessing for this family and what this new journey would be for them. They ate lunch with us, the kids played basketball and then they headed out into the world again knowing there was a place they could turn if it becomes too much.
Life can be stressful and overwhelming as we juggle the various responsibilities we have. Sometimes we lose sight of the journey God has for us. Have you lost sight of where God is taking you? When you make time for God you further your spiritual journey. How are you finding time for God in your life? What does that look like? Let's explore further what this means for each of us.
How to Make Time For God
Life is busy! There are multiple commitments and for some people they are running from one thing to the next. So how do we take time to find God in our lives with so much busyness? It seems to me that we have to be intentional about what we do and why we are doing it. It also means we have to find practical ways for us to connect with the divine.
Here are 5 practical ways to make time for God:
1. Assume God is Always With You - Thinking this way changes our perspective and our internal voice. Sometimes we put such high expectations on creating certain moments to heighten our spiritual senses that we miss the everyday divine spirit that walks with us. Incorporate your prayers, questions, and internal dialogue with God throughout the day and seek God in the actions that happen around you and the people you meet.
2. Seek Silence - Find times to be quiet and void of the noise that surrounds us. These moments of quietness are essential to focus thoughts and senses on what is really happening within us and how God is speaking into it.
3. Use Apps/ Podcasts - There are apps and podcasts out there for everything. Maybe you want one to assist with meditation or one to help focus on some new spiritual thoughts. You can also find some to help prioritize your time.
4. Make time for a Spiritual Practice - Spiritual practices are specifically designed to help us focus ourselves on our own spirituality. Check out the spiritual practices I have blogged about already and see if one might fit you. It's about finding what helps you connect with the divine more.
5. Set Yourself Up - Reminding ourselves by putting things in place gives us a greater opportunity to create moments for us to heighten our focus. This may be setting your bible on your night stand, leaving your guitar in the living room, putting a scripture next to the TV, or hanging a cross from your rear view mirror. When we intentionally set ourselves up with reminders or easier access we will be more successful.
However you chose to make time for God just to start small. Set realistic, accessible goals for yourself that creates balance in your life. Going overboard on will only cause you to burn out and become unsuccessful in reaching your goals. I wish you the best as you make time to be with the divine on your faith journey.
Happy New Year! I hope all of you have started the first few weeks with an excitement for what may come this year.
This week evaluate your priorities and how much time you are making for God in your life.
Craig Hidy like the majority of ministers in Community of Christ is a bi-vocational, self sustaining ordained minister. He is a member of the Midlands Mission Center Emporia Team and an ordained Seventy. He and his family, live in Topeka, Kansas.
The mission of the Seventy
“After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Luke 10:1-3 NRSV
What is a Seventy?
The Seventy carry out missionary work for the church in close association with other missionary leaders. They represent Christ primarily as ministers of evangelism through witnessing, inviting, and church planting.
They especially proclaim and promote Jesus Christ’s invitation to faithful discipleship through vibrant witness, and train individuals and congregations in witness and invitation.
They particularly minister with seekers, individually and in groups, to share the gospel in relevant ways and to invite response.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.
c/o Midlands Mission Center
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Phone: (816) 221-4450
Copyright Midlands Mission Center 2020
Community of Christ
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Independence, Missouri 64050
Phone: (816) 833–1000 or (800) 825–2806