A group of brave initiators are gathering at Saint John’s Downtown in Houston to take part in a new seminar experience to learn how congregational ministry and technology-centered culture intersect to create viral faith communities. With a joint effort of Discipleship Ministries and BrokenBuilders UMC in Manhattan, NY, Saint John’s Downtown is the perfect place to launch a new effort to equip United Methodist leaders for the future.
Saint John’s Downtown re-imagined the future over 20 years ago when Rudy Rasmus and Juanita Rasmus became co-pastors of a dying downtown church in Houston. Now it is a flourishing congregation with thousands of people who are touched every day by its ministry of love and grace. Using the social media of its time, it quickly learned how to connect with its neighborhood by offering homeless residents in the area the chance to have their own email account. This focus on tying the needs of the community to the use of digital media has kept Saint John’s on the forefront of creating congregations that connect with its community.
So what is a viral faith community? It is a synthesis of face-to-face interaction infused by digital media that creates a dynamic faith community that provides 24/7 connections with the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. With these connections, new relationships are constantly created and developed for the faith community to grow organically and replicate its impacts rapidly and effectively.
BrokenBuilders UMC in New York City was birthed as a new United Methodist Church in Manhattan, NY seven years ago. Paul Moon, the founding pastor, tells the story of how one Friday evening he was walking in the streets of New York where throngs of young people were gathering in restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores, theaters, and movie houses. He came upon a locked gate with a huge padlock. As he looked closer he realized it was a church. The only place closed to the young people in the area was the church and he was convicted and with his team he embarked on creating open environments where young people could gather in a safe place to explore community and faith. Rather than creating a program, the focus of BrokenBuilders was to create a viral faith community where those who were gathered could create spiritual experiences that spoke to them and to their friends. The role of the pastors and the congregational leaders was very simple: To pray and to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The focus of the three-day event is two-fold. First, it is to build cultural digital competency among pastors and congregational leaders so they become well versed in the use of social media sites like Google, Facebook, and Instagram. Second, it is to lift up key ideas and principles to enable participants to grasp the opportunities and the potential of their ministries as they create congregational mindsets that open them to creative ways to share their faith so they become part of the conversation in the lives of people who now live in a digital world.
Be sure to visit this new WordPress site to learn more about viral faith communities and to learn how you can participate in upcoming events. The next design school will be in Nashville on April 11 – 13, 2016.
Craig Kennet Miller is the Director of Congregational Development at Discipleship Ministries and author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age. He is one of the designers of the VFC Design School and will be a presenter at the experience.