I love innovation.
I’m especially a fan of churches that pilot new methods for outreach and seek creative ways to reach people with the Gospel message.
If you’ve been an Adventist for a while, you probably know that Pioneer Memorial Church (PMC) on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI has been on the cutting edge of many such efforts in years past. Net ’98 is still fondly remembered by many and still miss seeing Pastor Dwight with that killer mustache.
However, as is the case with most things, life goes on and pastors shave, but the world in 2016 is not the same world that existed back in 1998. Not only has technology advanced by leaps and bounds, but society itself has shifted in deep and profound ways. Not too long ago, I became aware of a new initiative from the team at PMC.
The 9-nights of October 14-22 will see a new nationwide, online event entitled “#HopeTending: A Crash Course on How to Live Without Fear”. Here’s the 3-minute idea of this series:
It might not seem like much to some, but behind the surface-level appearance of yet another syndicated evangelistic event lies a prophetic-level amount of innovation that I think will make us examine how we do public evangelism (or at least I hope so). This series is specifically targeted to reach the secularized Western culture.
In no particular order, here are the top five reason you need to keep your eye on PMC’s new evangelistic series: #HopeTrending.
- It’s short.
Some people are shy about saying that the days of the traditional 6-week evangelistic series are numbered.
Not me. The writing is on the wall.
I’m sure that even in reading that, somebody probably whispered to themselves “heresy,” but hear me out. Time and time again, I’ve heard from administrators, pastors, and local church leaders alike that asking people to commit to a 3-hour block of time for 5-7 nights a week for a month (the standard time commitment to run a full-scale traditional public evangelistic series) or more is simply too much. It doesn’t make it any better when members and church leaders question your commitment to evangelism or level of spirituality by even suggesting this.
Name any other activity in 2016 that requires as much time. I can only think of sleep, work, and study (and even then, sleep is about the only thing most people love, so you’re looking at a 33% success rate). Usually, the only folks who have that amount of free time during school nights are retirees, empty-nesters, church employees required to be at these events, and those who have been asked to have a part in the program and people who have really nothing else to do.
In contrast, #HopeTrending is a short, 9-night, 60-minute program from start to finish and hosted by David Franklin. Its format is Apple-level simple:
- A 20 minute TED-style talk by Dwight Nelson
- A 20 minute live panel moderated by Ty Gibson
- The other 20 minutes are allocated to the opening and closing segments that transition to and from the “watch parties” (more on that later).
I’m sure that someone could argue that even getting unchurched people to commit 9-consecutive nights is a challenge (which is a fair point), yet you have to start somewhere. It definitely beats the 28-night marathon.
- It’s highly interactive.
One of the biggest challenges that faced the on-location satellite evangelistic series of the past was that they weren’t very interactive. Unless you were physically at the event, you really couldn’t connect to the action on stage. And even if you were at the venue live, there was a tightly coordinated program which turned most attendees into mere spectators rather than participants.
This is where #HopeTrending starts to break away from the pack.
Speaking with Rodlie Ortiz, PMC’s Evangelism Pastor, he shared his ambitious vision of leveraging a staggering amount of technologies to make this series arguably one of the most interactive Net events ever. Here’s an idea of what’s in store:
- The event will be streamed through Facebook Live.
- Simultaneous translation into Spanish through Ezperanza TV’s crew, if needed locally.
- Anyone can ask questions live, or leading up to each night by using #HopeTrending on social media (that’s a hashtag, by the way; Google it).
- The live panel after each talk will answer questions taken directly from this pool on social media.
- The team has a goal of answering every question that comes in either live or on social media (although I imagine that they might not answer those inevitable troll-level questions like, “What did you eat for breakfast, Dwight?”)
- It’s relational.
In the past, the majority of public evangelism’s advertisement budgets were poured into handbills, posters, mailers, billboards, television/radio spots, and other similar initiatives which basically outsourced all relational interaction to paid professionals and impersonal pieces of media. Instead of TMI, people ended up with TMI; what I mean by that is that “Total Member Involvement” ended up really giving people “Too Much Information.”
Who came up with that TMI acronym at GC?
#HopeTrending utilizes the gifts and talents of every believer. No matter if you are an on-stage or behind the scenes personality, there is a way for everyone to contribute. The “watch parties” in the series are kept purposefully small so that everyone can feel more open in sharing their thoughts. Group leaders will even receive a handout for each night with a list of questions that they can ask their group so that the small group discussion minutes aren’t awkwardly spent in silence waiting for someone to speak up and lead a discussion.
- It’s non-threatening.
Dwight touched on one of the biggest realities that the church has yet to come to grips with: unchurched people have a hard time simply walking into a religious building for an overtly religious meeting. It doesn’t matter if we rent out a big auditorium either. There are already churches that meet in them… they’re called mega churches.
You know what’s easier? Inviting someone over to your house.
The biggest hurdle that most Christians will have to get over is their own insecurities at facing the social stigma of being labeled as “weird” for inviting others over for an event that is in any way religious. Dr. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay research and author of The Unchurched Next Door, found the following statistics:
“Only two percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church. Ninety-eighty percent of church-goers never extend an invitation in a given year.”
“A study including more than 15,000 adults revealed that about two-thirds are willing to receive information about a local church from a family member and 56 percent from a friend or neighbor. The message is clear that the unchurched are open to conversations about church.
The top “rational” reason adults seldom or never attend church is they don’t agree with organized religion or what they preach (24 percent).
“The issue of affinity also surfaced in the responses. Thirty–five percent indicated that they would be inspired to attend church ‘if I knew there were people like me there.’”
Full disclosure, that’s always been my biggest struggle too. I don’t want to be perceived as a religious kook.
Now, this doesn’t excuse people who use bait and switch tactics or “in your face” fire and brimstone proselytizing, but hear what he’s saying. Inviting someone to your home is as non-threatening as it gets… especially if you have food (hint, hint).
- It’s intentionally discipleship-driven.
This final point has been a challenge for pastors and evangelists for years. David Asscherick, evangelist and pastor of Kingscliff SDA church in Australia, shared some thoughts on the matter in a great article on the Lightbearers website. He says:
Here’s a confession: I spent years as a full-time evangelist (that’s not the confession part) bemoaning (here’s the confession part) the failure of many local churches to really disciple and grow their newly-baptized members who had been won through the series I (or some other evangelist) had just held.
The funny (and sad!) thing is that I’ve heard pastor after pastor complain that, really, it’s the evangelist’s fault that newly-baptized people don’t stick around. “They were baptized too soon.” “They weren’t adequately prepared.” “They should’ve been cleared more thoroughly.” And on and on.
So the evangelists blame the churches and pastors and the pastors blame the evangelists. I’ve seen this sequence dozens of times and heard it repeated by others (on both sides) more times than I care to remember.
Why do we fight? Here’s the reality that he brought up: It’s impossible to fully disciple someone in four to six weeks.
Discipleship, at its core, is growing Christians to live like Jesus did – and that takes time. Consider this statement: “Even Jesus, who was God incarnate, limited Himself to 12 primary disciples.”
Brainstorming on some solutions, David writes:
So what’s the solution? The answer, I believe, is to create a culture of discipleship in the local church. For most churches, this will involve a complete reorientation of the church’s status quo. It centers on small groups and social connections. It prioritizes relationships and time, not just inspiring Sabbath-morning sermons and fiery short-term evangelistic meetings.
What #HopeTrending does is actually begin to instill a discipleship network of small groups within the church as the series is taking place. Afterwards, the series is going to suggest that the small group that met for those 9 nights continue meeting weekly to study some recommended resources. One of them is the TruthLink Bible study series, which I highly recommend.
Please note that #HopeTrending is not a silver bullet. I’ve been a member and a pastor long enough to see many initiatives promising to be the “next big thing” come and go. What this series does, however, is challenge conventional wisdom by being willing to invest heavy evangelism funds in something other than what has always been done in the past. I plan on supporting this effort and learn from this first go.
I hope you’ll catch the vision and join me.