In Mission Together Uses New Media to Connect People
I sent Patrick Friday an email, suggesting that we meet for breakfast in the cafeteria for a conversation about social media and mission. Patrick suggested, instead, we should chat, pray, and invite others to join us at a Google+ "hang out."
A couple of emails later, Patrick and I logged on to Google+ for our "hang out," a four-way videoconference with Patti Bacher in De Pere, Wisconsin, and Mi Rhang Baek in Madison, Alabama. We discussed the ways these United Methodist Church leaders have used social media to extend their global reach and maintain connections across country boundaries.
In our online conversation, Patrick, Patti, and Mi Rhang shared how social media has changed the way they do mission. In Mission Together (IMT), an international partnership program for United Methodist communities that support other churches through a 50/50 partnership covenant, has built the use of social media, like Facebook, Skype, or Google+, into the guidelines for church-to-church meetings.
Patti Bacher, director of ministries at New Hope United Methodist Church (Wisconsin) and Rev. Daniel Topalski, superintendent of the United Methodist Church in Ruse, Bulgaria, were the first church leaders Patrick heard of who had been using Skype, back in 2007.
Since 2008, New Hope and the Bulgarian UMC have shared worship and many conversations, as well as person-to-person cross-cultural exchanges. The Ruse Evangelical Methodist Church is located in a Bulgarian town about the same size as Green Bay, the largest city near New Hope. The experience of shared worship has surprised and impressed many churchgoers.
"I thought the church was the last place to accept technology. I've been Skyping with my child in Iraq but never thought I'd be Skyping at church," one New Hope church member told Patti.
Rev. Patrick Friday, the director of the In Mission Together program, admits that many churches are initially wary of using new media; however, he reassures, "If, in secular society, people can find their future husbands or wives over the internet, I feel it's safe to share prayers and church partnerships."
The two small churches in the US and Bulgaria worship together four times a year. The last time they met was for World Communion Sunday. The next time they will worship together is Christmas Eve at 5:00 pm in Bulgaria and 9:00 am in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, Pastor Daniel's sermon from Bulgaria will be shown on two large screens at the front of the sanctuary.
One of Patti's highlights during the shared worship experience is the moment when the two churches pause to share peace with one another and people in both churches approach the camera with casual greetings, blessings, and affections.
Patti sees the building of these interpersonal relationships through Skype as an antidote to the earlier mindsets of mission workers who traveled abroad, simply, "To build something or fix something." The shared Skyped worships have emphasized prayer, friendship, and equality in mission.
The two small churches "share Scripture and pray for each other. That's a classic Wesleyan small group," said Patrick, referring to John Wesley, Methodism's founder of 300 years ago. "Wesley was part of a new movement. He wanted revival, renewal, and he went outside the church. This movement spans boundaries, spans homes. Wesley would be proud."
In Mission Together Facebook Pages
For people on the social networking site, Facebook, Mi Rhang Baek, the newest member of the In Mission Together Partnership Coordinator team, who oversees Central Asia, reminds people to visit the In Mission Together Central Asia and Honduras pages.
On the Honduras page, one can join the fellowship begun with the gathering in October 2011, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, when nearly 100 people gathered with dozens of leaders of the Honduras Methodist Church to share Bible studies and fellowship.
"All day long, we'd pray, sing, inspire each other. In the past, you were totally dependent on travel for that experience, and that's very expensive," said Patrick. Just a few years ago, church leaders would have to decide who could go to Honduras or Bulgaria, how they could get the necessary visas. And once the mission teams returned home, how do the two churches stay connected? "You're choosing winners or losers. With this technology, you don't have to choose." Through new media, the question changes from, Who will be the lucky few people in mission who get to travel? to How can we get the whole church excited about mission?
"Go ahead and adapt to using new technology. It's almost a sin if you don't use it," Patrick said.
"Grace-filled" was how Mi Rhang described the time together on the Facebook In Mission Together Central Asia page. "Many people have commented through Facebook, so we can share our information and feelings and comments and feedback and our grace-filled, spiritual experiences."
One bit of advice when doing mission through Facebook, Patti suggests, is to keep the Google Translator feature available. "After all, I may be greeting friends in German, Lithuanian, Bulgarian, or Spanish."
Patrick agreed, "If you're going to have a 50/50 relationship, you need to spend half your time speaking in their language."
The Facebook page, according to Patrick, is like a never-ending mission fair, where participants don't have to pay money to travel, yet can share pictures, videos, comments, friendships, and prayers.
Sharing Good News
Patti said the news she shares and receives through connecting with In Mission Together friends on Facebook and Skype is inspiring. "It's a much brighter picture of the world than what's going on through our news. They're not so doom and gloom."
One news item Mi Rhang enjoyed through social media was the October 11, 2011, commissioning of ten new missionaries.
"If we are going to have the church grow and remain vibrant--because our children are online, we have to be there or we're going to lose them," Patti said.
Read the guidelines for the In Mission Together covenant and let it be a part of your discussions, in person or online. To include In Mission Together partners in your chat or simply to find out how you can be a part of this church growth and prayer partnership, email the director of In Mission Together or any of the coordinators:
Rev. Patrick Friday, Director
In Mission Together
Ms. Jacki Moen
Ms. Mi Rhang Baek
Eastern Europe & Balkans
Mr. Dick Arnold
Mr. Greg Gelzinnis
Ms. Jeanie Reimer
Rev. Herb Mather
Mr. David McLaurin
Rev. Tony Fuller
View the In Mission Together video from the 10-Fold Honduras consultation.