The technology people at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio are doing something right. Not only was their website (http://ginghamsburg.org/) one of the eight examples of “full-featured” church websites by the Faith Formation 2020 folks, their “Church CyberGuy,” Mark Stephenson (a.k.a. Ginghamsburg’s Director of CyberMinistry and Technology) has just come out with a new book called Web-Empowered Ministry: Connecting With People through Websites, Social Media, and More, which may just turn out to be the book on how to build an internet ministry (at least for the next few month’s or so). According to Stephenson, who started the Ginghamsburg CyberMinistry in 1996, “the website has thousands of pages and over 50 GB of streaming video,” and receives “over 50,000 user visits per month.” Clearly, they’re doing something right.
Obviously there’s a lot going on here. Since this site has thousands of pages, I’d like to lift up just one example of how Ginghamsburg is using the internet to connect people physically and virtually. This is from the fourth section of Faith Formation 2020: Designing the Future of Faith Formation, “Bringing Faith Formation 2020 Scenarios to Life”:
One example of this integrated approach to adult faith formation is “Bible with Brian” from Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio. Brian Brown, the teaching pastor at Ginghamsburg, teaches through the entire Bible in a year, including practical application on how to live out God’s truths everyday. Every Tuesday and Wednesday nights, “Bible with Brian” follows the book of the Bible featured in the daily Transformation Journal produced by the church. The journal is centered around a weekly topic and provides Bible verses about that topic, wisdom about the day’s study from authors, and questions to help people apply the reading to their daily life. The Bible study begins with a meal from 5:30-6:30 p.m. and then the program from 6:30-8 p.m. or 7-8:30 p.m. Children’s care and activities for birth through grade 5 are available. In addition to the gathered program, the program is available as an MP3 audio file so people can listen to it online or download it to their computer or mp3 player. Adults can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and listen to current and past episodes. Adults can download the “Bible with Brian” handout and use it to follow along with the audio broadcast of the program. People can also subscribe to the “Bible with Brian Spiritual Vitamins” newsletter—a daily take on the Transformation Journal from Brian Brown. (For more information go to http://ginghamsburg. org/biblewithbrian.)
This is a perfect example of augmenting face-to-face experiences in the church with online/digital media (podcasts, downloadable study guide, etc.), and vice versa. People who’ve never set foot on one of Ginghamsburg campuses can participate online with the same material. Note as well that these weekly events are 100% family friendly, with meals and childcare available for busy families.
So what’s the take away here? More and more congregations are already recording their sermons and making them available as podcasts. And many congregations are also doing some classes like Bible with Brian (on an admittedly smaller scale). What’s keeping us from recording those classes and making them available as podcasts, along with a downloadable handout of notes for the class and a bibliography? These are fairly simple things to do nowadays. And they may must be the sort of things we need to start doing in order to ensure that liberal religion survives (and maybe even thrives) in the coming decades.