Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Meeting People WHEN They Are

The Need for Diversity in Church Programming

In 1980, Dolly Parton released the hit song 9 to 5. It became a classic, inspiring a movie and a Broadway show. The song and its title reflected a paradigm in the American work culture that has been radically altered over the past 35 years. Changes in technology have profoundly impacted the typical American work week, affecting everything from transportation to office equipment to employee environments. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 21 million U.S. salaried employees currently work outside a traditional Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., schedule. For many of these workers, regularly attending church is simply impossible. Hospital personnel, first responders, shift workers and bivocational individuals often work or sleep during the traditional service times offered by many churches.

In 2014, Southside adopted the 2020 Vision which included a call to diversify ministry in an effort to reach the people of Jacksonville. Just as Jesus made himself accessible by entering our reality, the church must continue to enter the modern world in ways that make the gospel accessible to everyone, regardless of history, language, ethnicity, and even work schedules.

As a result of this call to diversify, Southside recently consolidated two Sunday morning worship gatherings then developed a mid-week experience called TABLES. The concept is fairly simple: a ministry environment couched between Monday and Friday where both individuals and families can GATHER to worship God, GROW in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, and from which they can be sent out to GO in the power of the Holy Spirit. After a family-style meal, children proceed to various age-appropriate classes while adults gathering for worship beginning at 6:30 p.m., in the Maguire Fellowship Center. This time of music, prayer and praise is followed by a small group discussion shared around the table, allowing any adult unable to attend worship or groups Sunday morning an opportunity to experience both on a Wednesday evening. Meanwhile, children can participate in AWANA Clubs, middle school and high school environments where students take part in their own age-appropriate worship experience.

In addition to these great weekday ministries, Southside also provides dinner at no cost, starting at 5:30 p.m., for individuals making reservations by noon on Mondays. This allows families to arrive directly from work or school and still eat together as a family. While there is no set fee for dinner, individuals are given an opportunity to give an offering to help offset the cost of the food.

Another way we are working to make Southside’s ministry more accessible is our use of technology. Currently, progress is being made to upgrade the live video stream of our Sunday morning worship experience. A new HD camera, supporting computer and online streaming service have been employed to allow individuals to log in through our website and watch a Sunday worship gathering. These services are also archived so people can watch at their convenience or share messages with friends. In addition to video streaming, we continue to make the Sunday morning sermon available through the church’s podcast and accessed through or iTunes.

Later this year we will introduce a new website for church members called Think of this site as a “virtual campus” for SSBC. The site will allow members to access small groups, register to attend events, volunteer, support the church financially, check personal giving records, view the church calendar, and much, much more. Look for more information in the coming months.

Already we are seeing people engage with the ministries of SSBC in ways that were not possible just a few years ago. Each week members who are physically unable to reach our San Marco campus are now able to log in through our website and participate virtually. On average, more than 50 people download the podcast of any given Sunday sermon. Almost 20 percent of our giving is now done online, and approximately 90 percent of first time guests have already checked us out online before stepping through our doors.

The mile markers described in this article are only the beginning of our journey of meeting people when and where they are. As we strive to remove every barrier to the Gospel the need for additional worship gatherings at alternate times may become a next step. We may discover the need for online small groups where people can log in from their computers or devices from anywhere in the world. Investment in new technologies that we can’t even imagine right now may be absolutely necessary in the months and years ahead.

Jesus met people where they were … the woman drawing water from the well, the lame man sitting by the pool, Zacchaeus in a tree, of all places. But He also met people WHEN they were … a woman grabbing his robe on a crowded street, a widow on her way to attend her son’s funeral, fishermen rowing into shore after a disappointing night on the water. If we hope to reflect the life and ministry of Jesus, it is imperative that we meet people when and where they are. While 9 to 5 may have been a great song, it is no way to do ministry.

What ideas do you have? How can you help us increase the reach of the gospel through technology and innovative thinking? Send me an e-mail at