It happens to me all the time; I am sure you have noticed it, too. I look something up online, a minor fact, a home remedy, a type of shoes, and then within seconds, not only do I have the answer, but I have ads running along the side of my screen for products related to my search. Sometimes this is amazing, sometimes a little annoying, or even spooky, how advertisers can follow us now. Sometimes it is inspirational.
Because people search for God online, too. In an era when fewer and fewer of us go to church, and more and more of us belong to no religion, we are still wondering: does God love me? Does God even exist? Why do we suffer? What happens when we die? And when we wonder these things, we do the same thing we do when we wonder who wrote the song 'Red, Red Wine' - we Google it.
And when we do, who answers these questions, and who runs ads along the side of our screen after that? Who is advertising God to us? Whoever it is, they are not from the Episcopal Church. Or, as far as I can see, from any other mainline denomination. Why is this? Why are we not online, reaching out to those who are asking questions right now, today, about things we have some answers to. Why aren't those of us want to share the love of God connecting directly with those who are telling us they need it?
Luckily, there are those who are starting to answer these questions. I had the opportunity to meet the Rev. Jake Dell a few weeks ago. He is the Manager of Digital Marketing and Advertising Sales for the Episcopal Church, and he is working on a plan to connect digital evangelists with digital searchers, all throughout the church and beyond. He is conducting research about how this is done and how the church can be more effective in reaching the millions of people who have questions about God, religion, and the church.
To say I am excited about this is an extreme understatement. With so many congregations seeking to reach new members, with so many people in the world who think 'close-minded' and 'judgmental' when they think of Christians, I rejoice at the opportunity to connect the faith I know with the seekers who actually exist, when they are actually seeking.
Next week begins the Episcopal Church's triennial General Convention in Salt Lake City, and deputies from across the church will vote on legislation in all areas of church life. There is a resolution among them called Conducting an Online Digital Evangelism Test, which will grant money and support to expanding the efforts that Jake has begun. I am praying that it passes, because I see this as one of the most important evangelical opportunities the Episcopal Church has had in a long time.
Others have blogged and explained their support for this work in much more detail, but I feel I must add my voice to it, too. I spend so much of my own ministry talking about how the church is changing, how God is calling us into the future, and people often ask me where and how I see this. Here is an example of it, of the church actually changing. I give thanks to God for it.