Where exactly does your Unity community end? Is there even a geographic (or theological) boundary to your “congregation” anymore? Between new technology, New Thought going mainstream, and the 19+ million folks who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” the answer may surprise you. And it doesn’t matter if you’re leading a brick and mortar church or an alternative ministry.
For some, “technology” has replaced “tithing” as the “T” word that makes you queasy. To quote some biblical wisdom: “Be ye not afraid!”
Let’s say you’re a church community with weekly services. You may preserve your talks on CD or DVD (old school), livestream through online platforms like YouTube or Facebook, host an interactive website with inspiring content and a prominent online donation button, share on-demand audio (mp3) and video online, or maybe your Sunday messages are broadcast on a streaming television channel like New Thought Channel, where Howard Caesar, Wendy Craig-Purcell, Ogun Holder, and Cynthia Alice Anderson can be watched on demand by couch-surfers worldwide.
Or, as an alternative ministry, you may use technology to record a podcast, share uplifting thoughts through your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook page, upload videos on your YouTube channel, provide livestreaming or recorded webinars, or be developing your own original television series, like Temple Hayes’ The Intentional Spirit, Jeniffer Hutchins’ The Art of You, and Darrell Fusaro and Ed Biagiotti’s The Funniest Thing with Darrell and Ed.
Today (to modify a phrase from Madonna), we are living in a visual world. People want sensory immersion; they want to fully experience you and your passion and your message. These marvelous tech opportunities make this possible—and they all share two attributes:
- They expand your outreach globally to those whose butts aren’t in your seats, for whatever reason, and
- They give your local community greater and repeated weekly exposure to your messages and Unity principles, even if they don’t currently consider themselves Unitics.
The internet has made reaching like-minded locals much easier than 15 years ago when Unity Church of the Cumberlands, Cookeville, Tenn., bought a new church building and wondered how to expand their core congregation beyond the 15-25 regular Unity adherents.
Their new digs on a main thoroughfare included a tall marquee sign. Back then, churches couldn’t rent the Daily Word mailing list. So I recommended using the sign to announce they were “The Church of the Daily Word magazine.” This drew in a new group of local subscribers, many of whom had never connected their beloved daily inspirational with Unity. Today, the church has a vibrant fellowship, a dynamic branded website, a strong Facebook presence, and events featured on local websites.
Rev Pat Williamson at Unity Minneapolis, Minn. pointed out in an article that, while his live “studio” audience consists of fewer people in the sanctuary, the number reached by his weekly lessons has grown tremendously since they began live streaming their services. As an introvert surrounded by people all week long, I can fully understand the attraction of solitary viewing. Livestreaming attracts people who are available when your weekly services take place. It can also help build satellite churches, as Unity of Richmond, Va., has done with Unity of the Rappahannock.
Yet livestreaming still creates an artificial border between us and those who want to see and hear us, without having to tune in at a particular date and time. Until technology figures out how to DVR livestreaming, you can always store videos so people can watch on demand, the same way they watch movies and their favorite TV shows. (Some folks even binge watch their favorite Unity speakers!) I recommend using a video hosting site like Vimeo or YouTube, since storing videos long-term on your website will congest your bandwidth.
The growth of “Smart TV” also gives you the option of streaming direct from Vimeo and YouTube through your television. To give viewers a stellar big screen experience, upload your videos in the highest resolution (1080p HD or 4K) available. Offering a pixelated viewing experience is a quick way to get folks to change the channel!
The final step: Make sure your content is easily accessible, even if viewers are not already familiar with you. Sure, someone thoroughly moved by your talk may be guided to share your video in a way that it goes viral and your view count skyrockets. However, if winning the social media lottery doesn’t happen, your brilliant insights touch far fewer hearts.
To reach more viewers, find a way to mix and mingle with others who are offering up related inspiration. There’s a reason Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) offers viewers hundreds of inspirational speakers like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, and Steve Harvey (yes, the comedian; who is also a big New Thought advocate, for the record).
Access: A Click Away
If you’ve got the chops to take your ministry to the next level, prepare and submit an audition video for New Thought Channel so new people can discover you and your message. Word of mouth spreads quicker the more places people can find you. And in the oddest ways possible.
For example, 85-year-old Ida regularly attends CSL (Centers for Spiritual Living) Seattle. She wrote recently to share her gratitude that she can catch her beloved Rev Kathianne Lewis on the New Thought Channel if anything interferes with her ability to travel to church. After watching Kathianne’s latest episode, she clicked on the CSL Santa Rosa “show” and wanted me to know she had also fallen in love with Rev Edward Viljoen!
Another viewer from Fairhope, Ala., called me Monday morning. She was having a problem with her subscription and was really hoping to watch Temple Hayes’ most recent Sunday talk, “Yes, Is the Beginning.” She’d been at her local CSL center Sunday, but likes watching other talks throughout the week to stay centered.
Have you ever heard the same thing 10,000 different ways, and then one day, one person says it in a way that completely clicks with you and transforms your life? No matter which spiritual path people follow, be it New Thought or the broader “spiritual but not religious” realm, what you have to say matters–and your words are only as powerful as your reach.
Most folks who watch talks from Michael Bernard Beckwith, Howard Caesar, and Roger Teel don’t live near those churches, but they want to experience being in their presence. They want to experience these message as if they are there in person. When people hear about you from a loved one, or visit your church from afar, they want to have that experience again.
Reaching Your Backyard
Now that I’ve got you visioning on a global scale, I want to bring you back to the microcosm of your own backyard. It’s time to remember that the lowest hanging fruit is the closest to you. It takes very little effort to reach local community members, yet we often forget to connect with our own neighbors to let them know what we offer–or that we’re even in their community. We might even declare that “there aren’t very many of us who think this way” in our area.
Remember the weekend I suggested that Unity Church of the Cumberlands change their sign? That Sunday was also “birthday Sunday.” Everyone in a leadership position at the church agreed to mention the church in conversations with three strangers before Sunday.
Saturday, when the assistant minister, Teny Rule Fisher, was buying the birthday cake, the cashier, Michelle, commented on the cake, so Teny mentioned it was birthday Sunday at the church. Turns out, Michelle had recently relocated from Scottsdale, where she had been caring for her father until his death. Her father had been active in the Scottsdale CSL and his birthday would have been Sunday. Invited to come celebrate him at church, Michelle did just that–and wound up as the church organist for a number of years. We truly are all One–we just don’t always know how we’re connected!
Expand Your Offerings
Some churches have long shunned the idea of adding classes or hosting events that aren’t perfectly aligned with Unity principles. Being universal truths, however, these principles can be applied to everything from mommy/baby yoga classes, A Course in Miracles groups, and 12-step meetings, to visits from Buddhist monks, jazz concerts, and kirtans.
Tyler Unity Center of Practical Christianity, Texas, and Unity Living Water Spiritual Community in Arvada, Colo., both fill their buildings every day–all day long–with vibrant community events that aren’t necessarily “Unity” events. Some visitors eventually show up Sunday mornings, others never do–and it’s time we stop giving that fact any meaning.
We’ve often used “members” as a benchmark to gauge the size of our community. The truth is, your community is larger than you can possibly imagine. I encourage you to start counting every person who interacts in any way with your church as part of your community.
While 25 years have passed, I still clearly remember my shift from merely reading Catherine Ponder books and being a “penpal tither” from home, to eventually making the 45-minute drive up the Chesapeake shoreline and walking through the doors at Unity by the Bay Annapolis in Maryland.
Back then, I would have considered myself part of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd. Basically, I didn’t “do church.” If not for Dr Ponder’s books, Unity would have remained unknown to me.
Today, a growing number of folks get inspirational content from audio books, podcasts, or videos rather than bound pages of a traditional book. Many of them, like me, unknowingly live Unity principles, and never find their way to a church. The moment I walked through the door, I knew I had found what I didn’t even know I was missing. I’m the person in your neighborhood who is longing to discover you. How are you going to make yourself accessible to me today?
“Keeping Up with Changes” by Rev Pat Williamson