Tag Archives: grabill

Just like when we started – a social media reflection

new building GMC in 1917Grabill Missionary Church started more than one hundred years ago.

Here’s how it happened.

In 1898, a bunch of like-minded people were meeting in small groups in fifteen church buildings and school houses, all served by a couple brothers who were preachers, all within a circle about 12 miles across. Some of the places had preaching services, some of them had Sunday school.

Some of the people in these small gatherings came from other churches, responding to a new (for them) understanding of what the Bible taught. Others came from no church at all. There was great excitement about the new things God was doing, and some resistance from those who had learned the old way.

In 1900, the railroad decided to build a town and the spreadout groups started talking about a central location.  In November, 1901, a church building was dedicated. In January, 1902, the first train went by. In February, 1902, the first plat of the town was filed.

At the time, people from the congregation saw each other all the time. They lived within walking distance. They shopped from each other, traded goods, chatted while at the post office or hardware store. They lived local.

Much of the conversation was, I’m guessing, pretty mundane. People talked about weather and sick animals. They mentioned that they needed to get some work done. They mentioned coffee.

This mundane conversation was, however, the fabric of community. You can’t talk about deep spiritual concepts all the time. Sometimes you just talk. And in that chatter grows connection and in that connection can grow faith. Particularly when you watch what happens in a life across time, how a person handles crisis.

Community is formed in communication and communion, interaction and intimacy. The more of both, the deeper the relationships.

In churches, that kind of interaction doesn’t happen easily anymore, at least not for large parts of a congregation. The technology of the car has made it possible to travel further to church, to shop, to eat, to live. A community is less defined by geography.

Churches, at least wise ones, respond by creating additional times of interaction. We create small groups or Sunday school classes where people can share life together. Or that’s what we hope. And sometimes people are aware of what is happening in each other’s lives daily, and sometimes not.

And for a long time, no one has known any better. We’ve known that more communication and communion would be nice, that our sense of community was suffering, but we figured that we were like the rest of American culture, feeling the disconnection that comes from distances.

And then came a new set of communication tools. They are simple enough for almost anyone to use. They are cheap enough for almost anyone to afford (as cheap as a free library card if necessary). We call them social media. We could call them “small town streets”

Just like people were able to chat with each other while heading to the store or waiting at the mill or taking the milk to the creamery, people now can chat while sitting at home. And some of the conversations sound the same, about weather or work or coffee. Or the neighbor’s odd behavior at midnight every night.

At first, only one or two people in a congregation knew about these tools. The first person to talk about Twitter or Facebook or Myspace was viewed as peculiar. When it was explained that this was an Internet thing, all the stories about bad people lurking in chat rooms to injure children were mentioned.

A funny thing has happened, however. More people are becoming aware of these tools. Parents and then grandparents discover new ways to see pictures of the trips that their children or grandchildren are taking. And then conversations like this happen as a small group from a church gets together.

A: “How was that phone call this afternoon?”

B: “It was great. He’s doing well.”

A. had heard about the phone call from looking at B’s facebook status.

To look at social media as a new evangelism tool, just like broadcasting was viewed, misses one of the core values of social media: transparent interaction. Rather than thinking of social media (facebook, twitter, myspace, youtube, blogs, flickr) as a new broadcasting tool, churches are probably wisest to think of it as a way to live life together away from Sunday morning, to live in the community as a community, like churches that make a difference usually do.

There are some cautionary notes, however.

  • We can’t fall into believing that this way is the best way, that people not on Facebook are somehow missing out. In fact, congregations using social media have to be more aware than ever of the need to be redundant, to provide key information in as many forms as possible, to foster communication and communion wherever possible.
  • We have to remember that what is online is a search away. I have chuckled sadly at the times I have read online comments about how to reach people on the Internet, how to convert “lost people.” There has been a complete lack of understanding that those “lost people” can read what is being said about them.
  • Social media is a place where the new is addictive. I spend time bouncing from platform to platform wondering if there is something new, if someone said something that I need to respond to. This fear of missing out (FOMO) is an addiction of sorts. Of course, people probably spent too much time chatting in front of Grabill Hardware, too. But no one ever thought the answer was to tear the porch off.

Technology is not relationship. Jesus did not talk about technologies, he talked about people. However, it the technology allows more frequent interaction, even about the details of life, then maybe we can build the same kind of community that happened in the early days of our congregation.


For more on online/offline as a difference on tools rather than a difference between real life/fake life, see Liz Strauss’s wonderful post Online Culture: is your definition out of date?.

For history on Grabill, Indiana see Grabill.net.

Grabill Missionary Church is on facebook at www.facebook.com/grabillmissionary.


Where would Jesus sit for the parade

I work in a small town, if work is what pastors do. It’s Saturday morning, 10:30. I’m sitting at my desk, feet up, typing. This.

My window looks out on the main street into town. Most days I see cars, Amish buggies, trucks, and the occasional fire engine. At this moment, I’m watching the Leo High School marching band. It’s the Grabill Country Fair Parade.

I’m supposed to be working on a sermon for tomorrow morning. I don’t preach very often here, which is probably good for everyone. I’m pretty unstructured, pretty story focused. It’s helpful and thought-provoking…in small doses.

I’m trying to understand for tomorrow what it means to be a disciple. An everyday disciple.

The cashiers from the grocery store are walking by. Tiffany is one of the managers. She attends here. She’s a disciple. She’s working hard to take what she knows about Jesus and live it in a life that has been challenging.

I wonder whether I should be out there, talking with people, listening to people. Isn’t that what Jesus would be doing? Instead of sitting in here, I mean?

I mean, we’d make him the Grand Marshall, instead of the Turner Cup champion Fort Wayne Komets. Minor league hockey is cool, but a guy who walks on water? Maybe he’d take the parade across the reservoir. Of course, the last parade he was in ended very badly.

Instead, right now, there’s a big gap in the parade. Something must be coming, but I can’t see it.

Or maybe Jesus wouldn’t be the Grand Marshall. Maybe he would have been walking along the route campaigning.  “Jesus for Senate,” the buttons would say. There would be flyers and promises…and cynicism.

He probably wouldn’t be driving the old tractor pulling an even older harvesting machine. Unless he were talking about sowing and reaping.

It’s possible that he’d be riding as an honorary citizen. The ones that just went by? He’s been the bank president for a long time and just retired. He’s been pretty committed to being low key. When I think of him, I don’t think of bank assets. I think of a guy who wants to spend more time teaching  and understanding the next step of following Jesus.

Jesus might have been walking along the parade route just talking with people. Paul, for example, has known Jesus for a long time. They are personal friends. But last week Paul found out that the spot on his pancreas is cancer. Patrick Swayze got a standing ovation last night on TV and is making progress with his cancer. Paul probably won’t be on TV, probably won’t get the ovation, probably won’t get much treatment…he’s been through so much that there aren’t many options. I’m guessing that Jesus would spend a little time with Paul. Would He touch him? Would that touch be full of the healing that chemo can only dream of? Or would it be the touch of a friend that says, “no matter what, I’m here.”

People are wandering away. I think the parade may be almost done. I need to go unlock the gym so that people can come and look at the pumpkins and the photographs and the huge sunflower and the quilts. I’m hoping that the smell of the overripe cantaloupe is gone by morning when I’m preaching.

Ah wait. There are the little gymnasts, the ones who are about three feet tall, with mothers and dads who think they are incredibly cute, who are trying to figure out how to keep up. They are about as far from Beijing as I am…but they have an audience. They are loved. They get to wave. And Jesus said that they mattered, that to understand the Kingdom of heaven, we had to look at, become like, those little scouts and twirlers and tumblers who have no clue what a straight line is, who don’t know how to march in a parade. How could they be the standard. They can’t do anything for themselves.

And the float from the Cedars. Most of us would call the people on that float “the old people. ” They live in a retirement center. They’ve done what they are supposed to do in life already. That’s why we keep them there. Except, there’s something about the eyes of the driver. They look familiar.

There is the float that says “Need Help? Burn TV. Read the Bible.” It’s covered with verses about sin. I look at it and think, “That can’t be where Jesus is sitting.” But that’s a pretty critical thing for me to decide. Especially since He said some of those things.

I unlocked the door, but the parade is still going. We don’t have public restrooms, I understand from the past, but I decided to not worry about the restriction. “What happened. Oh. The church wouldn’t let you? Oh.”

I’ve got to get busy on that sermon. About following Jesus. About listening to Him and talking with Him and learning how to live my life as if He were.

I wonder where to start.


So today is my first full day in my new position.

(I actually started yesterday and, as my first official action, took care of locking the doors and turning off the sound system at the end of the evening.  It showed the interesting and odd and fun nature of working in a church: on the first day you are trusted with locking up the facility.)

As I walked into the office today, there was no schedule. My position is still in the process of being formed. I needed to talk with a couple people about what they do, but they weren’t available until the afternoon. I’m starting to get to know people. I’m figuring out coffee and microwave and forms and … culture.

That’s the challenge of walking into someplace new. What is the culture? This is particularly true if you care at all about relationship or if what you are about IS relationship. What are the expectations? What are the boundaries? What are the things one never does? What are the things one always does? What kind of questions can you ask? What kinds of questions must never be asked? How much permission do you have to push back on ideas, on traditions, on how it’s always been done?

Complicating this search for many of us who start new positions is our background. We may have learned some lessons in our previous position about our own weaknesses, vulnerabilities, strengths, delights. We may walk in the door thinking, “I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying ‘I’ll do that’ to everything again.” And then we are quickly presented with the opportunity to have our identity be rooted in what we do, what we are willing to do, how we can prove our value to the organization.

Why is this process all so challenging for me this time? Why is a person who has started new jobs many times being so reflective about the process of starting a new job?

Because my new position is, at its core, about helping people become more like Jesus.  And any process of growth or transformation or change which involves human beings must start be understanding who and how and where they are. Yes, you can tell people they have to change, but that often doesn’t work. What works far more permanently is starting with where people are, what they know, how they value, and then describing and explaining and modeling and living whatever the transformational process is.

And so I need to be mindful (and heartful) in this time of learning and listening and attending.  I need to watch and pray. I need to be cautious of how often I say, “At ___ we did it this way.” I need to remember that my job is not making anyone better or like another church or more or less businesslike. My job is to help people become more like Jesus.

And looking in the mirror, that’s a challenging process to be in.