Interview: New Media, New Epistle
Reginald Bachus ’09 M.Div works along two contemporary horizons, addressing two contemporary challenges – faith and technology. He is pastor of the Mt. Ollie Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY, and is also a partner in www.stayingprayedup.com, a new business that helps religious organizations upload videos and audio files online to extend their ministries worldwide. See more at ReggieBachus.com.
REFLECTIONS: How did you decide on this combination of church and business ministry?
BACHUS: Iseesocietyrapidlychanging.Untilrecently, many churches treated websites only as a means to have an online presence, not an online ministry. But there’s been a recent shift. Churches are providing more online spiritual resources and supports. This change is reflected in the marketing world, which is far more interactive through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. It’s a new attitude about constituents. So we help churches broadcast weekly services and Bible studies, provide on-demand videos, and social media integration. One goal is to reconnect youth and young adults to church by using social media. If you don’t have a megachurch or can’t afford a TV ministry, then this gives you a low-cost option. All you need is a camera, a computer, and inter- net access to launch a broadcast. In September we launched at the National Baptist Convention’s annual meeting; forty-five churches signed up.
REFLECTIONS: Are some ministers intimidated by this?
BACHUS: When I talk to older pastors, they worry that people will stay home – stream the broadcast but never join church. There are other ways to interact with members and others online besides broadcasting the sermon, but no online experience will ever take the place of being physically present. Nevertheless, we’re living now in an entirely different world. The U.S. Postal Service has drastically curtailed services because of more efficient online options. Today newspapers are delivered to email inboxes and apps instead of front doors. The culture’s mediums for receiving information are changing; we can choose to be behind the curve or ahead of it.
REFLECTIONS: You are heavily involved in online services at your church.
BACHUS: It allows me to bring a message that resonates with people who won’t normally go to church or who have become discontent with church. They are hungry spiritually. I get a lot of inbox messages, people saying they want to grow spiritually but simply don’t know how or where to start. The state of the world – the economic turmoil, political upheaval, natural disasters – is shaking people to the core. They’re telling me they put their hopes in material things and people who have let them down. They want to be fed with something more. So our online teachings, the short video messages I make, allow me to be present with people, teaching, and preaching. I consider it the modern-day epistle. In Corinth, Paul struggled to get his message communicated and the response he desired when he wasn’t present, because we are a visual people.
REFLECTIONS: Once you reach people online, how do you nurture their faith?
BACHUS: That’s the issue – follow-up. How to follow up with people who see the broadcasts and are touched by them? One local way is to create faith partnerships, friends who help each other grow spiritually, hold each other accountable and join our cyber church. Another vision is to create city-to-city crusades, support groups, or Bible studies where there are high concentrations of cyber members. If thirty people in one town are commenting on broad- casts or sermons on Facebook, it could be possible to set up live video feeds with them and lead a Bible lesson. Another possibility is online resources for personal growth, the model of Jonathan Edwards’ daily resolutions – encouraging people to start a spiritual journal and monitor their prayer life on an online platform.
REFLECTIONS: Do you see God behind the media revolution?
BACHUS: I look at it as an extension of creation and the fall of humankind where now it’s about choice. In Genesis 1:31 God said creation was “very good,” but we are faced with the choice of using technology for good to advance the Gospel, or evil purposes that pervert its purity. The Gutenberg press and its contributions to the Reformation provide a good case study. Print gave people the keys to study and express their own faith and advance the Gospel. That’s what new media is offering too – a way to express, shape, and deepen people’s faith.
REFLECTIONS: Does the future look like a radical place?
BACHUS: Some people in the tech world think the church is headed toward hologram technology and the para-church model, making it possible for people to gather at church and see an image of the pastor there with them. I think that flirts with the danger line, because a key element of pastoring is personal presence.