Saugatuck Congregational Church finds new approach to learning about Jesus
Podcasts – digital audio episodes that users download for listening – are perhaps the fasting growing form of digital media in the modern era. There are over 2 million podcasts available online with 2000-3000 new "shows" launched each month. According to Edison Research, 32% of Americans have listened to a podcast in the last month, and more than half have listened at some point in their lives.
Michael Hendricks is a member of Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport, CT, and a podcast listener. He recently listened to Rob Bell's 11 episode series on Jesus, a subset of Bell's popular RobCast. Hendricks found the series challenged his understanding of "familiar" material.
"I was either learning background information that opened up familiar words in new ways, or benefitting from new questions being put to the text that I’d never thought to ask," said Hendricks.
He spoke to Saugatuck's Director of Children’s Ministries Dana Johnson who also found the episodes intriguing. The two started planning a small group listening program for adults at the church and presented the idea to Saugatuck's pastor the Rev. Alison Buttrick Patton.
"You want to ask people to sit quietly in a room and listen to a voice talk on a speaker for around an hour?” she responded.
Hendricks answered, "Well, yes."
Hendricks, Johnson, and Buttrick Patton decided the program could work with some planning. Drawing on experience running youth programs (They actually call the group "Youth Group for the Rest of Us") Hendricks listened to the series again and found some quotes that could be used to help people focus during listening sessions. They planned to provide lots of colored pencils and pages to color, giving listeners something to do while the podcast played. And they created a very clear process for sharing reactions after each session. Each listener would select a quote from the podcast, either one of the ones provided by Hendricks, or one they heard while listening. After a listening session, each participant would share a quote and a reason why they chose it. And nobody would comment on these choices.
Hendricks was clear on why they limited reactions to these choices:
"In discussions, whether with young people or adults, I’ve found that some people are more comfortable speaking than others. If people think that somebody’s going to comment on what they say, they might not say the same thing or they might not share at all. Just as important, if you encourage comments, I’ve found that people listen differently."
The process worked. Even without expanding discussion, the group covered a lot of content.
"Who knew that adults would respond to an invitation to gather, 'just' to sit and listen to a podcast - for an hour!" said Buttrick Patton. "Turns out, we've had a full circle of participants every month. You might call it a small group experience for introverts, but honestly, we extroverts are having fun with it, too! I have listened as each person shared their favorite quote, with brief commentary, at the end of each episode. It's amazing how much we can cover, in just a few lines each. It's clear that Rob Bell is resonating with the group, expanding the way we all think about Jesus, scripture and our faith. He has influenced my own preaching and teaching."
Hendricks and Johnson are planning to have the group create a worship service as a culminating event to the series in order to share some of their experience with the rest of the congregation. They are also looking for new listening material in the hopes of using the same format for a new podcast listening experience.
You may reprint this story by including the following line in your article: Reprinted with permission from Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, Spotlight
How is Your Church Living the Love & Justice of Jesus?
Share your story and help us to spread the good news! Contact us: Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane or Drew Page.
Drew Page is a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer deaning at Silver Lake Conference Center with his wife, Debby.