(Recently one of our amazing student pastors here at Duke, Rev. Philip Chryst, shared with me about a unique and imaginative approach that his rural church had used to connect with seekers in the community: “WikiWorship.” I invited Philip to describe the program for us below. In this week when many people are asking questions such as “What is Good Friday, anyway?,” “Why exactly did Jesus die?,” and “Resurrection isn't really real - is it?,” we would all do well to attend to the example of Warren’s Grove UMC, and to pay attention to the spiritual questions of God’s children.)
Warren’s Grove United Methodist Church is a rural congregation just on the outskirts of Roxboro, North Carolina. During the summer of 2008 we decided to do something a little different. What it ended up becoming was WikiWorship.
WikiWorship started as a response to this question: “Are we, as the Church, answering questions that no one is asking?” In response to this question Warren’s Grove sought to search the community for questions that real people were asking. We asked people if they had a question for God, for the Church or about life that they had never gotten an answer, they had never gotten an adequate answer or they had never had the guts to ask? We then wrote down their question, along with their information (address, email, telephone number) and then gave them a flier telling them about the upcoming WikiWorship events where we would be attempting to answer those questions.
We gathered those questions in a variety of ways. We went door-to-door in the neighborhoods surrounding Warren’s Grove. We also went to uptown Roxboro, around the courthouse and gathered them from people. We gathered them at Huck-Sansbury Park. We gathered them at our jobs. We gathered them at Warren’s Grove during the worship service. And lastly we gathered them from students at Piedmont Community College.
After gathering these questions we then put together a team of people to find the themes in these questions. We ended up getting around 80 questions and we found 12 themes from these 80 questions. Those themes were: Biblical Authority, Demons – Satan, God’s Plan, Marriage – Family, Prayer – Communication with the Triune God, Social Applications, Church – Body of Christ, Discipleship, Hypocrisy and Grace, Power and Greed, Religions – Denominations, and Works Righteousness. From these themes we decided to devote one Sunday to six of them. The six we chose were: Hypocrisy and Grace, Biblical Authority, Marriage and Family, Religions and Denominations, Prayer as Communication with God, and God’s Plan.
So we devoted six Sundays to these themes. We started on Sunday, July 20th of 2008 and went until Sunday, August 24th. In preparation for this event we sent out a postcard to all the people that we had spoken to during the gathering of questions. We also sent a number of postcards to various people that lived in the Warren’s Grove area. We found these addresses using a reverse address look up through www.whitepages.com . We also sent out emails leading up to the kick-off of WikiWorship. The newspaper also ran an article about WikiWorship after doing an interview with the Pastor. And we started the Church’s website and on the Church’s website there was an embedded video from the Pastor leading up to the launch of the WikiWorship. Finally, the Pastor also started a WikiWorship blog and would updated the Church and those who followed the blog about the beginning of the launch.
What makes WikiWorship—WikiWorship is that the whole worship service was changed according to the questions that we gathered. The scripture readings, the prayers, the songs and the sermon were all based on the questions. The sermon was more like a discussion. The Pastor spoke for about 10 minutes and then had a cordless microphone and allowed anyone else to speak. They could ask another question, respond to what the Pastor said, add to what he said, or subtract from what he said. This is similar to the post-modern world of Wikipedia and that is why it is called WikiWorship.
After the service we invited anyone who wanted to stay to continue the discussion in our fellowship hall. We offered a free lunch and had small group discussions that focused on the discussion above. Our small group leaders were facilitators that had gone through training and were privy to the topic and all the notes of the Pastor before the service started. Also, we offered free child care during the worship service and during the lunch. This had great attendance, we had 63 people that stayed for lunch—with 9 of those being children that stayed in child care.
In conclusion, the impact this project had on our congregation has been wonderful. Some ways are through our fuller understanding of prayer, intentional leadership development, outreach evangelism, small group interaction with visitors, and by stepping up the technological presence of the congregation. During the time of WikiWorship we had 13 people that started coming to Warren’s Grove. Four of those people fit our target demographic of 18 to 30 year olds. Six of those thirteen are children. Nine of those people have now become actively involved in the life of the Church and all the adults have become members. The other four actually moved to New York and they are sorely missed. I would encourage all rural churches to go out into the local community and get to know the people. This is an authentic way for us to incarnate the God who is love.