PRINCE GEORGE, B.C.
Mark Wessner likes to try new things. About three years ago, the active social media user and Westwood pastor asked his congregation to live tweet feedback (as he was preaching) on a sermon series. Another Sunday, he asked the congregation to submit questions (using whatever media people liked) about faith, the Bible, anything to do with their Christian walk. He and his pastoral team at the Prince George church were so encouraged by responses to those experiments that they now pursue the two-way connection idea on a regular basis.
In September 2014, Wessner concluded a three-session sermon series based people’s questions. It was “wide open, on any topic,” Wessner says, yet he found themes in the responses.
On the first Sunday, he shared all the questions, then taught on those centring on the beginning of life, like creation concerns and God’s will.
There were also many questions on the end of life, so he finished the series on that theme, including euthanasia, which allowed him to incorporate the MB Confession of Faith. He asked people if they were ready to die, and taught about, “here’s how you can know,” a natural lead-in to the gospel.
The other theme was the middle of life – how one lives as a Christian, how to deal with doubt and other issues of faith.
“There is a high level of engagement by people across all the age groups,” says Wessner. At times, he uses charts and other visual aids, as though giving a formal class presentation, but whether his style preaching or teaching, people are listening.
This autumn series is the third time Wessner has accepted general questions in advance. “I want to be strategic, and not overdo it, so it stays meaningful,” he says.
He notes new faces in the church on these interactive Sundays. The topics create a natural opportunity for Westwood people to invite their neighbours.
Live-tweeted feedback occurs more often, normally six to nine times a year. “I set up a specific account for questions and invite people to tweet during the sermon,” he says. “Then at the end, I look at the Twitter account and answer the questions.”
Over the three years, says Wessner, “we have learned a lot.” For example, reflective or devotional topics are not suited to interaction. However, a controversial subject works well. So does a complicated Scripture passage, because it allows people quietly texting in their seat to ask for clarification without feeling awkward.
“We have learned that if you use the tweets on the right Sunday, on the right topic, it is a wonderful tool for engagement.”
—Barrie McMaster, B.C. correspondent
Read about Mark Wessner’s previous social media experiments: “How Tweet it is”