I have lived in the great state and former county of Texas most of my life. There are many things that Texas is known for: cowboys, barbecue, high school football, the heat and tornadoes. Growing up I can remember learning at an early age what the name of the county we lived in and what its shape was so I could easily point it out on the TV screen when a weather alert appeared. A couple of times my parents woke me and my sisters up to get into the closet in the bathroom because of the tornado sirens were sounding. Luckily the few shares we had with tornadoes none of them ever struck our house or even populated areas of our town. Nevertheless it is safe to say, I do not like tornadoes.
On Tuesday, a massive storm swept through Southeast Texas dumping rain so fast the roads began to flood because the drainage system was so overwhelmed. I tried to drive home, but did not want to have my car end up as a boat, I pulled into a parking lot and called my neighbor who has a gigantic truck. I was glad he did because even if I had made it to the main road in Orange (which I am not sure I would have) I would not have made it into my neighborhood due to the flooding.
So I got back home a little wet but glad that my family was safe and sound in our home, a blessing for sure. We have recently entered the 21st century and have Dish TV I learned something… Dish and heavy rain do not mix. (check out the picture here). No big deal… thats why we have a DVR. 🙂 My wife and I were watching something we had recorded when i looked up out our living room window to see the sky had turned green. If you have ever lived where tornadoes are previlent, you know a green sky at night is not a good sign. A green sky doesn’t always mean a tornado is coming or present, but that the condiditions might be favorable for one.
Knowing that the satellite tv was out, I took to the internet, going to a couple of the local news stations’ pages. Nothing to report… just flash flood warnings and tornado watch. My computer was open to facebook and I noticed that the local radio station had reported that there was a tornado warning for Orange. I thought it was odd that the radio station (KOGT 1600AM) knew this information but the news stations did not. So I looked on the National Weather Service page and sure enough there was tornado warning for Orange County Texas. My first question was why werent the news stations reporting this online, I couldnt get their tv signal to see if they were interrupting programming but a tornado in any state is important, so report the news!
So armed with my flashlight app (the power went out briefly), my accuweather app (to track the storm on radar) and my facebook app, my wife, my daughter and I went into the interior hallway of our house and waited out the storm. The wind would whip up and then die back down, the rain would surge and then it would be a light pitter-patter. The whole time I was checking the weather on my phone and reading posts from people in Orange and the surrounding areas on the KOGT facebook page. People were writing things like “NWS [National Weather Service] says out of bridge city/ orange by 7:45…” or ” according to the radio – about 7:27 in Bridge City, headed to West Orange at 7:30 and onto Starks” and “cell was moving fast (35mph). hopefully in the clear soon.” Gone are the days of just sitting in the quiet or listening to the weather radio, rather people took the internet to express their frustrations and concerns about what was going on outside their window. In the end, the cell moved on, dumped a bunch of rain and flooded the streets.
So what can the Church learn from this?
First, people are willing and seeking out to share thoughts and information freely about their life, they just need a forum, a place to connect. Too often the church is a seen a place where people go to re-hear what they already know; as Brian McLaren once put it church/the gospel too often is seen as an “evacuation plan rather than a transformation plan.” They have heard the stories from their youth and they pretty much have it under control. Let’s not stir the pot, let’s not shake things up. We do things this way because its been that way since Carter was in office and why change a good thing? But the fact of the matter is that people are looking for a place to share, to explore and commune about what is happening in their world. People take the internet via forums, twitter and facebook to share their thoughts with anyone who will metaphorically listen. People want to be heard, they want to know that their stories, feelings and experiences matter… to someone… why do you think there are millions of blogs (like this one) on the internet at this very moment?
Second, Community is not bound by the confines of a walled building. People are connecting in this highly technological world at a rapid pace. The people who wrote on the radio’s Facebook page were from the same area but maybe didn’t have anything else in common. People are connecting today because of their love of computers or even “The Hunger Games”…Men, women, boys, girls from 9 to 99 all coming around a common interest. This however is not the cause when it comes to the church. More often than not people who were not raised in church or disenfranchised with organized religion are not going to come to a church building. Why? They have nothing in common with them. If the perception is that people in the church all understand the Bible in a certain way, they all like the same music and that is that, then why would someone come to that community? The Church has an opportunity to establish new communities where people can come and express themselves outside the confines of a stained glass windowed building. Small groups or house churches are great places where the gospel can be shared and even questioned. I have a small group at my house every week and there are times when people who do not attend my congregation but are looking for community and they find it at my house. We do Bible studies and ask questions that sometimes someone might be scared or embarrassed to even bring up.
How the church reacts to the notion that church as we know it, people in a stained glass building singing “A Might Fortress Is Our God,” may not be church of the future. Not get me wrong, I like “A Might Fortress” and I love the stained glass window of Christ in my congregation’s sanctuary but I understand that church is different for people in different places of their lives.
I am not advocating for the destruction of ‘traditional’ church. But I am advocating for the church to expand its horizons to different venues, to seek out a different “clientele.” How can the message of Christ be ‘translated’ to this 21st century, iPhone/iPad driven, blog reading, society? If you figure that one out, you win the prize.
I believe that the church is at the precipice of a major shift, the church needs to learn from a tornado warning.
Let us take heed.