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KEVIN LEININGER: This may be the ‘City of Churches,’ but there’s always room for improvement

Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, knows how to use the media -- but a lot of churches don't. (AP photo)
Christopher Mann
Kevin Leininger

“Every time I look at you I don’t understand

Why you let the things you did get so far out hand.

You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned.

Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?

If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.

Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”

Tim Rice’s lyrics from the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar may be bad theology — the passion Christians are about to observe was precisely what God had in mind — but Judas had a point about the failure to proclaim the faith in the most accessible way.

Converting missed opportunity into effective ministry is the mission of former professional communicator and current Southern Baptist seminarian Christopher Mann, whose upcoming “ReSermon Institute” aims to help pastors and others “expand the potential audience of their sermons in order to increase listenership, foot traffic, membership, revenue and, ultimately, higher missional impact.”

That’s a lot of words, but they boil down to this: Churches can and should do a better job of communicating God’s word not only to their own members but also to an often-hostile world. Mann and other presenters, some of whom are well known in Fort Wayne, will teach how to make sermon content “accessible, searchable and projectable” from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 15 at Pathway Community Church, 11910 Shearwater Run. Cost is $25 at the door and includes continental breakfast and lunch.

I’m not in the habit of publicizing seminars but am making an exception in this case because Mann, a former congressional communications specialist, is on to something: Even though most individual churches can’t hire technology-savvy professionals to spread their message the way politicians and large organizations do, there’s a way to do the much the same thing — if there’s a will.

“This is personal for me. We have nine kids, and four of them are deaf,” said Mann. When his now-20-year-old son Peter was a child, he would become bored in church because he couldn’t hear what was happening around him. “I realized I had grown up blind to disabilities and realized that people need access to the preached word.”

Through transcription and closed-caption technology, sermons can become accessible to the deaf — about 3 percent of the U.S. population. Technology can also allow persons to use internet search engines to find sermons on specific topics and, once located, the author or a skilled editor can “repurpose” a sermon into blog or social-media posts or even newspaper guest columns. All of that and more will be covered by a list of speakers that includes Rescue Mission CEO Donovan Coley, former WANE-TV anchor Mark Mellinger and Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute, advisor to then-Gov. Mike Pence and former reporter for the Journal Gazette.

Even though some of the presenters are conservative politically and/or theologically, Mann said the event will not tell Christians or members of other faiths what to believe or preach — only how to do it more effectively, and to a larger audience.

The primary mission of the Christian church is to proclaim the Gospel and administer the sacraments, not address social issues. But just as Christ himself often did, linking real-world conditions to sound biblical principles when appropriate can promote interest and improve comprehension. I have heard many sermons that would have made excellent reading in a newspaper, magazine or on line — but instead found little audience beyond the people in the pews.

Mann knows some object to the idea that the word of God needs the tools of man in order to be heard. But when I was a child some of our pews were equipped with hearing aids, and a pulpit-mounted bullhorn had already augmented the spoken word. Just as the printing press once spread the Gospel, some churches use projection screens and most have web sites. But how many of those sites contain sermons or other content that can easily be searched? How much of it is not only theologically sound but, in Mann’s words, “winsome and compelling”? There can be some cost involved, true, but such things as Google grants and foundations may be able to help.

Frankly, this is the sort of thing all churches and seminaries should be thinking about. With polls showing that an increasing number of Americans claim no church membership, the need for effective evangelism is obvious. God’s word doesn’t change, but the tools he has provided for its proclamation have, and will. Why should the church hide its lamp under a bushel?

Learn more at www.ReSermon.com, Institute@ReSermon.com or call (260) 508-3136

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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