tGP Podcast Interview with Angela Gorrell

Do you wonder what impact social media is having on our churches? No matter where you fall on the “tech” line (do you inherently believe that adopting these practices are helpful or harmful or use with caution), the fact of the matter is—people are using it.  That’s the fact…often checking social media sites multiple times per day.  Folks are already engaging in this technology. So, how can we, as churches, use social media outlets as a tool to build a more connected community (that leads to person-to-person community) and grows faith formation throughout the week?

In this podcast, Angela Gorrell, adjunct professor and researcher at Fuller Theological and McCormick School of Theology shared her cutting edge research on church, social media, and faith formation.  Angela is inspiring, smart, and has fascinating information and practical suggestions about engaging the technology of this age and with our churches. I have no doubt that you’ll leave inspired as well.



Technology: The $$ Divide

One of the most pressing questions technology raises for us is the growing disparity…

between students with resources, and those without.

The digital divide ought not to become a discipleship divide as well.


Imagine the scene from James 2:1-4 reframed this way: “What if someone shows up at youth group with the new iPhone, and someone else comes in with a beat up flip phone – which student will you work harder to keep coming back and get plugged in?”

Many students from less affluent families, lack the access both to high speed Internet and hardware, both at school and at home, that many middle-class Mennonite kids take for granted. This cuts two ways. We need to make sure that students from households of modest means can access what they need to learn and grow and become all God dreams of them being.

But whatever economic circumstances, we all must attend to Jesus’ words in Luke 12:15 to people who came to him consumed by an issue of who of them deserved more and better stuff: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

There are entire multibillion dollar, global brands designed to convince us that our lives and those of our students are existentially meaningless and void if we don’t have unlimited LTE data on a device still warm from the factory in China, customized so that it will only respond to our voice, touch, retinal pattern, pheromones. [“Oh do they have that now? Cool? When does it come out?”]

So how do we expose that lie for what it is, and call students to a life centered on Jesus, not on stuff?

How do we, reversing Rich Mullins’ phrase, help them be formed by Jesus as dissidents, not consumers?

Here’s a modest proposal: be a late adopter, and wear your gear out. Take a personal vow of tech poverty, because after all, its just between you and Jesus.

No more selfies on Instagram standing in line at the Apple Store on release day. No more telling yourself you need it to do ministry. Try to stay one release behind the curve. The economics of phones and tablets are based on 24 months at maximum, and lately carriers are trying to entice people to upgrade even more often.

But if you are willing to put clear packing tape on a shattered screen and carry it in your front pocket so it avoids a watery death [some of you know what I mean], you can beat that. Your students and their parents will see, and you can live together into the upside down world where only Jesus, not Apple or Samsung, neither iOS nor Android,

is King.



Michael Howes is excited every day to be serving with his wife, Sue Conrad Howes, as transitional co-pastors at Akron Mennonite Church in Akron, PA. A native of south Louisiana, Michael was raised a pacifist by hippie Baptists and is married to the first Mennonite he met. He’s pastored in urban, rural and suburban settings since 1991. A graduate of Baylor University (BA) and Southwestern Seminary (MDiv), he’s the father of a college freshman son and a high school freshman daughter of whom he couldn’t be more proud.

Twitter: @michael_a_howes

Instagram: Michael_A_Howes

tGP podcast

I had a lovely time talking with Caleb and Lesley Francisco McClendon about how they are using technology to their advantage as youth pastors at EPIC youth ministry at their church, C3 in Hampton, VA.  We can’t change the commitment level of our youth (aka make them come to church), but we can make the most of the various touch points we do have.  Technology can aid in making those connections still happen even when we can’t gather together physically.  Obviously face-to-face connection is the best (always!), but technology helps to fill the gaps when that just isn’t possible.

Technology Webinar

Andy Brubacher Kaethler, Assistant Professor of Christian Formation and Culture at Anabaptist Mennonite Seminary spoke with The Gathering Place community on September 15th about how to be discerning in technological use.  The notion of “technology” has always been present throughout history (advances in how we live, etc…but technology is never neutral. It’s use always comes at a price.  Rather than simply adopting the newest and latest and greatest, just because, can how we be discerning of how this new ‘technology’ impacts our relationship with God, with our families, and community.  Does its use aid or distract these relationships?

*Due to an unforeseen technological glitch (I do realize how ironic this sounds), it appears that we only have 19 minutes of the conversation.*

Does technology draw our youth closer to Jesus or get in the way?

The question under the other questions about students, ministry and technology could be as simple as this: what is message, and what is medium? Unlike other Ways, religious or secular, Christianity at its best has always affirmed this shocking truth: our message is a person, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. So it’s well worth it to keep asking:

“Does [fill in blank with technological communication medium/tool] help my students get Jesus, or does it get between them and Jesus?”

I’ll tackle the relentless way things lie and say they’ll make us happy, and seduce us to ignore our neighbor at greater length in the next post, but consider this: according to Jesus, a 100% reliable way to interact with him is to serve sisters and brothers in need in his name, and to relate to them as people, not just statistics or causes. “When you serve one of the least of these, you serve me.” My unhoused neighbors use prepaid cards to put talk time, messaging and data on their phones. They also cluster around outdoor electrical plugs to keep their devices charged, and line up at the public library for access to computers or WiFi.

Many of them lack a means to stay connected with family far away or support nearer to hand. So perhaps a way to connect your students to Jesus via technology would be for them to lend their charger to an unhoused person, or lead a church-wide collection of prepaid cell cards, or collect congregants’ phones and raise funds to fix them up and pass them along to neighbors who would use but can’t purchase them.

Back in the era of the slide out keyboard, keeping devices from disrupting discipleship (or at least weekly Bible study) was as easy for me as a bucket in which to collect phones from students on the way in the door. But now, as books like Alone Together by Sherry Turkle point out, social media that we assume connect us can actually distance us from others (texting at the dinner table), or connect us in unhealthy ways (Ashley Madison).

Electronic media teach us to confuse an audible voice or a physical touch with images that evaporate off Snapchat or emojis. It’s a pile of stones, not loaves of bread. Condemning social media wholesale is too easy. How can you provoke conversation with your students and their parents about the limitations of social media as a way to connect, and the distortion and noise it can inject into relationships?

My last chance to avoid getting tagged as a hopeless Luddite: as a way to help students read the Bible, alone and in community, technology is amazing. No more pile of Bibles in the MYF room. Apps from Bible Gateway or are free, and Community Bible Experience from Biblica has YouTube videos, mobile-friendly readings and .mp3 audio tracks that take students through the New Testament in 8 weeks.

So does technology bring our youth closer to Jesus, or does it get in the way? Both, I suppose. But technology isn’t going away any time soon. So in the meantime, let’s use it to our advantage.


Michael Howes is excited every day to be serving with his wife, Sue Conrad Howes, as transitional co-pastors at Akron Mennonite Church in Akron, PA. A native of south Louisiana, Michael was raised a pacifist by hippie Baptists and is married to the first Mennonite he met. He’s pastored in urban, rural and suburban settings since 1991. A graduate of Baylor University (BA) and Southwestern Seminary (MDiv), he’s the father of a college freshman son and a high school freshman daughter of whom he couldn’t be more proud. Twitter: @michael_a_howes and Instagram: Michael_A_Howes

Technology and Ministry: A Blessing Or A Curse?

I am absolutely passionate about speaking and sharing the love of Jesus with all whom will listen. Currently, I serve as a youth pastor in a predominantly African-American church with a mix of urban and suburban youth. We aim to be a cutting edge church that caters to the 21st century and in my case, generation Y and Z.

There’s no doubt that faith formation in this day and age has its perks and challenges, one of those being technology.

social media

I have found in some instances that technology has been both a cure and a curse. I’ve come to understand that the very thing that compels me to use technology in ministry can also repel me to use it as well.

Technology is one of the reasons I’ve been able to travel across the states speaking to hundreds and thousands of people.

Technology is one of the reasons many look to our church for guidance on how to do ministry better. People stream our services, take note of our social media promotions and share that information with others in their network.

Technology is also one of the reasons why there is a lack of development in our culture. It seems to be that churches have a lot of people in their congregations and ministerial contexts who are in leadership roles and/or lay members but are not properly equipped or prepared to handle life. I find that in some instances technology tends to extend overexposure and instant gratification with no appreciation for process. Meaning, several people are settling for quick fixes and get rich, blessed, promoted “quick” schemes instead of letting patience have her perfect work. Those of us who grew up in the AOL, broadband and dial-up era understand patience as opposed to now where you can simply Google something, press enter, and have your answer appear in less than three seconds. With access to such a broad range of answers so easily it can be challenging to have faith. Instead of learning the joys of trusting in Jesus and waiting patiently for an answer, many are now looking to the Internet.

We live in a postmodern better yet post Christian society where the rejection of creeds, rules, law and agnosticism are on the rise. A couple decades ago it used to be people were asking, “How can I be a better Christian?”

Now, people are asking, “What is a Christian and why should I become one?” We are now dealing with a society who says I value spirituality but I don’t want anything to do with religion let alone the Bible. I find it difficult that sometimes when I teach basic Bible stories to my kids at church they have:

  • Never heard the story before
  • Mix up the stories and characters
  • Love something that they shouldn’t. I remember teaching about Jezebel once and a young lady in my class said, “Oooh that’s a cute name!” Implying that one should name her daughter that. I had to tell her that Jezebel was one of the most wicked females ever to be recorded in Scripture, but she didn’t know.

Yes, many in this generation may be biblically illiterate but there is hope still.

One of the joys of 21st century faith formation for me is that ability to be a game-changer.

In order to be culturally relevant, I have to change my methodology. Don’t get me wrong, the message remains the same but the methods must change. I get an opportunity now to teach practical life skills and development through relational evangelism. I don’t water down my message to just say “God said” but I show why God said something and how living it out in my own life really helped me out and could help someone else also. People like when you’re open and honest like that, when you give messages that can relate to them. I think in the changing culture we just have to be flexible and adaptable and understand that what used to work back then may not work now.

We have to allow space for the Holy Spirit to give us fresh new approaches as to how we live out our faith in this technological world.


Lesley Francisco McClendon is an inspirational speaker and borderline brand enthusiast. She serves as youth pastor under the leadership of her parents and pastors at the “best church on the peninsula,” @C3Hampton in Hampton, VA. Lesley loves speaking and education. She recently received a Master of Divinity from Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. Lesley and her husband, Caleb, were also heavily involved in Kansas City 2015! For more info on Lesley, you can follow her on all social media outlets @LMItips or on her website,

September Study Circle

hands free

Thurs, September 24, 2pm-3pm EST

How do we find balance in a media-saturated world? Let’s talk about what living a present, authentic, intentional life in a world full of distractions might look like (and how we can invite our children and youth into one as well)?

This month we will be reading Rachel Macy Stafford’s “Hands Free Mama:  A guide to putting down the phone, burning the to-do list, and letting go of perfection to grasp what really matters

This book is not a specific youth ministry resource or only for ‘moms’, but the conversation starters on the influences of technology and living a distracted lifestyle will benefit us all.

Click on the date/time to register for this convicting read.

September Webinar


Webinar with Andy Brubacher Kaethler

Date:  Tuesday, September 15, 12pm-1pm EST


With social media and the internet, many youth are more digitally connected than ever and youth workers have more tools and resources than ever handy at our finger tips for ministry with youth. There is no question that digital technology is a game-changer in how faith formation and Christian community are conceived of and practiced today. In addition to the how to questions (how do I do with this social media or how do  I find y resource on the internet) there are a number of essential questions and considerations:

  • What can we learn from God’s way of communicating and creating community in the Bible, especially in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ?
  • Are social media and the internet neutral tools that simply provide information, or does using them form us?
  • What are the social and environmental costs of producing and discarding electronic technology we should consider when discerning if and how to use electronic technologies in ministry?
  • Do social media and the internet help or hinder fostering Christian virtues and the fruit of the Spirit such as patience, forbearance, empathy, gentleness, etc.?
  • What aspects of adolescent development and identity are relevant for discerning the use and misuse of technology?

These questions, and others that you bring, will be the focus of conversations in this video conference.
andy bk

Andy Brubacher Kaethler has been active in youth ministry for over 20 years as a youth pastor, Sunday School teacher, parent and director of !Explore, a theological program for youth. Discerning the place of technology in our lives as Christians is part of daily conversations at home with teenage children, at work and at church. Andy lives in Elkhart, Indiana, attends Belmont Mennonite Church, and teaches at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS).

Youth Ministry: Kenda’s Hunches for the 21st Century

Here is a great snapshot from the ever-wise Kenda Creasy Dean on the future of youth ministry. How are we empowering our youth to engage in their own ministry?  What questions do you have as engage in this 21st century model?  Think Tank Thursday conversation is happening NEXT WEEK (9/3, 1pm-2pm EST).  Scott Roth is facilitating how to engage your youth group in community service in your own neighborhoods. Sign up to save your spot!

Webinar: Re-Imagining Children’s & Youth Ministry with Dave Csinos

As faith formation workers, we often sense that the ways we engage in Christian education today is, well…just not working great.  Something seems amiss and we aren’t quite sure why, and more so, what to do about it. Dave Csinos, president and founder of Faith Forward, graced us with an insightful webinar on Tuesday, August 25th.

Dave laid the history and groundwork for how Sunday school and “formal” religious education came to be in our churches (a relatively recent phenomena in history), and led us into the current present, inviting us to consider what it might mean to engage in new ways intergenerationally today. Our children and youth have so much to teach us–they themselves are spiritual beings, who already think theologically –but how often do we miss it because we don’t have eyes to see/ears to hear these voices. Instead we laugh during ‘children’s time’ at a cute response. We dismiss questions and rush them to programs and out of ‘big people’ church.  We also talked about how to empower and engage parents in their primary role of forming faith with their children.  What does it mean to re-imagine faith formation today and to be courageous to try something new for the sake of us all?