A year ago I was a cyber-unregenerate. I was satisfied with a rattle trap 286, DOS, and my old dot matrix printer. I considered modems a toy. But my friend Dan kept ‘witnessing’ to me. He described the joys of the on-line world, told how it enriched his life and ministry, and warned me of the coming destruction for those who pass by this opportunity. He jabbered about the on-line world every time we got together. I came to feel I was indeed missing something and gradually got under conviction.
A bit more than a year ago, I received a free disk in the mail, with an invitation to join AOL. I didn’t know the difference between services, (Dan attended CompuServe) but the AOL people seemed friendly and they wanted me, so I took the leap and joined. My life was transformed. My wife and kids saw the change. A whole new world opened up to me. I met new friends, learned new terms, quit watching TV, and starting the day by switching on the computer. I was ‘converted’ to the cyber world.
I immediately became evangelistic about recruiting all of my friends. (I discovered a few were already on, but they’d never told me about it.) I tried to recruit everyone I met. I even passed out free AOL disks as I traveled, and I turned in addresses of people I knew, so AOL would send them a disk. I became more persuasive (and more annoying) than my friend Dan had been. I wanted everyone in the world to find what I’d found! I was grateful to my friend, and became loyal to AOL, the service which had introduced this new world to me.
I am far less excited now, at least about AOL. Why? Last year AOL had about a million members—we are now running over four and a half million. It has been exciting to see AOL grow into a super-service, and I have helped ‘bring them in;’ but lately I am having reservations. The biggest problem is access. I often can’t get on-line. My mail doesn’t get through. I have to dial repeatedly to get on to send or receive mail. Numerous GPFs. I’ve been wondering recently if AOL is more interested in getting the next million members than they are with the 4 1/2 million they already have. I need access. I need to know that my mail will get through. If my basic needs aren’t met, then I’m not impressed by ‘Pastor’ Steve Case’s exciting monthly letter promoting exciting new programs and announcing the stupendous growth of AOL. Sure, it’s wonderful we are reaching all these people, but what about me? Perhaps I am being selfish and should be happy these new members are getting on line, even though I’m being crowded out. No, I’m not considering becoming a cyber-castaway. I’ll stay in the on-line kingdom. But I will admit that I’ve been thinking about attending another service. (In fact, occasionally I’ve been sneaking over to attend the new service planted by Bill Gates, but it is so boring and slow I almost fell asleep.) So, I am still attending AOL. They helped me discover this new world. But, to be honest, unless things improve, AOL is going to have a big ‘back door problem.’
In all this frustration I have come to understand better how present attendees (‘past converts’) in our church feel when we divert most of our energies to recruiting new converts while we let the internal need-meeting infrastructure crumble.
What do you think? Have you ever seen a church concentrate so much on getting new people that they overlook the needs of the present people? How do you keep both halves of the Great Commission in balance?
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.