Disruption Stories: Dogs in Church

Andrew Mahon

February 22, 2021

In our Disruption Stories series, we look at the unforeseen positive consequences of doing church life online.  In this story, we explore a dynamic specific to one church’s use of Altar Live for its church service and fellowship time afterward. 

On one recent Sunday, two 20-something women who live across town from each other, Heather and Jill,  joined a table in the Lobby in Altar Live. Both have been attending this church for 3-5 years. Jill is a sometime-visitor to this church -- she also attends another church in the area. After a few minutes, a third person, Michelle, joined them. 

This encounter was remarkable on several scores: 

  • Introverts welcome! Heather and Jill are self-professed introverts who typically head for the door as soon as the Sunday service has ended. The low-level chit chat (“how was your week?”) drains them, and they’d prefer to go out for coffee to have a ‘more meaningful’ encounter. But, online, just face-to-face with each other, they felt it was ‘safe’ to linger. In fact, Jill liked it so much that she felt she would begin coming to this church more frequently and experience the fellowship online. 

    How many introverts at your church feel the same about fellowship time? Is it possible that online fellowship in smallish groups with semi-permeable boundaries is something that can more fully integrate your community? 

  • Dogs in church!  When Michelle appeared at the table, she did not begin with the dreaded “how was your week?” Instead, she appeared with her small Scottish terrier in her arms. Immediately, Heather exclaimed, "Awwwww.... a doggie.!”

    And then Jill said, "Oh! I have my dog right here!"  She aimed her laptop camera at the yellow lab laying at her feet.

    All of a sudden, everyone started talking about their dogs. They had found a common part of their lives that effortlessly created a sense of shared connection.

    How many other items from the background of a video screen might help dissolve awkwardness and establish a meaningful conversation? Cookbooks, the view out a kitchen window, plants on a shelf, or a hat with a sports team logo on it -- all of these are potential touchpoints that never make their way into a church building. 

  • Intergenerational relationships. Perhaps the most exciting part of this conversation is that Heather and Jill have never before had a conversation with Michelle, who is in her 50s. Michelle has been attending this church for twenty years, and she has seen Heather and Jill for years. But, she had never spoken with them beyond making eye contact, smiling and waving hello. 

    This was the first time they’d ever spoken. The age difference, the introvert-extrovert temperament difference, and the lack of something immediately meaningful to talk about while encountering each other at church -- all of that began to easily melt away when encountering each other online. 

    They spent 20 minutes, and remarked how good it felt to finally spend some time together.

*****

For decades, I have heard numerous pleas from the pulpit, and participated in new programs designed to get people to find and deepen relationships within their church family and across age and cultural boundaries. Some of it bears fruit, and some of it falls on rocky soil. 

Just two months into 2021, and I have seen church family relationships begin and deepen -- without exhortation, without programs, without begrudging participation. They all happened organically. 

Has your church family begun to see encouraging new behaviors? 

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