Pastoral Visitation in the Digital Age

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I duck to miss a low-hanging branch, step over a log and then turn back to Saida to continue our conversation. This is my latest pastoral visit. Saida just lost her mother. We needed to connect, so we met for a hike at the local park.

 My phone screen flashes. I see that Beverly is sending me a daily Scripture text. I stop typing to pick it up. “Casting all your care upon Him, for he careth for you. 1 Peter 5:7 I treasure the words and then text a response.

We pull up our calendars and choose June 21 to meet at Tijuana Flats. There’s nothing like sharing about life and planning another outreach event over chips and queso. Natalie smiles and says she’s looking forward to meeting there.

This is how visitation looks for me, as the pastor of a 314-member church.

I still remember Dr. Hill’s lecture at Southwestern Adventist University.  “Sit down with every church member, in their home, for a get acquainted visit. This is what you do when you start at a new district.” It was my senior year, as I was about to begin pastoring.

This was worthy advice, but completely impractical. Not everyone in my church wants to meet me in their home, either because their work schedule means they are rarely at home, or because their home looks like a toy store exploded in it.. As their pastor, I want to be able to share a real conversation, so I meet them where they are comfortable.

These are my top tips for visitation in the digital age:

1.   Find where your people are and join them. This could mean meeting at the local fitness center to play basketball, learning to use Instagram, or letting Wazs get you to a favorite coffee spot.

2.   Communicate regularly. That could be as simple as a quick text to your elder group to share a Scripture and a prayer, or it could mean finding someone who will pray for you daily. I find time for regular posts on the church Face Book page to encourage participation, and post devotional videos to the church’s online group.

3.   Don’t expect the phone to work two ways. As pastors, we initiate the conversation. Not everyone will tell us they went in for a surgery or that they are struggling in their marriage. But by listening and following their feed on social media, we can know how to start a conversation that leads to a meaningful connection.

4.  Find a second office and use it often. Mine is Panera Bread. It’s close to where many of my members live and they are willing to meet me there. 

5.   Texts are your friend. A brief text to someone says you care and you are available, and they can read it on their time table. Every text doesn’t have to be information. You can send a funny meme or sharing how picking up a cup of green tea reminded you about a conversation that encouraged you.

6.   Stop to say hi. If you walk through the grocery store and notice that Joanne is choosing a loaf of bread, go up and say hi before you grab your gallon of milk.

7.   Don’t cross home visits off the list. Joyce can’t come to church anymore; she stays home to take care of her husband. She needs a home visit, so I continue to do those too.

I love being a pastor. I love being called to work with an amazing community of faith. This is a place where I hear stories, repetitions, and reminders of God’s goodness. It is also a place with people I care deeply about. Visitation is how we connect and build our relationship. Visitation is an important, multi-faceted piece of my calling. What does visitation look like inside your context? How has God inspired your creativity for visitation in the digital age?

Heather Crews is the pastor for the Courthouse Church in North Chesterfield, Virginia