Digital Parish: Planting a digital church: The Harbor United Methodist story

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We’re talking with Rev. Jessica Blackwood and Rev. Orlando Evans--a couple of the visionaries and planners behind Harbor United Methodist Church, a currently all-digital church plant located in Georgia (and across the expanse of the internet). They share about planning for digital community, engaging in digital outreach, building online community building and community rhythm. There are some great stories and several key ideals to add to your digital ministry toolkit.

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Ryan Dunn (00:00):

This is pastoring in the digital parish, your resource and point of connection for building digital ministry strategy and bringing your congregation into the digital age. Hi, my name is Ryan Dunn. I'm a digital communicator, church volunteer, ordained clergy person, host of this here podcast and future of church enthusiasts. And welcome back to the podcast. Season six is now officially underway, and we're kicking it off by doing one of our favorite things, really telling the story of a digital ministry in action. In this case, we're talking with a couple of the visionaries and planners behind Harbor United Methodist Church, a currently all digital church plant located in Georgia, but of course, you know, available all across the interwebs as well. In this episode, we're talking with Reverend Jessica Blackwood and Orlando Evans, and we're gonna talk about planning for digital community, engaging in digital outreach, online community building, and community rhythm.


So stay tuned for the story of Harbor United Methodist Church. I could use a favor from you. In the meantime, ratings and reviews help the prestige of this podcast, meaning that they make it more visible to both listeners and prospective guests. So if you are appreciative of what we're doing on pastoring in the digital parish, tell us by leaving a rating and review on your podcast listening platform of choice. Thank you so much. And this particular meaningful episode of pastoring in the Digital Parish is brought to us by Safer Sanctuaries. Safer sanctuaries. Nurturing Trust within faith communities is a new and comprehensive resource that continues the tradition of safe sanctus ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedures. So, to learn more about that, go to safer, or you can call 'em at 1-800-972-ZERO 4 3 3. Hey, let me tell you about our adjunct professors for this session.


Reverend Jessica Blackwood serves in the Center for Congregational Excellence of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church as a digital ministry specialist, and she helps churches create sacred spaces within digital spaces. Pretty relevant, I'd say. And Reverend Orlando Evans is a former online pastor and current lead pastor, which includes online responsibilities as well at Bright Star United Methodist Church in Douglasville, Georgia. And he's one of the key visionaries for founding Harbor United Methodist Church, which is our key topic in this session of pastoring in the digital parish. Well, we're joined by Reverend Jessica Blackwood and Orlando Evans. How are you both Rev and Jessica? Let's start with you. How you doing today?

Jessica Blackwood (03:01):

I am good. I'm actually doing this from Colorado and there's a huge mountain scape outside that is gorgeous. So I am excellent today,

Ryan Dunn (03:13):

<Laugh>. Nice. All right. So as we catch you steering out the window every now and then, we know the reason behind it. I get it.

Jessica Blackwood (03:19):

Y yes, maybe <laugh>

Ryan Dunn (03:22):

<Laugh>. I gotcha. And how are you doing so far today? Reverend Orlando?

Orlando Evans (03:27):

Absolutely delightful. Honored to be in great company and, and having a wonderful discussion. So it's, it's a great day.

Ryan Dunn (03:34):

Great. Well, we wanna share the story of the Harbor United Methodist Church. And let's start with like the big meta overall picture. What is the Harbor United Methodist Church?

Jessica Blackwood (03:47):

So that's a great question, Ryan, that we wrestled with for a couple of months of what is this going to be that we are trying to create here, and how can we get that down to just a few sentences? Basically what the harbor United Methodist is, is a new online church plant that is part of the North Georgia Conference. And so it is a mix of online and eventually it will be where we meet in person, where we have some service opportunities. And so we're really excited about the potential for what's to come.

Orlando Evans (04:26):

Yeah. And, and, and one of, one of the things Jessica mentioned was the eventual evolution for this to be more of a hybrid connection where we not only worship online together, but we will identify things like service projects in communities, or opportunities to do meetups launching small groups that where we can connect online, but then maybe do some social things in person. So it's, it's an evolving ministry that we're excited about, that we look to engage people across a huge geographic footprint.

Ryan Dunn (04:58):

So right now the harbor is strictly digital?

Jessica Blackwood (05:03):

Yes. Is that

Ryan Dunn (05:03):


Jessica Blackwood (05:05):

Yep. It is strictly digital right now. It's just a way for us to begin to let people know that we're here to be good neighbors. It's, I, so in church planning world, we don't do parachute drop churches anymore. We take time to get to know the community. And so basically that's what we're doing. We are getting to know our community, but in the online space. So we're knocking on people's doors just a little bit differently. We're knocking on your Instagram account instead.

Ryan Dunn (05:38):

Well, tell me about that. Like, what is, what does door knocking look like in the digital world? How are you engaging in that in a practical sense?

Jessica Blackwood (05:45):

Yeah, it, it is a lot of digital partnership, a lot of cross-sharing. Because because the harbor is connectional in nature we are connecting other local churches. We're sharing the good work that they're doing. We're letting people know, Hey, if, if you're with us, but you live in this area, check out what this church is doing here. Sometimes it's sharing some of our pastor's prayers. It just is a lot of sharing right now of celebrating what other people are doing so that they know that we are here to be good neighbors. That we're not just here to be in your space for the sake of being in your space, but we want you to invite you into our space as well.

Orlando Evans (06:32):

And, and, and one of, one of the ways that we physically did that is once we had a digital footprint, we started reaching out to members of our, our network, whether it's other churches or other colleagues, and inviting them to follow us. And, and we followed them back. And a lot of times our team then shared inspirational quotes or scriptures and to, to give a line of sight as to who we were as a community. We thought it would be a great idea to invite the broader community to journey with us. During the Linton season, we, we did something a little different. We huddled around a campfire on, on Ash Wednesday, we imposed ashes on one another. We read scripture and we had dialogue, dialogue with one another that we posted online and invited the online community to respond and share their heart and thoughts. And then we invited them to journey with us during a Linton Bible study, again, the foster connection. And it was a combination of, of, of a local church partnering with the harbor to, to offer broader reach and a a wider net of, of engagement and encouragement.

Ryan Dunn (07:41):

Hmm. Yeah. That's, that's exciting to me in the way that it, it's drawn together, I guess a, a broader sense of leadership <laugh> across the church. As you were doing that, that Linton study, was it like a different pastor from a different church who would take charge of every week in, in presenting a, a study module?

Jessica Blackwood (08:04):

Yeah, so we used to amplify media as our base. And then we had one pastor who did it for the whole time. And she has been on vacation, so another one's coming plugged there that another one's coming soon whenever she gets back. Yeah. but we've had five different churches that were apart. I think five, it may have, it may have been four, but we had four or five churches that were a part of it that we just reached out and said, Hey, we're doing this Zoom Bible study. If you'd like to be a part, here's the registration link and you can connect. And so it ended up being a really fun, successful first start that we were, Ima it was something that we were immediately able to measure as this is a need. And so that was really neat to see right from the start that the Bible study landed. Another thing, Ryan, we did, you did the Rethink Church photo a day. Wasn't that you mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Ryan Dunn (09:01):


Jessica Blackwood (09:02):

So we

Ryan Dunn (09:03):

Invited people to Yep, I'm involved in that. Yes.

Jessica Blackwood (09:05):

Yes. So we invited people to take a picture and share, and we didn't do it every day, but sometimes people would upload their photos, and so we would do some cross-sharing. And so that was some of the ways, too, that we are inviting people to be partners or community or neighbors is just that crossover. Here's a hashtag, share it let us know you're here type thing.

Orlando Evans (09:29):

Yep. And, and that really opened the, the gateways to our, our engagement. We recognize that the Linton Ash Wednesday service would be a pre-launch, and we knew that we would have a formal launch on Easter, but for the weeks that were in between members of our team offered inspirational homily two to three minute clips that we posted on social media platforms. And we again, invited the digital community to dialogue and engage with us. So this, this was very helpful in making sure that we gave an opportunity for, for different pastors and different speakers to be present. And again, as we were sharing with our immediate circles, our, our, our sphere of influence increased as you had multiple people exposing what the harbor is to their broader network. And so when Easter came, there was a good level of awareness that once we got into a weekly routine we began to see people being consistently supportive.

Ryan Dunn (10:28):

Okay. Okay. And Jessica, how long has the, the Harbor been, quote unquote live <laugh>?

Jessica Blackwood (10:36):

So the Harbor has been live we started, like Orlando said, we started Ash Wednesday. That was our first release of a service, and then we started Easter. And our goal is to release services now weekly for to the end of time, <laugh>. We, we are live now, and it has been a huge learning process so far. We started out, the harbor started out as a church to be a, a landing place, a safe place for those who are founding themselves in dis affiliation and in North Georgia. We took a pause on that. And so that really gave us a, an opportunity to do a little bit of transition work to create content for people who are finding themselves away from the church for whatever reason, who have experienced some type of trauma. And so we are being very intentional about how we are releasing content.


We're going a little bit slower than than is not, it is difficult for me to go slow. It's difficult. I have a team full of creatives who, who love to go fast. So we have very intentional about going at a rate that is sustainable for us. And so right now that's creating the weekly services that show on, well, we livestream it Thursday evening, and we're gonna try Sunday morning, early Sunday morning, especially as we're getting into the summertime, we know that a lot of people are gonna be at the lake and they're gonna be at the ball field. And we wanna meet them where they are. And so you can take us, and before the ballgame even starts, you can worship with us for 20 minutes and then, you know, it may be helpful for some parents to have 20 minutes of Jesus before their kids starts playing ball <laugh>.

Ryan Dunn (12:32):

Hmm. Hmm. Orlando, you have a, a background as both a digital pastor and, and as a, a lead pastor and I guess a more traditional or analog church, or whatever you want to call it, whatever it is these days, <laugh> as, as you were advising the, the Harbor team, were there certain unnegotiable or certain ideas or formats or technologies that you were like, look, as we're starting, like this has to be included? Oh,

Jessica Blackwood (13:04):

That's good question, Ryan.

Orlando Evans (13:06):

We, we did a, we did a <laugh>. We, we did a great job of, of, of brainstorming approaches and, and where we wanted to be present. But one of the most significant things to call out is the fact that with the harbor we're broadcasting live for, for two of our experiences yeah, I say broadcasting live, we're, we're streaming it, but we're having someone to serve as an online pastor or online host at the moment of broadcast. And that's, that's important because people that are looking for a church community expect to be communal. So it's, it's one thing to come in and observe worship streaming, and it's a whole nother thing to participate in worship by being able to dialogue or pray with someone or chat back and forth, or even affirm some of the things that are being said by the people who were singing or speaking. And so, I, I'm glad that our team was able to introduce someone to, to host during the two times that we formally broadcast as our, our streaming times. But then for people who don't join us live, there's an opportunity for them to view us on YouTube on demand. So I, those, those were, were the, that was the biggest thing in my opinion, that would be most critical, making sure that the people who are searching or looking for that connection actually have someone that they can connect with during that time.

Ryan Dunn (14:33):

Okay. So it's not just record it post it, forget it, <laugh>, right?

Orlando Evans (14:38):

No, no, it's, it's, it's being, being in dialogue. And then, and then there's, there's another thing that was also important, which we were very intentional to do, and I was making sure that we injected diverse and faces into the process. We wanted to make sure that we had a diverse group of people in terms of, of race and ethnicity, in terms of men and women also age diversity. And if you look at the people who've been supporting us in terms of the content contributors who have been our speakers, or the people who are involved in round table discussions, we've been very successful in engaging a team of people who look like the world. And, and of course there's, there's always more opportunities to do that, but it, it was important for our presentation to not just look one way, you know, all, you know, black men or all white women or all let Latinx people. We, it's important for us to have a melting pot because that's really what heaven is going to look like. And I'm glad that we were intentional and successful in doing that.

Jessica Blackwood (15:48):

Yeah, I, I'm so glad you mentioned that, Orlando, because Ryan, that's one of the things that he definitely brought to the table. Even in your, you know, you mentioned it's not just record and shoot, is it making sure that we appeared visually inclusive, that it wasn't just what we were saying in our voices, but because we are visual with our content, is making sure that we express that on camera. And I would say the other non-negotiable that we have experienced some is balancing quality with the production to what can we realistically do. Orlando has brought that to the table as well as, and some of our other team members really pushing, we have to make sure we don't want this to be cell phone cam cell phone church is what one of 'em called it, <laugh>. <Laugh>. so, so the one of the non-negotiables is just a quality at what, at what level do we either not do it because we can't reach the quality, or do we need to elevate it to, to bump that?

Ryan Dunn (16:57):

Tell me a little bit about how you facilitate that then. Because for a, a lot of folks who are kind of on the front lines of doing digital ministry, like that production piece, that can be a bar to entry, right? Where they are asking that question of like, well, can I do it Well, is it enough for me just to, you know, FaceTime on my cell phone and, and post something? So how are you facilitating in an accessible way people to be able to do these kind of quality productions?

Jessica Blackwood (17:26):

I, we are holding intention what is possible, what, what is okay to be done with a cell phone reels. A lot of the Instagram type type posts, you know, stories perfectly fine to do with a cell phone, actually, that is the better way to do it. But then whenever we're doing our worship we wanna make sure that we have that, that intentionality of letting people know this is a value to us, and this is a value to us because we love you, and we want to do that with quality. And so we are very fortunate that Orlando can work a camera. We've brought on another team member who has some broadcasting experience, and so she is able to help our worship leader, who gives a lot of input to that part, has some experience. And so the way that we are doing it as a church startup, because you're right, that can very quickly run a budget down to the ground, is doing what we can and then knowing when we need to raise our hand and say, Hey, we're just gonna have to put some money towards this.


 And so we've got a guy that we are in partnership with and he helps put things together and it's actually one of the things that I've just learned trying to put together a service.

Orlando Evans (18:41):

So that was very valuable, what Jessica just said. In addition to that, I want to take it a step back further and talk about her being a visionary resource who, when the, she heard that the conference was moving in the direction of us establishing an online church, she made sure that we have the, the necessities in terms of equipment having Mac, Mac laptop or MacBook having at least a couple cameras that we can film from different, different angles, having lighting and microphones and sound equipment to make sure that we could effectively capture that. And, and so again, different people will have different budgets, but we, we made sure through Jessica's leadership that we had the essential pieces in place, and then we also made sure that those pieces had a degree of portability. Now, what does that mean?


That means that we don't always have to film at our conference location. We, we talked about engaging various players from across the North Georgia footprint, which means that we're gonna identify, shoot days or film days that we can go out in the central West. We can go out in the northeast and we can go out to the central south part of our district or, or conference and engage resources to give more voices, more diversity and more visibility. And the reason why we're able to do that is because she was wise enough to make sure we had portable equipment that we can capture ministry from a wide variety of places and angles

Ryan Dunn (20:11):

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Orlando Evans (22:09):

You know, that's, that's a great question. And to be completely honest, I think we use wisdom to be able to leverage some of the existing channels that people are most common with, those being YouTube where we house our ar our archives and invite people to stream on demand. That being Instagram, where we can not only remind people that we're streaming, but we can share snippets using the live function. And of course Facebook is an opportunity to reach multiple generations using that technologies. Now down the line, there will be opportunities for us to expand. And, and, and I remember, and Jessica could chime in on this, perhaps when we sat down with that first visioning session, we, we brainstorm about a lot of different applications that we could use and approaches that we could take, but we wanted to make sure that upon introducing the foundation of who we are and what we were doing, we needed to go with some established channels, I think perhaps inject some additional tools along the way.

Ryan Dunn (23:11):

Hmm. <laugh>, I was laughing there because you said wisdom. I was like, oh, I don't know that app. <Laugh>.

Orlando Evans (23:16):

No, no.

Jessica Blackwood (23:18):

Yes, I know an

Ryan Dunn (23:20):

App. I'm an app.

Jessica Blackwood (23:22):


Orlando Evans (23:23):

Right. Look, we need to create that one. We need to create that one <laugh>,

Jessica Blackwood (23:27):

Right? I would say to, for our internal housekeeping things, the way that we have contacted stayed in connection with the team, we've used Slack. What we like about that is that we can create so many channels that that way we don't totally lose conversations and we can kind of follow through along on the thread in ways of technology. I know this is gonna sound crazy, the iPhone, I can do so much with that I can sit in car line and create a graphic. I can, you know, that, I would say that piece has been the most invaluable. This has to go with us everywhere because it's how I stay connected with the team. It's how you know, we talked about that reels piece, being able to do that. So I would say that that is also a, a as crazy as it sounds, and then microphones that are able to go are really good.


You know, air Budds I use a $60 microphone. I can't think of the name of it. I'll try to get it to you so that you could put it out to those that are listening. But it just connects to my iPhone and it's, that has been really good for just quick videos. And then talking about apps, we are not on TikTok yet, and we are purposely not on TikTok because it's not something that we can sustainably do at the moment, but we know that that is a piece that when we get there, is gonna be really good for us for the content that we're wanting to share. Mm-Hmm.

Ryan Dunn (25:02):

Yeah. You know, in a lot of churches there's a, a pathway, I dunno, maybe you would call it a pathway to discipleship, but at least a pathway of involvement that kind of starts with a, a church marketing message that invites people to worship. And then from worship, people are invited into a next step group, like a small group or a bible study, and then and then invited into leadership. Has the harbor evolved far enough where there's kind of a deliberate pathway into involvement like that?

Jessica Blackwood (25:30):

There? We have not gotten that far down the road for where we want to go, but there is a clear discipleship path that we are intentionally working to establish the Bible studies. We wanted to start from the very beginning because we wanted people to know immediately especially those that are already familiar with church, that there's a place for you to grow. There's a place for you to dig into this faith stuff, to wrestle to be able to be transformed as a community, as a group. So that from the very start, one of the things I'd love to play with this summer is doing some asynchronous bible studies where we do a Bible reading plan, and then we can just connect with each other through a thread and even post online share something that you've learned this week as we're reading Luke.


And so encouraging that kind of discipleship is really the, the next step. And then eventually what we would love to see and what we're working on as a conference are these lighthouse churches where we have maybe a area where there's not a UMC or maybe no church at all. And these communities can come together, they can use some of our content, they can use gather together for bible study. And then for us at the harbor, it's really important that we don't leave out that service piece. And so my goal is that by, by fall we are introducing service opportunities of here is how you can put boots on the ground and really live out faith together and faith in our community where we love and serve our neighbors. So while we're not quite there yet, it is very much what streams where we're going.


And there is a piece where at the end of every service we have a, so what, why is this message important? What is, what do we have? Why are we talking about Jesus? Why are we talking about breath prayers or whatever it is? And then we give a, here's how you can live that out this week where you are. And we have what's called a manifest that is available that they can just download. It comes up in the service in a moment and they can, it's just a graphic. They can download it, save it to their phone, and it has something at the bottom that also gives an opportunity for them to do something in the upcoming week. Because for us, it's very important that we learned how to do this 24 7, not just the one or two times that the service is going.

Ryan Dunn (28:09):

Talk to me a a little bit about service in the digital church. Like what do you, what do you envision that looking like?

Jessica Blackwood (28:18):

Yeah, for I think for me, part of what it looks like is partnering with churches that are already doing something who are maybe like if Orlando's got a service day saying, Hey, everybody, go to Douglasville and we're gonna serve and do whatever it is that Orlando's doing. Cuz y'all, that guy, if you're in Douglasville and you're listening Bright Stars where you wanna be, because that guy is always out in the community doing things loving his neighbor. But that's what service looks like, is, is showing up with other people. And then maybe you don't have a group of people and you're looking for ideas and we kind of, we, we help you find those ideas. Orlando, you wanna add some to that?

Orlando Evans (29:02):

A a absolutely. Pick, picking up on the technology culture, if you remember during the past several years, even during the pandemic, you would periodically see challenges that pop up on social media. One, one of the things that comes to mind is the, the milk crate challenge during the pandemic where people were climbing milk crates. Well, I think we have an opportunity to have service challenges perhaps is share love, you know, challenge people to share love this week maybe the next week, it's, it's give hope. Maybe it's, it's it's help someone who's in need of, of, of help or be present with someone. For example, we can issue a challenge to be present, and that may mean going to a local school and reading story books to, to some of the younger kids. It may mean going to senior citizens hall and playing games with them. It may mean partnering with, with churches within your, your community, not, not even necessarily United Methodist churches, but to do a community cleanup day. So we, we have a wide variety of options to leverage our technology platform to inspire people to connect in the real world and do positive things.

Jessica Blackwood (30:08):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And I would add that one of the things with that is also just acknowledging and knowing that there are some people who are only going to be online because they're home bound, because they can't go out maybe for, for many reasons. And so service for them may be writing a card, maybe sending maybe making a phone call, sending out a text. And so we try to be mindful of those opportunities as well and go at a rate that people can go. Because while we love service, while Orlando and I would be full-time missionaries if we could, you know, we know that not everyone is able to go at that rate. And so that is one of the things that we really try to balance is where are people and how give them a wide range of things that they can do, which is what we want to provide in the future too. It's just a wide range of experiences for those that come into our community.

Ryan Dunn (31:13):

You've named services part of the community life of the harbor, U M C. What does the rhythm of Harbor U M C look like on a weekly basis? You know, for most churches it's like, Hey, we have Sunday worship and we have mid-week bible study and you know, maybe our, our monthly service outreach projects what does the harbor move through on a week-to-week basis? Basis?

Jessica Blackwood (31:35):

That is a great question and something that we're still establishing. You know, we've only just started services early only a couple of weeks in. What I, what we are working on for the rhythm to be is that we have this opportunity that you can worship with us Thursday or Sunday, or really any other time after that. But if you wanna be with us live, we have this worship opportunity. You have your so what that we invite you to share with us what you've done throughout the week. And then on Monday, Tuesday, we do a sermon remix three to four minute. Just quick talk with the pastor who, whoever preached that week, Hey, you mentioned like this, you mentioned service. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? You know, something that they didn't necessarily do a deep dive in, in the service that they can do with us, and then offering some inspirational posts, offering some humor.


I, people love to laugh, and I think that sometimes as the church world, we forget that we love laughter and I believe that God is joyful and God delights. And so we want that to be a part of the rhythm of finding some ways to incorporate some of the funny things that happen with church life. And so the rhythm, we're still establishing it. But that's really the hope is just this, doing life in a way that doesn't feel interrupted, I think would probably be what I would say for what we want our rhythm to look like in a way that doesn't jostle or jolt your day, but that comes alongside in such a way that makes people glad that it's there. If that makes sense.

Orlando Evans (33:23):


Jessica Blackwood (33:24):


Orlando Evans (33:25):

<Affirmative>, it, it, it makes sense. And then also as, as Jessica mentioned, we, we are in the process of introducing multiple Bible study opportunities and having a routine for that. And one of the things I, I'd also like to see is and we've had some discussion about this, but formally roll out in the past I've had experience doing what's called social studies, S O U L C I A L, which is really S O C I A L. Social media is gonna enrich your soul, but social provides a connection point. We've done things in the past, like having a, a, a snapshot photography small group, and the way that operates, you can come together in a digital place, in a meeting room share a few scriptures. For example, one week we might talk about love, another week we might talk about laughter, we might talk about light, we may talk about color share scriptures, relate to that, and then invite people to go out that week and take photographs of things that remind them of that topic.


And then to share them using a hashtag tag or tagging us. And that way we can mobilize and share and then come back and talk about what we experienced during that process. That's something that we can engage in in a hybrid format where you have some people who may want to gather locally and do it, but also people who are dispersed in, in various neighborhoods or, or communities. They can do it. And then we can connect in common using our digital platform and digital channels via hashtags and meeting rooms. So that's, that's something I look forward to us incorporating. And, and you can do that format with, with cooking. You can do it with you know, maybe paint classes or art classes where you can share inspiration and ask people to, to paint something. And maybe at the end of the meeting they can show what they painted or even things like poetry, you know, have, have a scripture or a theme and give people a few minutes to, to create something and, and share. So again the, the digital platform allows us to do so much. And I think what helps us, and this is gonna sound crazy, what's gonna help us if, if more of us stop thinking like a church and think about, well, what will be a good activity that I can engage with people, and then how could I experience God while we do this?

Ryan Dunn (35:41):

Hmm. Yeah. I thi this is great. I mean, that hit me is I got a, a Facebook group that's languishing a little bit in terms of engagement and like, what would it look like if I just dropped a challenge on Monday of be like, Hey, this week go out and find something that represents to you blank. And it, it would be wonderful if, you know, it was a reflection of the Sunday sermon or Yeah, what a great idea. Absolutely.

Orlando Evans (36:05):


Ryan Dunn (36:07):

Well, let's talk future vision, just a a for a quick second. Is the vision for the harbor U m C to, to kind of be a I don't know, an airport in a sense for, for new church startups? So it sounds like you do have a long-term vision of starting with the digital and, and then as people coalesce together, you know, maybe forming local in-person or however you want to term that congregation. So is that really the long-term vision for the Harbor u c to just give birth to lots of those?

Jessica Blackwood (36:41):

I would say that while it's not a named vision of what we want to do one of the things that we are seeing is a need and and we're growing in fresh expressions. And so what really, instead of an airport, it would be more of a partnership of how can we come alongside what you're doing and how can we help people find, find it, and, you know, support it. And so we definitely want to partner with what's going on in our conference. As churches are starting up we'd love to be able to help maybe for, it might be at the beginning providing some content you know, that we might have some smaller churches that may need to go to some simulcast type things where maybe they stream our service and then they have a Bible study or a devotion type moment afterwards. And so we are definitely here to be a partner to what's, what's happening in our conference.

Ryan Dunn (37:45):

I do have one last question for you, and that it's a pretty simple one. For people who just want to take, like the first step into the harbor, U M C, where is the the right spot to do that?

Jessica Blackwood (38:00):

The right spot to do that is on Facebook and send us a, a, a dm let us know that you're there and let us know that how we can connect. Because one of the things, anytime someone reaches out to me, I automatically ask them or I tell them what we are, and then I say, what do you need? What do you want from us? How can we be partners in this? How can we be in community together? Because still learning and we're still growing and as you've heard from Orlando and myself, we have so much hope and about what's to come and that is best done and worked out when we're informed by the people that are there with us. So Facebook, send us an email if you want to just kind of e edge in, and we would never know you're there. You can find us at live dot the harbor for our church service on Thursday or Sunday evening.

Ryan Dunn (39:00):

Perfect. All right. Well, y'all, thank you so much.

Jessica Blackwood (39:04):

Thank you. Thank you.

Ryan Dunn (39:06):

That's gonna wrap up this session of pastoring in the Digital Parish. It's our first of season six. Many great episodes and sessions to come. If you're ready to do some catch up, A good follow up to this episode is one that's called Planting Digital. First it's with Mike Wang of Oah Church, or if you've already heard that one, then Season four is leading a church's vision in digital ministry. It's also on Point <laugh>. Again, I'm Ryan Dunn. I'd like to thank resource, the online destination for leaders throughout the United Methodist Church. They make this podcast possible, and of course, they host our website, mastering in the digital, where you can find more online resources for ministry. Also want to thank Safer sanctuaries for their support. Again, safer Sanctuaries. Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities is a new and comprehensive resource that continues the tradition of safe sanctuaries ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedures. This resource contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age level, specific guidance, and step-by-step instructions on how to develop, revise, update, and implement an abuse prevention plan. Find [email protected] If you wanna connect with me and the team of pastoring in the digital parish, then check out our pastoring in the Digital Parish group on Facebook. You can also send me questions and ideas for future sessions at Digital Parish That's the email address. By the way, another session is coming out next week. Woo-Hoo. In the meantime, peace.




On this episode

Jessica Blackwood Church Planter

Rev. Jessica Blackwood serves in the Center for Congregational Excellence of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church as Digital Ministry Specialist. She helps churches create sacred spaces within digital spaces.

Rev. Orlando Evans

Rev. Orlando Evans has years of experience in leading digital communities and is currently the lead pastor at Bright Star United Methodist Church in Douglasville, Georgia. And he’s one of the key visionaries for founding Harbor UMC.

Ryan Dunn, co-host and producer of the Compass Podcast

Our proctor/host is the Rev. Ryan Dunn, a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan manages the digital brand presence of Rethink Church, co-hosts and produces the Compass Podcast, manages his personal brand, and obsesses with finding ways to offer new expression of grace.


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