Michigan Pastor Reaching Across Generations: “I Wanna Be On Their Phones”
By Lane Webb
Tom Whitesel, pastor of Ithaca Church of God in Ithaca, Michigan, has become aware, and has adapted, to a change in the way community is expressed. Whitesel, the founder of the 24Today podcast, spoke on the matter during an interview, where he stated that he believes times are changing and, along with this, values are changing. This values shift reflects the decrease in church attendance. Whitesel clarified that his church’s core values are “Loving God, Loving Each Other, and Loving Community,” and, through this, he believes he can reach farther than most church’s in today’s age, the Digital Age.
“I wanna be on their phones”—a quote that encapsulates Whitesel’s approach to embracing the Digital Age within his own ministry. Whitesel believes the most effective way to speak the Word is to use technology to his benefit. Every Wednesday night at 9, Whitesel hosts a Bible study through Facebook Live. This method allows parents to put their children to bed, and still be able to interact with a regular Bible study that they would otherwise be unable to enjoy. Whitesel also utilizes the medium of podcasts as one of his tools. Here, he can invite guests, of all demographics, to talk with him. His guests range from a mom who spoke on the subject of “mom guilt” to ex-cons sharing their testimony. Learning their stories, and being able to relay through them a Biblical message, allows people with similar issues to have access to them without the listener having to directly appear at his church.
But what about the people in his own community? How does he reach them? Well, one of Whitesel’s personal convictions is that the best way to get people in the church on Sunday is to bring the church to the people. And the way he does this is through cancelling the worship service to host service projects. Here, Whitesel is improving the own quality of life in his community, but also creating a lasting impression among the community. He has come across the question, “What if you get a visitor on the days you cancel church?” He admitted that it may not be the most effective method, but he posts a sign on the front door of where the congregation is doing their project, and openly invites anyone to come join him.
Finally, he was asked, “If you could tell the world one thing, what would it be?” He stated, “Jesus is the answer.” He elaborated that, through Jesus, all problems can be mollified, and you can find the answers to the problem through him. Whitesel also commented that there should be more emphasis from the church toward the local community. He stated that it is easy to fund someone to go around the world to do good, but you also must start local. His reasoning behind this message was to put emphasis on the impact the church plays in the day-to-day lives of the area. It’s the fear that, if the church were to shut down, would anyone really notice? Would the impact from the closing be felt in the community?