West Grove church reaches out with phone-in Sunday services
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
Last year, Charlie Gross had an idea.
As the pastor of West Grove Presbyterian Church, he wanted to connect with people who might not be able to get out to join Sunday services. While there are churches who make the most of online internet streaming capabilities, Gross realized that many people in the community lacked internet access, or could not easily navigate online.
That led to the First Mobile Church, a dial-in church service that's easy to use. The service marks its one-year anniversary this week.
"The original idea started when I was thinking about how to connect with people who are out exercising on Sunday mornings," Gross said last week. "I ran the idea by my 30-ish nephew, Jay Davidson, and he pointed out that I was thinking too narrowly. At that meeting in his parents' kitchen, the name First Mobile Church was born. I was a veteran at using conference calls, so on Nov 24, 2013, we held our first service. I think we had five callers."
West Grove Presbyterian has a small congregation of 120 members, but the service has been a welcome bright spot in the week for people seeking a live, interactive church experience. They simply dial a phone number to join the service, and operators can interact with them, offer prayers and hear concerns.
The simple nature of the service means that it's free for callers. "The service is totally free for everyone," Gross said. "It's free for us if the caller uses the 530 area code. It does cost us four cents a minute for those using the 855 toll-free number. Many of the worshipers do contribute to the ministry from time to time, so we're very happy to invite toll-free callers."
What Gross wryly refers to as "the nerve center" of the Mobile Church is a laptop and iPhone on his desk at the church. "I have a wonderful worship team helping me," he said. "I'm indebted to Walter and Joe Snyder for their behind-the-scenes help."
The service is particularly welcome when the weather is bad and elderly community members can't get out. "This past winter, we had as many as 20 to 26 phone calls," Gross said. "I now average 12 calls per week. I've never tried to get an actual number of worshipers, since there is often more than one person per phone call.
"It's great for the elderly and those who are shut in," Gross added. "We are developing a great caring community. The real benefit of being on a phone call is that it's two-way communication. We can listen to prayer concerns and we pray for the people."
On the church's website, which details how to use the Mobile Church service, there are testimonials from two women who are regular callers.
"I've been listening to pastor Charlie Gross and the First Mobile Church for a couple of months, and I really enjoy this," one caller says. "It's a way of worshipping God when you're an invalid and can't get out. It's been a really big help to me."
The other caller says, "The First Mobile Church addresses a need that very few churches recognize. This allows for those of us who may have health issues to be an active part of a worshipping community."
The simplicity of the idea makes it an ideal service for other churches, and Gross said he's happy to explain how it works.
"We've had a number of people calling in to Mobile Church who are traveling or on vacation," he said. "One of my West Grove Presbyterian members called in from Texas. My mother-in-law calls in from Florida in the winter."
For more information on West Grove Presbyterian Church (139 W. Evergreen St., West Grove) and the Mobile Church service, visit www.firstmobilechurch.org. Pastor Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail email@example.com.