I Am United Methodist: Daniel Wilson
The Rev. Daniel Wilson: ‘Meeting people where you are'
Online pastor, Central United Methodist Church, Concord, North Carolina
If he could hit a curveball, Daniel Wilson might not have "Rev." in front of his name.
Wilson grew up in a United Methodist family. During worship one Sunday, 5-year-old Daniel complained to his father that there were Little Leagues for baseball and football, but he wasn't any good at them, and there should be Little League for preaching instead.
He considered a career in architecture, while always knowing he would ultimately wind up in seminary. After a campus visit to Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, North Carolina, Wilson said he "fell in love and decided I would pursue ministry 110 percent."
While still an undergrad at Pfeiffer, Wilson began working part time as a youth pastor at Central United Methodist Church, Concord, North Carolina. After graduation, he became a licensed local pastor and Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster appointed Wilson to Central full time.
At the same time, the church was considering becoming a multisite campus. An attempt to acquire a second piece of property fell through. While contemplating next steps, someone pointed out the large number of new members who said they first found the church through an Internet search. Though church leaders occasionally posted sermons and choir performances, they did not diligently maintain their online presence.
Wilson and the Rev. Andy Langford, Central's senior pastor, had an idea: What if they interacted with people online?
"We thought that this was a niche that could set us apart," Wilson said. They began looking at what it would take to create an online campus, set a deadline of Christmas Eve 2013 and spent a year designing the ministry.
At Pfeiffer, Wilson had been active in the audiovisual side of the school's weekly chapel service, so it was a no-brainer that he would have a hand in Central's cyber ministry.
"Technology has always been a side of me that's been more of a hobby than a profession, all the while working toward ordination," he said.
New gig: full-time online pastor
In 2013, he was appointed to Central Online as a full-time online pastor.
"It seemed to fit for me personally. I always had a knack for technology, so combining that with my pastoral side was perfect."
"This is a fascinating ministry, and we are all learning some exciting and creative things from this online 'campus,'" said Goodpaster.
Wilson facilitates several online small groups, posts video blogs and maintains a community through the Web. He also hosts in-person meetups that he promotes through social media to give himself a chance to make a personal connection with the online congregation.
One of the biggest differences he sees to traditional face-to-face ministry is that online, people seem to open up more quickly than they would in passing on a Sunday morning. Wilson said it is not uncommon to be in a casual conversation and have someone he has just met toss out a deep theological question.
Wilson considers the ability to meet at any time a big advantage. One of his small groups is for college students, and it is hard to find a standing weekly time that works for everyone throughout the semester.
"We may have to set up a meeting with two hours' notice, and we can make that happen," he said. "It's much harder to have that flexibility in a brick-and-mortar setting."
He also appreciates being able to be truly authentic online. "I could be on a video chat in regular work attire, or I could be on my couch with my 3-year-old in my lap. Literally, you're meeting people where you are," he said.
Wilson said his favorite moments as a pastor have been "watching someone own their faith as their own — when they start to grow in a faith that isn't something they got from their parents and it's their own personal journey. To be there for any part of that process is a privilege."
Check out Central United Methodist's online campus.
Joey Butler, multimedia editor, Interpreter