Watermark Community Church is an extremely diverse faith-based community that gathers in the heart of Dallas, TX. The church has numerous first-generation members from over 70 countries. The Watermark service began being interpreted into other languages in 2012 when one churchgoer decided to help out a friend by whispering the sermon in Spanish. More and more people learned of the possibility to hear the sermon in Spanish and started sitting nearby to listen in. The wish to hear an interpreted version of the church service rapidly spread from a mere 2 or 3 people to 45 people. The church, delighted with this turn of events, decided to invest in a hardware solution. In 2015, Oscar Castillo became Watermark’s new Director of Cross-Cultural Engagement and was responsible for meeting the linguistic needs of the Spanish and International community. Just as the church was determining how best to proceed, one of their pastors received an email from Interactio. Interactio’s CEO happened to be in town, and Oscar agreed to meet. The two got together and immediately connected as entrepreneurs. Thus began a relationship that has saved Watermark thousands of dollars, and successfully accommodated their specific demographic needs. Oscar, as overseer of the Spanish community, has developed much useful experience as he continues to engage with the question of integration. He says that the Church needs to:
- Know the theology behind diversity and integration into the local Church.
- Understand the city and local demographics. “The City is changing. If we had not gone through this process, our church would have become segregated.”
- Be intentional. “We cannot allow these people to be treated like an afterthought, or simply as an outreach tool.”
When Oscar joined the team, one of his first projects was to replace the radios that had already begun to break down in the 3 years since buying them. Replacing this equipment would have cost the church $40,000. He also faced various issues regarding interpreting services, such as the costly instillation of special equipment, long delays, and, most importantly for Watermark, out-of-date online support and services. The church wanted to keep offering multilingual services and was eager to avoid becoming a separate Spanish service, or for its attendees to have to sit in a separate group in an separate section of the sanctuary. Oscar began to look at software-based solutions to see how this might be achieved.
When Watermark made the decision to use Interactio, the system still had limited features. The only streaming option was available via a mobile app. Most attendees were first-generation Spanish speakers between the ages of 40 and 55. Most were not bilingual and did not have the necessary phones to use the app or any understanding of how to do so. It was something of a challenge to get these older, less tech-savvy churchgoers to use the system but after a few months everything clicked into place. The Interactio team worked with Watermark to update the church’s internet and wifi stability. Interactio released their new web app and call-in feature. With the new call-in feature, in particular, the types of phones and problems with tech-savvy-ness soon became non-issues. This, in turn, dramatically improved the service Watermark could provide as more people were able to enjoy their sermons and other events simply by dialing a phone number.
Because of the decision to use Interactio, the church saved tens of thousands of dollars in installation and maintenance costs (something hardware solutions would require). Watermark no longer uses radios, and this easy access to interpreting, via call-in and the app, has made more people aware of the service and encourages people to bring their Spanish-speaking friends along. Boosted by this success, Watermark wants to interpret services into even more languages. Not long after introducing Spanish, Watermark began offering services in Farsi. This had a hugely beneficial effect on the church’s international members, who now feel far more included.
Watermark believes that reaching people on Sunday is a great entry point, but they want more ministering during the week, especially for those who are unable to attend on Sunday. Watermark believes that the Church should be much more than a Sunday service; people need discipleship and shepherding throughout the week. Due to the simple but elegant solutions of Interactio, the church has seen a massive improvement in integrating non-English speaking followers and is starting to develop real communities among these international groups.