Technology and Web Presence: 6 Suggestions for Churches
I recently read Shifting Stats Shaking the Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond. It is a beneficial read for many reasons. It is Canadian. It contains 40 short vignettes/chapters of how congregations from coast to coast to coast are trying to minister effectively in contemporary Canada. It accounts for churches of many kinds – rural and urban, large and small, and multiple denominations. It is written in an accessible narrative format. It also addresses topics ranging from family to youth to finances to immigration to volunteers to technology.
Of the various things that I gleaned, I was intrigued with the sections on technology. Based on personal experiences in church leadership, involvement as a consultant with different denominations across Canada, some of the insights from Shifting Stats, and my marriage to someone who is in marketing and communications, below are a series of “web presence” suggestions for churches; strategies that could help to bridge the gap with those already part of your congregation as well as those outside of your faith community. This list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it helps you to think creatively in this regard.
Website – this is the first place that most turn to for information about a church, which often determines if individuals even try a church out. Does your church have a website? Is it up to date with current information? Does it strike the balance of including information, but not too much information? Is it visually appealing (i.e. contemporary pictures and graphics)? Is the site easy to navigate? Creating and maintaining a website might not be your strength, but maybe there is someone in your congregation who is skilled in this area. If not, it is worth considering the cost to hire someone in to help with this vital public presence.
Texting – pastors are critiqued for one-way communication in their sermons. Learning theory reveals that people learn in different ways, and the standard lecture approach to sermons is not helpful for all. In response some churches embrace conversational services whereby the sermon is shorter, followed by attenders who text questions in response and then the pastor handles those questions, live in the service. I moderated a few of these exchanges in the past and between 10-30 texted comments and questions emerged in minutes, from young and old alike. Is this something that could work in your context? Who might this approach be valuable for in your community?
Online Prayer Chain – some churches still have telephone prayer chains, where a prayer request is shared and then passed along the chain. A modern expression of this is to post prayer requests on a church’s website and, somewhat like Facebook, anonymous individuals click an “I prayed for you” button. People can see how many prayed for them, which can have significant psychological and sociological benefits to individuals and an entire faith community. Is an online prayer chain something that could add to your church’s beliefs and practices surrounding prayer?
Facebook/Twitter – Does your church have a facebook and/or twitter account? Looking for a way to circulate up to the minute information to your church? Read an article that you think others would appreciate? Want your church members to use their word of mouth influence to talk up what is happening in your congregation? Wish to circulate images of the sacred moments, celebrations, and bonding times as a community? Facebook and twitter remain excellent mediums for these kinds of things, and some in your congregation may tweet a quote from the sermon or update their reflections about God or their faith community during the service as an extension of their worship experience.
I could offer countless other suggestions. To conclude, three words of caution. First, every congregation is unique. Some or all of these ideas may or may not work in your context. Know your congregation and try things out of that knowledge. Second, do not try to conquer the world overnight. Pick one idea and try it for a while and then move on to another domain. Finally, maintaining a strong web presence demands that you are consistent and current. Failing in either of these areas will surely lead to a lack of interest among others.
Have thoughts or suggestions? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and stay in touch via my website at www.joelthiessen.ca.