Who’s Responsible for Your Church’s Online Strategy?
As technologists, we’re only one big piece in this puzzle. Many of the challenges we have with encouraging technology adoption aren’t rooted in the technology itself, but rather the adoption of it. Technology is just a tool. It’s how we use it that counts.
When talking to churches about social networking solutions, one of the immediate stumbling blocks I often encounter is a budgetary one. In a church’s budget, there is no line item for social networking. Adding a new budgetary line item is hard regardless of the cost. I realized after hearing this from multiple churches that the problem is much deeper than just a monetary one. The internet and social media just don’t fit in most existing church organizational structures. Mass occurs every week at scheduled times, phones are answered during office hours, bulletins get published and printed all because it’s clearly someone’s job to do so. Individuals have identified responsibilities for those tasks and they get them done. There is both responsibility and accountability for them.
So who’s responsible for your church’s online strategy?
As churches try and embrace the internet and social media, too often they try only with well-intentioned volunteers. I’ve seen volunteers do some fantastic things on the web, but sustaining the effort is always the challenge. As church leaders, our challenge is leveraging the time, talent, and treasure of our parishioners. We need them, but we also need to be responsible for ensuring the continuity of their efforts when one volunteer steps down and we search for the next one.
The Case For an Online Ministry
Making someone responsible for managing your church’s web content and monitoring social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is one big first step. However, we’ll know real change is occurring when churches begin to formulate an Online Ministry. I’m calling this a ministry because it goes beyond traditional communication. Churches need to not only communicate with their parishioners online, but engage them online. The case for this is simple and comes down to two major shifts:
Shift 1 – The Next Generation Of Parishioners are Growing Up Online
My son attended a local Catholic high school in Milwaukee, WI. It was a great school and he did very well there (says the proud father!), but he got a very different educational experience then I did. He’s using tools – videoconferences, instant messaging, email – that many of us never had growing up. I predict my son will never write anyone a letter and mail it to them. His penmanship classes in grade school are probably lost on his entire generation. He does, however, text constantly to his friends and can type on the keyboard at a rate as good as any secretary back when words per minute were an attribute that mattered. Simply put, the next generation of parishioners is growing up online. They don’t read newspapers or magazines. They definitely own a cell phone, but may not have a landline. They’re even starting to cancel their cable TV subscription in favor of Netflix and Hulu. If parishioners are increasingly spending their time online, the Church needs to be there too!
Shift 2 – The Decline of Heritage Catholics
Has anyone ever told you they were “raised Catholic”? What they’re really saying is this is the path their parents sent them down. It wasn’t necessarily their choice and they’re not 100% sure about it. Decades ago, people didn’t question their religion. You were born Catholic and stayed Catholic. It was your heritage. Now people do question their faith and this isn’t just a Catholic phenomenon. They move between faiths or abandon their faith altogether. I’m not judging, but rather stating what statistics bear out. We can either lament this fact or embrace the challenge it presents. We need to engage this generation and, oh yes, where can we find them? Online!
An online ministry would be responsible for spreading the faith and the message of each church into cyberspace. The online minister’s job would be not only to maintain the church’s content online, monitor their social network feeds, but most importantly engage their parishioners online. As technologists, it’s our job to provide the tools to do this and help the Church understand and navigate the confusing morass of technology that is Church Communication 2.0. We’ll know we’re succeeding when we starting seeing an Online Ministry being created in our churches.