Crashing Through 7 Roadblocks to Internet Ministry
We are about to launch a refreshed series of posts on how to start an internet ministry. Before we get into the nuts and bolts, it might be helpful to understand why churches have such a difficult time using the tools that are now not only commonplace in most of society but are part of every aspect of modern life.
The Church was unprepared for the digital revolution. We watched while others adopted. Now we are lost. Here is our biggest mistake: The Church approached the use of the internet as an add-on to how we have conducted ministry for 2000 years.
In fact, the internet is a game changer. It is not something else to do. It is something different to do. It requires different skills and different ways of working together. The results could be amazing, but they won’t be realized if the strategy is to just keep on doing everything the same way while creating a static placeholder site. Start using the internet and things will change!
The game-changing element is that the internet facilitates engagement. You can’t always control engagement. The Church likes control.
Most internet strategies allow for readers to comment on what they see and read. They can do this in a number of ways—”liking” or sharing, for example. They can also comment.
Some online communities post rules for those who want to engage.
Here’s typical corporate approach to community rules.
1. Stick to the topic.
2. Be nice or be gone.
Compare this to the rules of this popular online forum directed to church leaders, mostly clergy. It is six printed pages in length (1262 words), complete with warnings about what might happen if your comment strays from its nebulous standards. Would-be commenters also have to sign in to comment. Only the brave dare type! And yes, the authors do snipe back if they determine a comment violates policy. This does not encourage meaningful engagement. It tries to recreate the teacher student dynamic that is part of preaching.
My own denomination’s house organ has an equally archaic policy designed to control engagement, thereby sacrificing any hope of lively dialog. You have to subscribe to comment — that’s in addition to your congregation’s offerings that support the publication. If your congregation foots the subscription costs or someone else in the family pays the bill, you can be shut out.
The Church is not used to open dialog. Control creates a sense of order if not progress. We spend our days scratching our chins and pondering why we are in decline. The rest of the world is learning to accept that the digital world cannot be controlled.
First, your congregation needs to understand the power and reach of internet ministry.
You will be able to enhance many aspects of typical congregational life. If these are a challenge, an internet ministry might be the answer.
- WITNESS: Your website can be a public face of your congregation’s mission.
- WORSHIP: Your website can extend the worship experience through the week.
- EDUCATION: The internet is revolutionizing education in every other aspect of life.
- SERVICE: You website will trigger new mission opportunities. You’ll be surprised. We were!
- FELLOWSHIP: Your website will become your front door.
- STEWARDSHIP: Much more than a Donate button! Your website is an opportunity to encourage giving in many ways — our selves, our time, and our possessions.
- EVANGELISM: There is no better evangelism tool. Period.
But first, there are roadblocks.
Determining who is in charge. Recognize that multiple skills are needed and these skills are not likely to be found in one appointed leader.
- If you rely on the pastor as internet leader, you are likely to have a site that posts the weekly sermon.
- If you rely on the techies in your congregation, things will work well, but may not be effective.
- If you rely on those in the congregation who just love social media, you are likely to end up with a cliquish Facebook site.
- If you rely on your artistic members, the site may be beautiful but not reach its potential.
So which of these important skills will lead the project? This brings us to the next roadblock.
Embracing the group approach to web ministry. Success relies on finding people with a number of skills—the skills we’ve already listed and a few more. These people may be sitting in your pews. Put them to work. If you truly don’t have people with these skills, find them. Hire them if necessary. Internet ministry is too important to accept any excuses.
The Church has not been leading the development of internet ministry. National and regional bodies vary greatly in their understanding of how the internet can be used. Many have not explored the medium beyond the creation of an informational bulletin board-style site. Very large churches hire media ministers. Small churches may think they haven’t got a chance, but that’s not true. Our church is very small and we’ve been working at this for five years with success.
Creating a strategy. You’ll need to spend some time with your group discussing where to begin and which of the many possibilities for web ministry should be your priority. Beware! Strategies need to be fluid. The internet is fast-changing. What works well one year, may go bust the next. Your team will have to measure your efforts with patience. We’ll be publishing some strategies to consider as part of this series.
Creating content. Content drives every aspect of internet ministry. It is imperative to create quality content published with consistency. It doesn’t have to be a daily sermon. It can be a quote or a link to something you think is meaningful. Your committee is likely to divvy up this job and can even reach deeper into the congregation for help. Again, 2×2 can help. Watch for our internet content subscription service scheduled to begin this Pentecost.
Measuring your website’s effectiveness. The temptation for many congregations is to post a website and walk away. Most church projects in the good old days were evaluated once a year. Your web team should monitor your blogs statistics at least monthly. Don’t worry. There are people who love this work.
Monitoring the website. If you invite community engagement, you have to be prepared to engage back. Your congregation must monitor the site daily and be prepared to take action if needed. That could mean responding with basic information or handling an inquiry that reflects some distress. We’ll write more about this in future posts.
These are the roadblocks. They are waiting to be crashed through. You can do it. We will help.