Why Every Church Needs an Online Ministry

Who’s Responsible for Your Church’s Online Strategy?

As technologists, we’re only one big piece in finishing this puzzle.  Many of the challenges we have with encouraging technology adoption isn’t rooted in the technology itself, but rather the adoption of it.  Technology is just a tool.  Its 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, but its not just the money.  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 budgetary one.  The Internet and Social Media just don’t fit in most existing church organizational structures.  Mass occurs every week at its schedule times, phones get answered during office hours, bulletins get published and printed all because its 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 to do it only with well intentioned volunteers.  I’ve seen volunteers do some wonderful, 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) 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 is a Sophomore at a Marquette High, a Catholic High School in Milwaukee, WI.  Its a great school and he’s doing very well there (says the proud father!), but he’s getting a different educational experience then I did.  He’s using tools (video conferences, instant messaging, email) that many of us never had growing up.  I predict my son will never, I repeat, never, write anyone a letter and mail it to them (snail mail as we disparagingly call it).  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 was an attribute that mattered.  Simply put, the next generation of parishioners are growing up online.  They don’t read newspapers or magazines.  They definitely own a cell phone, but may not have a land line.  They’re even starting to cancel their Cable TV subscription in favor of Netflix and Hulu.  If parishioners are 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 I believe is fact.  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, its 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.

 

 

 

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Author:Joe Luedtke

Joe Luedtke is the Chief Operating Officer for Liturgical Publications (LPi). Joe specializes in Social Media and Web 2.0 and is currently leading LPi’s efforts to move into the on-line world. Joe works for the world's largest and oldest social network, religion, and believes that this social network could benefit tremendously from the the proper use of Internet technologies.
  • Brad

    Great article and insight.  We’ve met similar resistance at my own parish.  Our online endeavors are basically a website.  My opinion is that online engagement through social networking is a huge miss for many of the same reasons you stated.  It’s a great opportunity to engage younger generations that are often getting “missed” and “lost”.  It’s an opportunity to expand the communication into a 2-way dialogue rather than the one-way version which exists with relying too heavily on the bulletin.  

    I prefer the ministry approach which addresses costs (in some respects depending upon the model selected).  I agree it takes real commitment and dedication.  Likewise, it should be a team with clear goals and agendas as well as policy.  An experienced leader can be a key part of training clergy and/or participating office staff.  

    The other miss in regards to this in my opinion is to automatically think these are endeavors for just young people (i.e. teens).  We are currently facing this misconception.  This is a great opportunity to get young people involved and to properly learn to use these tools effectively.  

  • MidwestGirl

    I’m blessed to be the Communications Coordinator for a parish of about 1600 families.

    I coordinate our entire online presence – social media, blogs, e-newsletters, and more for both our parish and preschool through 8th grade school ministry.  I’ve been coordinating this ministry for over 3 1/2 years now, and it’s been great for our entire community to feel more connected.

    • Joe Luedtke

      MidwestGirl, would you mind sharing your church’s name?  Its always great to see examples of people doing it right.  We’d love to see what you’re up to!

  • Anonymous

    To whom may we attribute such a great article? Would love to know. :)

    At the Pilgrim Center of Hope, the Catholic evangelization ministry where I am responsible for our marketing, I call our “online ministry” our Digital Outreach. We have so many opportunities to ‘reach out’ and digital methods are definitely one of our top priorities. While the Digital Outreach is ultimately my responsibility, I invite and encourage every staff member to participate – and they do! This allows our outreach to be more well-rounded and complete. 

    Obviously, it’s not a model that every organization can implement, but when possible, it gives a parish / ministry more than just one face or voice.

    • Joe Luedtke

      I’m glad you liked the article, now if only I could remember not to post as the Admin account in WordPress so it knows my name. :)

      Joe

  • http://twitter.com/ccerveny Caroline Cerveny

    Joe, Thanks for a wonderful article.  For me it calls to mind that as an organizational structure we have lots to learn in order to adapt to this ever evolving Digital Continent that Pope Benedict has called us to participate in.  If we would begin to consider ourselves as a networked organization, we would hire and structure our staffs differently, beginning at the Diocesan Level.  Where a parish has a school, the school is often very tech savvy and has been developing a tech plan for the school for years.  Is it now time to develop a tech plan for the parish that includes ALL MINISTRIES in the parish? Would love to see a blog article or two of how to do a Parish Technology plan and eventually a few success stories from parishes that are integrating technology at all levels of parish life!