I’m sure you’ve all heard Bob Dufford’s hymn, “Be Not Afraid” This should be our theme song for church leaders looking to enter that Digital Continent of technology and social media that is the Internet. The church’s key challenge within moving to this Digital Continent is not a technology gap, but rather fear and not fear of the technology but rather fear of changing communication norms.
When I’ve talked to church staff or priests about blogging, one of the first questions I frequently receive is “can we turn comments off?”. They’re afraid someone may say something negative or in appropriate.
Earlier this week, I had a request by a diocese to modify the Social Networking service that my company offers, WeGather, to make the posting of messages more restrictive. It appears its too easy to post, they’ said they were afraid the posting could inadvertently go out to the wrong group within the church.
Yesterday while at the Interactive Connections conference someone asked the question, “if we move to Social Media, I’m afraid we’ll be exposed to something offensive or hurtful” and today at the conference someone posed a question in a session on Facebook for your church, “What if something terrible happens?”
Unfortunately, something potentially terrible has happened. New communication mediums have been created, the masses have flocked to them and only now has the church started to move toward them. Today, Facebook now has over one billion users which is about the size of the Catholic church globally. The average American spends 2.7 hours per week on the Internet. How many hours per week does the average American Catholic spend at church?
I see this fear holding us back. Are you going to get it 100% right the first time? Probably not, but I can guarantee you’re getting it wrong if you’re not trying. The next generation, the Millennials, are indeed growing up online. They prefer electronic communication over written and sometimes even verbal communication. They’re also expecting it to be a two way discussion. They don’t just consume content online. They create content and carry on conversations. If you use Facebook, just think how boring Facebook would be if everyone’s status updates need to be proofed by let’s say, their mother, and no one was allowed to respond to anyone else’s posts. I imagine adding either of those restrictions would be the end of Facebook.
Bishop Herzog of Alexandria pointed out in a 2010 presentation, “Social Media… is causing as fundamental a shift in communication patterns and behavior as the printing press did 500 years ago. And I don’t think I have to remind you of what happened when the Catholic Church was slow to adapt to that new technology.”
So, here’s our new theme song to help get you started…