This is another response to some questions proposed for my talk at NRB. Two previous posts about NRB were my Initial Reflections and What Ministries Need to Know about User-generated Content.
What are examples of online technologies where churches could be doing a better job?
1. Forums and Email lists.
These have been around for awhile, but in many cases they are not being owned by the ministries. By owned, I mean promoted and managed. It’s one thing to ask your constituents to engage you on your forums, but it is another to have the maturity and perspective to let sinful people be themselves. Many times in ministry we want the people we serve to not bring their baggage with them. Well the online culture promotes transparency and vulnerability. The privacy of homes let’s people do things they would not otherwise do, and yet, this provides an amazing ministry opportunity. Forums, when done well are an example of a 10 year old technology that hasn’t been done well but by only a few ministries.
- One example is theooze.com. This community has grown to include over 150,000 monthly visitors from ninety countries. Run mostly by volunteers, it is an example of a successful virtual space where Christians and non-Christians engage each other sharpen one another.
- Another example is TableandFire.com. This is a forum run by a music minister at Irving Bible Church, near Dallas. They invested in the same forum technology that Apple Computer and other large companies have used. I found the forum not through my association for with their IT and Communications teams, but through a Google search for “Dallas Motorcycle Training”. These guys do church community well both online and offline.
2. Social Networking technologies.
Christians are incredibly interconnected. We forward hoaxes, cute stories, and warnings about peanut butter faster than any other group. This is because we build reputations faster than people in the world, through our strong association with organizations. We carry these relationships and associations with us online. Ministries should consider the use of social networking technology, which will help to build a more dedicated and loyal group of constituents.
- Simple things like online memorial pages that live as permanent places of memory for loved ones say something big about how important others are to us.
- Enabling prayer communities with tools that allow people to share their prayer needs while maintaining their privacy and dignity.
- For large churches, well run job or classifieds listings that layer opportunities on top of the social fabric of the church would be a great way of bringing outsiders in from the community. Put simply, Jobs are one of those things which can get people past their affiliations and distrust.
3. Content Management Systems.
Producing and Managing quality content comes down to caring enough about your constituents to ask them what information they need, and then providing it in the ways they care to consume. Compared to donor relations, how much money does your ministry put into content creation? Wait, I am not talking about product creation. Not CDs, seminars, booklets, or offers. I am talking about content which extends the relationship with the constituent by meeting them where they are, and dialogging with them instead of talking at them.
I am talking about building trust through keeping old, stale content off your site. I am talking up-to-date calendars and event registrations that are functional and easy to use. I am talking about resources on other sites which you link to. A link to another ministry is not a full endorsement of the ministry, but only an endorsement of what you are linking to. Using Content Management Systems to their fullest extent by funding content creation with enough staff will go a long way to keeping people on your site longer and making them want to return later. All with the end goal of building trust and loyalty with the person so you are the group they think of when life becomes hard, they experience successes they want to share, or cause-related needs become apparent to them through other sources.