July 2012
Communications: Tried, True, & New

The Promised Land?

So when they came to the edge of the Promised Land Moses sent out scouts. But they returned declaring, “We can’t go there: There’re sneaky Trojans and slithering scams and even monsters that sneak up and snatch away your identity!”

Or maybe it happened this way: The scouts came back and reported that there was enough rich land there for everyone—just for the taking. Yes, there were dangers but the benefits appeared greater. They called the place “Internet.”

Both attitudes toward the Internet are often found in one church and can make it difficult for churches to decide what to do about this new frontier in communications. When asked to write this article I went straight to my Facebook “colleagues”—a group of people dedicated to the ministry of the small church. Our group is a mix of people who play various roles in that ministry and bring to the group a broad range of experience and knowledge. I asked them how their churches were using (or not) newer media: What channels of communication do their churches use to communicate within the congregation and with their larger community? This article is an effort to tag some kind of summary to a conversation that continues online past its publication date.

Some people in our congregations have heard the frightening stories or are intimidated by the technology. Many don’t use e-mail or even have a message recorder on their phones. At the same time others are twittering—eagerly awaiting the next technological innovation. These differences can make communications complicated and even burdensome. 

Our movement forward, then, is awkward and slow. In order to convey a single message our churches will make Sunday announcements, send e-mails, post notes on Facebook, print notices to send via regular mail and make phone calls. It’s just for this “transitional period,” we tell ourselves. Admittedly, sometimes our Facebook group becomes an outlet for bemoaning our difficulties, but such a string always recovers through a helpful response that pushes the conversation in a positive direction. Group members might offer ideas for helping people befriend newer communication channels. One suggestion was to offer “teasers” whenever the church gathers, such as projecting on a screen the church’s web site or Facebook page. Or making up a game, such as having people pose questions while someone on a computer demonstrates how quickly one can find possible answers. Many small opportunities abound to entice and encourage the more reluctant to venture into the new territory. 

Older communication media can still be effective. Newspaper advertising remains a good option. In small towns, where everyone reads the paper from front to back, it can be a very effective way to be in the public eye. Newspapers often offer package deals which make advertising less expensive than individual ads. In addition, most newspapers are now online and post ads with links to a church’s web site and Facebook page. 

So there we are, back to the Internet. Unavoidable and essential if one’s church is going to have any kind of visibility in today’s world. At some level the web site now replaces the red doors as entrance to our churches. 

Lots of resources are available to help churches set up their web site or renovate old ones. Far too many ideas and resources emerged in our Facebook group to fit into this article, but basically the best place to start might be to contact one’s diocesan office. The Church at large recognizes that having a web site is now critical. Therefore most dioceses now have staff or volunteers who can steer congregations in the right direction. Episcopal Web Hosting provides another place to begin.

Each church needs to figure out what their needs are, as well as who they are in order to present themselves honestly. There are free and inexpensive resources that could work well for smaller churches while larger ones might need to spend more money to support a more complex platform to accommodate a greater range of options. (For blogs see http://wordpress.org and www.blogger.com, and for web hosting http://www.weebly.com and Google: http://sites.google.com.) One of the greatest challenges is finding the people to maintain the web site and keep it current and interesting. 

Facebook is now very popular among our churches. One very good reason is that it is free and user friendly. Churches who choose to use Facebook usually start with setting up a group for their church. If enough parishioners are on Facebook, the group can function in a practical sense, such as posting the need for more side dishes for the parish supper; but more exciting is how others become attracted to the group–relatives, neighbors, parishioners who have moved away. In addition, some are beginning to use the newer Facebook option of a page. Originally designed for businesses, the page functions more like an interactive ad and provides the administrator with detailed reports of page activity. 

In summary, general use at this time seems to be to use the Facebook group for parish interactions and the page as a public relations vehicle. Facebook offers churches a free and unlimited potential for expanding the configuration of the church beyond those who physically gather each Sunday morning. 

Navigating all the communication channels now available to churches can be confusing and sometimes overwhelming, but we recognize the need to go where the people are if we are to spread the Kingdom. Today’s “scouts” report that that’s where the people are. The new land beckons.

Thanks to my Facebook colleagues for their contributions toward these thoughts. Some of the specific ideas and resources were from group administrator, Jim McFerrin; Jeff Fisher; Bruce Cory; John Hollingsworth; Michele Keppen and Aldric Tinker; with particularly informative and detailed contributions from Jan Anderson and Linda Grenz.

Sharon Richy Turner serves St. John's, Columbus, in the Diocese of Texas. Before ordination in 1987 Sharon was involved in the fields of art, education and advertising. Since retiring from full time ministry at Saint Michael and All Angels in Dallas in 2002 she has been dedicated to small church ministry.


This article is part of the July 2012 Vestry Papers issue on Communications: Tried, True, & New