Tag: web

Gather Your Online Congregation Now

Today I was talking to a friend, Jim Stovall, who teaches journalism at the University of Tennessee, and is a pioneer in developing and teaching web journalism.

In our conversation about how the internet is changing newspapers and journalism, Jim said, “I tell my students to start now, to become entrepreneur journalists, by using the internet to build an audience. Then, when they graduate, they’ll carry that audience with them wherever they work.”

Jim’s statement got me to thinking about churches and what seminary does to prepare you for ministry. While seminary does give students the opportunity to “try out” ministry through internships and “field work,” it usually ends there.

But, if Jim is right (and I know he is about journalism), why shouldn’t ministerial students begin to gather their congregations now, online?

Here’s what I believe an internet presence does for those preparing for vocational ministry:

  1. Provides valuable experience in writing, editing, and communicating. Pastors are primarily in the communication business. Okay, business may not be a good description, but what we do is communicate — well or poorly — the Gospel. We preach, teach, counsel, pray, encourage, and lead — all of those actions are types of communication. Maintaining a consistent, quality web presence is good training for anyone, but especially for communicators.
  2. Creates opportunities for handling both criticism and praise. Many of my conversations with pastors deal with pastors who have handled either criticism or praise inappropriately. Consistent bloggers learn to tone down the temptation to “flame” their critics, and also receive praise with humble restraint. Learning to handle both in real-life ministry situations is invaluable to successful ministry.
  3. Helps sharpen your message. Jim also said that people go to specific websites to find information they cannot find anywhere else. When you’re thinking about your online message, ask yourself, “What am I trying to convey to my audience, and how is that different from what’s out there now?” Obviously, my niche is small churches and small church leaders. Narrowing your focus to families, singles, parents, youth, music, and so on, and becoming an authority in your field will help sharpen your ministry, and focus your energy.
  4. Gathers your community. The big point is that now, before you graduate from seminary, take a church staff position, become a pastor, or plant a church, you can gather an online community. That community can help shape your ministry, and even lead to opportunities for ministry itself, such as a conference speaker, author, spiritual director, or consultant.

Of course, even those of us who are serving churches can enjoy the same benefits, and I have in the six years I have been writing Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor.

Both ministry and journalism are changing, and the internet is disrupting our notions of what a newspaper is, and what constitutes a congregation. We have never before lived in an age where anyone can have access to everyone. Not even Billy Graham, who has preached to more people in more countries than anyone in history had the opportunity for communication that we do today. Whether newspapers and ministers will seize this opportunity remains to be seen.

What do you think? Have you begun or expanded your ministry on the internet? And, if so, what does that look like? What are the criteria for an effective web ministry, in your opinion? Fire away in the comments. Thanks.

The future of churches: A network of niches

In the on-going debate “will digital replace books?” the conclusion of many media watchers is an unequivocal Yes and No. Amazon’s Kindle has really become a game-changer, delivering books within seconds of purchase via Sprint’s wireless network.  Problems do exist, as Jeff Jarvis points out, because if you do not have good Sprint coverage in your area, books take hours to download, not seconds.  In other words, it’s not perfect.

So, will digital replace books? Yes, ebooks will replace printed books for many, maybe even most.  But, printed books will still survive in print-on-demand processes that print each copy as ordered.  Books will also survive in niche groups like “Save the Real Books” (which I just made up, but you get the idea).  After all, there are groups for vintage cars, vintage wine, vintage clothing, vintage furniture, so why not vintage book printing?  Digital won’t eliminate printed books, but digital will be another means to acquire and read books.  In other words, rather than one model (printed books), we’ll have a network of niche models from which to choose, including print, digital, audio, digital audio (the new Kindle can read your book to you), digital mobile, and so on.

Which brings us to churches, again.

Using the ebook versus printed book model, what does that say about churches?  I have been saying that we’re counting the wrong things in church (attendance) when we should be counting community engagement.  I’ve also said that church attendance will decrease (this is not an original thought), and we’re moving rapidly toward a post-Christendom era like Europe.

That said, I don’t think all existing churches will die.  For instance, the megachurches spawned by baby boomers will not go away.  I think their influence will diminish and some will go downsize.  But churches will always exist, some will always have buildings and property, and most will always be trying to attract people to them.

But, what I think will happen is new forms of church will emerge from the next generation of church leaders.  These forms are not even thought of yet.  Example: A few years ago who would have thought of LifeChurch.tv with an internet campus, and a bunch of satellite sites?

Lyle Schaller came close in the 1980s when he advocated that small churches use video sermons from outstanding preachers, but Schaller did not imagine that video sermons would be simulcast to remote satellite locations where a live band would lead worshippers in person, cutting to the remote video of Craig Groeschel (or Andy Stanley) in time for the message.

To get back to our question, Will churches of today disappear? Yes and no.

We can be certain of this — we live in an age of discontinuous change and unexpected consequences.  Nobody knows exactly what church will look like in the future because we’re not there yet.  But I have  a feeling it will be multiple models, not one predominant model like we had from WWII until about 1985. That’s about the time the church growth movement popularized church planting by anybody, not just denominations.  That shift resulted in hundreds of new churches, led by entrepreneurial church planters who created different models. That is what I think will happen, again, but this time the new models will be even more innovative than those of the last 25 years.

We’ll still have bricks-and-mortar churches, but also house churches, coffee shop churches, outdoor churches, churches that meet once a month, churches that meet online, churches that consists of groups which interact frequently, and churches that we can’t even imagine yet.  We will also see ‘single market’ churches that focus on the homeless or the physically handicapped or the poor or any niche group you can think of.

In other words, the same thing that is happening in the broader culture will happen in churches, too — more options, more models, a network of niches, rather than a predominant church form.

I am also certain that whatever emerges, church will not ever be the same again. By extension, neither will denominations, cross-cultural missions programs, or Christian education programs be the same again.  These will all change radically, because the current models are unsustainable in today’s culture.

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

“Kindle: iTunes for words” plus writers, readers, and the web

Okay, I’m already lying here.Kindle by Amazon  I promised I would only post once a week on this blog, but I run across stuff that really excites me more than once a week.  So, here are a couple of related pieces on writers, readers, and the web just today —

— My friend rlp has a great post, Web 2.0, on writing in the brave new world of the web.  If you’re a blogger, writer, or just love words, check out his post.  I also shared it under the Trends of Interest feed to the left. 

rlp also clipped this video, which I am now clipping.  This is good, clever, and seriously creative and explains what has happened to information in the last 10-years.

 Today Amazon officially announced Kindle, their new e-reader.  Very cool.  And of course, it’s tied to Amazon.  Kind of like iTunes for words.  The interesting thing is Amazon needs content to feed Kindle.  So not only is it a book reader, but it’s also a blogreader (yes, my fellowbloggers), a newspaper reader, and a Wikipedia reader all-in-one.  Plus it stores you own docs, and works off cell technology.  You don’t need a computer — no need to sync to a desktop or lappy, but you can if you want to.  Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says Kindle is a service.  Hardware is not the star, writing is.  What a great time to be a writer!

The Kindle has limitations as does every other device out there, and Kevin Kelly comments that he is still waiting for the cloudbook that will do everything.  Me, too.  Imagine a bigger iPhone that is also a reader, plus computer, plus cellphone, plus internet access, plus toaster.  Okay, maybe not the toaster, but everything else.  It’s coming.  Kevin Kelly writes about this Always On Book and has blogged about the future of books here and here.  I love his labels — People of the Book and People of the Screen

What are the implications for church?  This is the shift in the creation, storage, distribution, remixing, and redistribution of information.  It is democratic, not top down, not expert-driven, and uncontrollable (at least by those who might want to control the free-flow of information).  What do you think the possibilities are?