Last Sunday after service, the church where I am an intern, held their annual meeting. New members to the church council needed to be elected, a budget for 2011 needed to be passed, and the annual report for the congregation (60 pages!) needed to be read and accepted by the congregation. But the church decided to do something different this year with the bulk of our time together devoted towards strategic planning. Earlier in 2010, the church council had organized a committee to begin thinking about how the church’s mission should look 3, 5, 10 years from now. At the annual meeting, members of that committee organized small groups and led an open discussion on a survey of 14 questions (or so) about what the church is doing right, what it is doing wrong, and where the church should be going next. I had a great time and I think the information that was gathered will most likely be very useful as the church spends 2011 re-evaluating its mission in the local community, NYC, nationally, and internationally. It is just different being at a church where high level planning can be tdone. I’m use to congregations where staffing the current ministries is difficult and where just surviving day-to-day is the real challenge. The church I’m interning at use to be that way a decade ago. But after ten years of hard work, of ministry, of embracing the community and being God’s people, they’ve moved on to the next stage of their life. They’ve leveled up and the congregation knows it. They’re excited and I’m sure that the conversations that were had stimulated the minds, hearts, and energies of the people there. So, at the moment at least, there is a level of energy in the congregation that wasn’t there a week ago. That’s great though I’m curious how long that will last (and what the church leaders – including me – can do to keep that energy level up while the strategic planning committee takes time to digest the information they gathered). And I’m sure that one area that is going to be addressed is the website, the online presence of the church, and how exactly communication resources can be used to enhance, extend, and push the church forward.
The church, however, has no online presence (beyond a basic website). I’ve taken it upon myself to revamp their website, update its content, and spend a few moments just getting their online presence to the point where someone else can move in and take it to the next level. I’ve already heard from some folks who participated at the Annual Meeting about their ideas for the internet presence of the church and one technology that has been brought up is Twitter. Plenty of churches have signed up to Twitter to broadcast their messages in 140 characters or less and this church should as well. Twitter is, like all social media, seen as something that the church should be on RIGHT NOW. But without a developed or thought out online strategy, there is real risk in a church to merely hop from one technology to the next, never taking the time (or having a person that is designated to take the time) to see how this technology serves the church’s mission. I know, from my own experience, that if I see a church on a social media site but if that church fails to use that site, then I am merely reminded of what that church CANNOT DO rather than what it CAN DO. Barely using something can be more problematic than not using it at all.
But there can also be another problem with Twitter and other social media sites that churches who jump onto social media tend to ignore. When Jay Cutler left the NFC Championship game on Sunday with a knee injury, he was immediately attacked by NFL players on Twitter. These opinions then helped fuel further questions about the integrity of the Chicago Bears organization, Jay Cutler, the coaching staff, and further tarnished Jay Cutler’s reputation (which wasn’t very good to begin with anyways). And all of this was developing while the game was still being played! By the time the post-game press conference was held, the Bears were caught off guard and had no effective way to just respond to what had been said on Twitter because they had not spent the time (and money) to put in place a basic apparatus on how to live in a world that no longer allows a post-game news conference to manage the PR of the team. The time an organization has to create a statement is approaching zero. Social media means that the audience can talk back and it will sometimes say things that you just won’t like.
The church I am interning at has been able to grow and do God’s work without social media but that doesn’t mean that social media cannot be used by the church. In fact, I personally feel that the church SHOULD branch out and embrace social media. And I’m sure it will. But it shouldn’t embrace that technology without spending the few moments to actually understand how that media impacts its mission, how it can further that mission, and how it can continue to be used if the person responsible for its use steps down. A pastor that is in charge of the social media does a disservice to their congregation if they leave and no one exists to take over their work. A Twitter account that was last updated six months ago is just as bad as a website that still lists Christmas services on their front page. And a church that doesn’t understand that the use of social media implies that their audience is, and will, talk back to it, is a church that is out-of-date no matter how Web 2.0 their online presence is.