Learn the Technology
Moving toward being a “multichannel church” is a journey of many steps, some of them slight varations on familiar activities, some of them radical departures.
Here is a critical first step: Learn the technology.
Clergy and key lay leaders don't need to become technology experts. But you do need to guide an informed discussion and know what expertise to seek. You need to make the case for technology, which won't be easy with older constituents.
- Modern web site: there is no substitute for a web site that compares well with other leading sites (not with other church sites) and has comparable capabilities, such as managing transactions, facilitating discussion, and presenting content in various media.
- E-mail marketing: you will reach more people with a more effective message and for far less money if you use e-mail marketing. This means an electronic newsletter (replacing paper version), e-mailed announcements and invitations, e-mailed photos – all drawing people to the web site.
- Web conferences, also known as “webinars”: use tools like WebEx and GoToWebinar to hold online meetings, classes and training events. Not a total replacement for face-to-face meetings, but an effective supplement, especially for far-flung constituents.
- Social networking: this is a fast-moving and not-yet-defined arena, in which tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are changing how people conduct certain communications. The tools are easy to learn but not necessarily easy to deploy effectively. Facebook pages seem the hot venue right now. One startup pastor says letting people follow her on Twitter has made an enormous difference.
- List management: any technology solution will require high-quality contact information, especially e-mail addresses, Facebook names and Twitter names. These must be gathered one at a time. Start putting out data-gathering sheets at every church gathering.
How can you learn this technology in order to facilitate an effective discussion? I'm sure there are shortcuts like articles and classes, maybe even asking a teenager. But I think the best solution is to start using these tools yourself, even if they feel quite foreign at the start. It's like the moment a century ago when suddenly people had to learn how to drive cars. There was no substitute for getting behind the wheel oneself.
If you don't use e-mail, this is the place to start. If you do, then move on to managing contact information and scheduling online, visiting web sites to see what works and doesn't work, signing up for free e-letters that others send out.
Take the plunge into Facebook. Create an account, join some groups, see how other people use it. Be sure not to post information that is too revealing. It stays out there forever.
I recommend using Google Mail and its Google Sites feature, in which you can create a simple web site using Google's intuitive tools. It will teach you some basics about site development.
Explore other web-delivered media, such as video. One way is to visit web sites developed by megachurches. They use the web in extraordinary ways. Those same methods are available to you for surprisingly little cost.
When you see a site you like, find out who developed it.
Remember this: If you feel like a novice, so will many of your congregants. Your awkward process of learning could open important doors for them.