Ryan at Tilling the Soil asked me a couple of good questions related to my post below, so I want to give them proper attention in a post, and not just leave a comment for him.

I had the chance to talk with Ryan by phone last week and I enjoyed our conversation, and I’m looking forward to connecting with him when we move to Dallas this summer.

1. Ryan Says:
May 23rd, 2008 at 9:01 am e

Hey man, I’m really enjoying this series.
I have two concerns:
1) With all of the networking that is going on, is it realistic to ask people to go to another site (your church’s site), even if you are farming out all of the content to facebook, flickr, etc.? In my world if I can’t RSS it, then I probably won’t see it.
2) How do you deal with students who want this before the church authorizes it, and so they create their own facebook groups, mychurch.org pages, etc? (i.e. how do you maintain control in such an environment?)


Response to Question 1

Ryan, I don’t think it really is realistic. In fact, I know for certain based on traffic, that our college webpage’s traffic decreased dramatically after our Facebook group was launched, and it has pretty much decreased to no traffic. I think most church’s will have this problem and may not realize it. They design sites that have forums, videos, photos, links, etc., but people aren’t going to leave their networks to do those activities on a church’s website. One, people already have enough committment to a site like Facebook, and to ask them to commit to your church’s website in the same way is unrealistic. Second, church website’s just can’t compete with the social tools out there.

So I think a webpage is basically the front door to your ministry. Most of your current students, attenders, etc. won’t visit a church website, but will instead go to the Facebook group, etc. But if someone is new, surfing the web, they will usually stumble upon the webpage first when they are doing a Google search for example. A student of mine might have searched for “college ministry” and “Los Angeles” or “UCLA” and come across our ministry’s webpage. But they aren’t going to inhabit that page, but simply use it as the first open door and launching pad onto our Facebook, etc.

Also, the reason to “farm” out the content as you put it is two-fold I think. One, new and better social tools are made available each day. So a church needs to not have invested a lot in a website that doesn’t allow it the flexibility to adjust to the demands, needs, wants, etc. of those in the congregation engaging in the new media. I think it’s a mistake for a church to design a website that they are wanting to use for the next 2 plus years. One of my webdesign friends said to me last night, “A church should think probably in terms of only six months” when it comes to designing a site.” That’s how fast things change.

This isn’t about responding to the whims of the people in the church. Rather, they migrate to the tools that best enable them to participate, and if a church’s website can’t enable them to do it better than another social media tool, then the church loses. And who can blame the congregants. They can share, cooperate, and collectively act (a phrase used by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody) without going through the church.

Response to Question 2

Let go of control! Easier said than done. In fact, in the book Wikinomics they state that it’s usually those people in non-hierarchical positions (those at the bottom of the org chart) that embrace and use the new technology before those in managerial, senior pastor positions. It’s no surprise than that a lot of our church staff at the bottom of our chart communicates by Twitter, but those at the top by email.

When my students told me they started a Facebook group (I didn’t even know they had) I was freaking out. I felt fearful that I had no control, and could no longer control content. That fear soon subsided when I saw the creative ways they were doing ministry. But you have to take the good with the bad. Sure, I don’t love seeing students at a party with four beers in their hands on their Facebook page, but I do love seeing them connect, share, cooperate and collectively act in amazing ways to transform our community and those around them.

The bottom line is that you can’t control things in the new media. And churches can try and control it, but in my opinion they are being naive and putting their heads in the sand. Because the alternative is to try and control it, but to what end. The students will continue to be on Facebook (a church can’t do anything about that), and in the process you will probably alienate them from church because of restrictions.

Instead, I think a proper response of the church should be to get in on what the students are doing, where they are operating, and harness the creative power of their network. That can change a church.

Just some thoughts. I get the fear. I understand the need for control. But once you start using the tools that soon subsides as you see the amazing positive benefits they can have. There will always be negatives, but I think the positives can outweigh them. And if a pastor wants to influence them, then he or she needs to be in on what they are doing, and be part of the many voices.