6 Objections to Online Ministry

 

by David Hansen, Director of Communication & Innovation, LEAD

I have been privileged to be able to help congregations and leaders across the country work on how they communicate. In particular, I have often taught about social media and online tools for ministry.

In doing this, I have heard the same objections over and over again.

Here are the 6 most common objections to having an online presence that I hear from leaders in congregations and my answers to them.

1) People just use social media to avoid real relationships.

This is far and away the most common reason I hear for churches avoiding an an online presence. It also comes in the form of “I don’t care what you had for lunch.”

It’s true. People talk about some pretty inane stuff online. Things that we may not care about, or which we might think are pointless or meaningless. But this is true of every mode of communication!

Traditional print publishing has giving us both the works of William Faulkner and trashy romance novels.
The same medium gave us both the Washington Post and the National Enquirer.
And in the same way, alongside the trivial conversations on social media are very deep and meaningful conversations about faith, community, and the world.

Even more importantly: some of the most important conversations in our lives are built on these “trivial” conversations.

At the end of the day I spend time with my spouse, and we talk about our days: what we had for lunch, who we talked with, the things we did at work. Those so-called trivial conversations are often the mortar that bind together the relationships in our lives.

2) No one in our community is online.

I don’t believe you. Period.

It’s true, some communities are more wired than others. Communities that are near large cities tend to have better connectivity; younger communities tend to be online more than older communities. I get that. I lived in a rural area for years. High speed internet access was not easy to come by when I moved to that community. But mobile connections have changed everything.

As of 2016 88.1% of the North American population is online (source).
77% of all Americans have a smartphone (source).
Facebook recently passed the 2 billion total accounts.

More people in your community are online than you think. The number of older adults online (and on social media) is growing exponentially.

Even if the people currently attending your congregation are not online, the rest of the community around your congregation are. The people that you want to invite into your congregation are online.

3) Social media is just a fad.

Facebook is now old enough to have a Facebook account – 13 years old.

The world’s first website is over 25 years old (and still online, an archived info page about the CERN “world wide web” project).

The first BBS (bulletin board systems, an early form of online community) came into being 40 years ago!

Social media will change. New platforms will become important, and others will fade away. But people will continue to use online media to build community and communicate with one another.

4) We can’t afford to be online. 

You can’t afford not to be online.

The days when you could just be listed in the phone book or put an ad in the newspaper and be done with it are over. In 2008,  60% of people started their searches for information online – can you imagine what that number is now?

Do you know the top search term on Sundays? “Church near me.”

If someone in your community is looking for a new place to worship, the chances extremely good are that their first stop will be online – either a google search, or via a friend’s recommendation on social media. You want to be there.

More to the point, it is very easy to develop an online presence with little or no budget. It is free to develop a presence on all of the major social media platforms. FREE. There are many ways to build a website for free, or on a very limited budget. FREE.

5) Social media is just for ________ (large, suburban, wealthy, young, etc.) congregations 

Some of the best social media ministries that I have seen come out of smaller congregations. In truth, larger institutions often have trouble with new ways of communication – it has to go through the proper committees, and be voted on ten different times, etc. Smaller institutions tend to be more nimble and able to adapt to new ways of being.

In addition, smaller congregations need online media more. The large, wealthy, etc., institutions have lots of resources for building a community and raising awareness. It is smaller communities that are often looking for the low-cost alternative (see #4).

6) Online interaction will never replace face-to-face interaction.

You are absolutely correct. There is no replacement for face-to-face interaction.

But the thing is: nobody is suggesting that congregations and pastors abandon face-to-face interaction! It is not an either/or choice.

Your newspaper ads do not replace face-to-face interaction. Your phone line does not replace face-to-face interaction. Your print newsletter does not replace face-to-face interaction. They are all tools to help facilitate good face-to-face relationships, and help your congregation proclaim the Gospel.

And the same is true of your online ministry. It is one tool (among many) to help facilitate communications in your congregation and your work of proclaiming the Gospel and building community. It does not replace anything. It works alongside other tools.

If you are just getting started using online communications for your congregation, I highly recommend the books The Social Media Gospel and Click2Save as starting places. 

Originally published on digitalpastor.org

5 replies
  1. Leon Philpot
    Leon Philpot says:

    Well said! If we ever want to rebuild the church that has been in decline, then we better start rethinking how we bring the church to the people! And now.

    Reply
  2. Gordon (Dutch) Deutscher
    Gordon (Dutch) Deutscher says:

    Suspicions confirmed ! We can NOT afford to NOT be on line ! Will get the two books you suggested !!

    Reply
  3. Name withheld
    Name withheld says:

    I am a lay church member. I manage part of the digital communications for a local non-profit.

    I found your comments condescending and hurtful. I long for person to person contact and look for that in the church and feel the challenge to the church to be God’s body on earth to one another. I am offended by a church “email prayer chain”. It does not enable the sharing that naturally happens when I get a call for prayers for person A from person B. I have a touch from person B who asks how I am and I can learn how person B is and details that can be shared about person A’s situation and learn how that prayer can be made known through a response of help or presence.

    Granted there can be effective use of digital media, and I try to do that selectively. I am sure you have wonderful “helps” in the books mentioned. BUT I am not encouraged when the comments you choose to highlight do NOT reflect the significant problems and limits of digital contact. NOR do they mention the significant personal risks to privacy.

    Reply
    • David Hansen
      David Hansen says:

      Dear friend,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment, and thank you for your concern about the limitations of digital contact.

      I am well aware of these limitations – at it’s heart, our faith is incarnational. We are concerned with the physicality of our faith and who God calls us to be in this world that God created. That is why I attempted to spell out above that digital interaction is not intended to be a replacement for face-to-face interaction. Perhaps I was not clear enough about that.

      There are many wonderful articles out there highlighting the challenges of online ministry. This was intended to lift up the positive aspects.

      I am sorry that my writing was hurtful to you, and would welcome the opportunity for a face to face conversation about that any time.

      Reply
  4. Kathy Fediw
    Kathy Fediw says:

    I for one am grateful that our church is using social media. I am 60 years old, no spring chicken but no stranger to Facebook and email. Through social media I feel more connected to our other church members—I have a better idea of what’s going on in their lives, what help they may need, what I can pray for them. When I see them Sunday morning we can have a more meaningful conversation because we’ve already connected, albeit on social media. And we see more visitors at our church who found out about us through social media, whom we can now meet face to face and welcome with open arms. As a layperson social media does not take the place of in-person relationships, it makes it possible and enhances those relationships.

    And by the way, I’m a member of Pastor David’s congregation.

    Reply

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