Should churches use e-mail? Or indeed blogging?

Yesterday’s post about the internet and what we can learn from the demise of HMV didn’t raise that many comments but it certainly did the rounds, being more shared on Facebook than anything that I’ve written in months. It was picked up as a conversation topic by the Anglican Church of Canada’s The Conversation too. I think The Conversation is a private social network which that church runs. I’m interested in that in itself but I’m going to leave learning about that for another day.

Today I want to pick up on something that was said in the comments. This came in from Bosco:

I’m not as convinced as you about the value of email. Convince me. I suspect it is a dying medium – but we should still hop on while it is still alive, conscious that young people don’t use it. It is still-useful last millennium technology.

I know what Bosco is talking about. The use of email is often said to be falling and falling much faster amongst the young than the old.  (Oops, I mean younger and older, don’t I?).

I’ve a feeling that email is not going away quite that fast. More that it is changing. It seems to me that as people are getting more and more ways of communicating then they naturally choose the most appropriate for what it is they want to communicate.

If you want to meet up with friends, it is much easier to plan things on a social network than by email. However, that presumes that you are all on the same system.

Ubiquity is the thing here. Most people I know are on Facebook. However just about everyone I want to communicate with has an email account.

Email is good for some things. Twitter for others. Facebook for others.

Depends on audience, urgency and what I’m trying to say.

As a sideline, I’d say that I’m seeing a decline in blogging. And paradoxically a continued rise in the importance of blogging.

It seems to me that there are fewer blog posts being written. Quite a number of people who have tried the blogging lark are finding it a bit of a bind and giving up. After all, social networks beat blogging as a way of letting your mates know what is in your head every minute during the day and that was what a lot of people were using blogs for.

The blogs that are lasting are, unsurprisingly, those where the author has a clear idea of what they are trying to communicate. I think I’m like a number of people who are keeping up the stream of consciousness on twitter whilst saving blog posts for more substantial posts. Fewer blog posts – better quality. What’s not to like?

I think that I primarily use blogging to perform and converse, email to inform and converse and preaching and social networks to beguile and converse. However that may just be me. The primary thing is that they are all about conversation.

Some of the choices that people make about their choice of online communication medium are all about tone. Email has become a relatively formal way of communicating. My guess is that it is still the case that most people communicate more by using email than social networks when they are working whilst the opposite may be true when they are not working.

Am I right about that?


  1. I’d say you are. It’s certainly my experience of the blogging/email/social networking thing. I don’t think you can write off means of communication simply because one social grouping doesn’t use it – most young people never did write to their pals much; they spent hours on the phone instead. If I were still teaching English I would hope to have my students blogging for their extended writing practice, just as I used to exhort them to keep a journal in the summer holidays to keep their writing skills honed. “Writers write” was the watchword then and still would be now. Incidentally, a former pupil of mine, a gifted writer from a dreadful home background who left school without much in the way of qualifications and is now an unemployed single father fighting for custody of his daughter uses Facebook as his safety-valve. His usual posts are short, pithy and in the vernacular (West of Scotland extreme facebook style) but occasionally a considered and moving mini-essay on his emotions and situation have all his f/b pals exclaiming. And yes, that’s how I keep in touch with him 10 years on.

  2. Well, there are a few things going on here.

    I don’t know whether I still fit into what Bosco describes a young person, but I prefer email over Facebook for anything that I’m likely to need to keep track of. This is mostly because email platforms allow me to put things into folders and, unless there’s a trick that I’m missing, Facebook does not. I also prefer email for the sorts of messages you need to send if you are in any way responsible for any kind of group — I’m not connected on Facebook to all the people who are a mailing list that I administer and I have no particular wish to be, and email still fulfills that need.

    The other thing is the difference between social networks and blogs. I tend to think of blogging as having a different purpose than Tweeting, but with an awareness that they can complement each other. I use Twitter for verbal diarrhoea and instant gratification. I blog when I have something that I feel is of substance to say, a story or an opinion or a piece of news that I don’t want to pare down to 140 characters. But I use Twitter (and Facebook) to promote my blog and I know that occasionally something I’ve said on Twitter will turn into the subject of a blog post days or weeks or months later — the nature of what I do meaning that when I blog about work, it isn’t always in real time. Pardoxically, the blogs that I read that seem to flourish are the ones whose authors have engaged with social networking. Like social networks and email, I don’t see it as an either/or thing.

  3. This is where G+ presents an opportunity: you can have your circles for photographers, freaks and the church book-reading club, and then at the point of composing a message to a particular group, tick `send email to circle(s)’. Best of all worlds.

    Email has become gmail to all intents and purposes; the bit where you feel obliged to spend 5s choosing an appropriate salutation is just offputting hard work.

  4. If only people were on Google+ rather than Facebook and if only the hangouts were easy to use and worked well and if only….. etc

  5. Justin Reynolds says

    I wholly agree with Tim that there are tools like G+ (Basecamp is another) that allow much more efficient communication than email. But it seems email is still the standard option for very many individuals, organisation and businesses. I try to use Basecamp (and to a limited extent G+) for client communications when working on a project, but I sense that nearly all clients would much prefer to just stick with email. They have well established email practices and workflows which they’re reluctant to change, as becomes evident as projects progress: email tends to gradually reassert itself after an initial flirtation with the systems I try to introduce. So it seems email is here to stay for quite a while yet.

    Regarding blogging: another reason, I think, why it’s good to blog is to maintain unequivocal ownership of one’s content. Facebook et al make it very easy for us but at the cost of ultimate control over the text and images we generate for them. Why should we be giving our content to these massive corporations? Social networking tools are good for microblogging and disposable exchanges, but, as you say, more substantial content should ideally be reserved for blog posts.

  6. What is particularly cool, Kelvin, is the energy that is being brought to this topic here! 🙂

    I’m in agreement that email is a good tool amongst others, and that learning how to use it well is useful.

    I don’t think young(er) people generally will sign up to an email list, or check their email account religiously. They will like a facebook page, and go to an event there, etc. And some teenagers are even getting into twitter.

    So in your 8 Things the Churches Could Learn, yes – I was surprised to see a whole one devoted to email, and no specific mention of facebook (or twitter) as in “Learn how to use facebook. No really. Learn how to use it properly.” Even this past week I have improved my facebook skills. (Yes I know there was the generic point on Social Media – I’m not being critical, I’m trying to be constructive and thinking it through for myself also 🙂 )

    So a church needs a website, a blog, a facebook page, a twitter feed, an email list,… It sounds a lot – but I believe a very effective mission and ministry into the virtual world would be about 5 hours a week.

    Thanks again for your energy in this.



  7. ps to Beth
    Yes facebook allows you “to put things into folders”
    but just as gmail calls that “labels”
    facebook calls that “lists”


    • I have to admit that though I use facebook lists I don’t perceive them to be operating in any way as similar to putting things in in folders.

  8. Re: ‘older’ and ‘younger’, I imagine that this is a false dichotomy as those of us sexagenarians who might be seen as not up to speed with the technology are so in fact. Were we not on Facebook and Skype we would have little contact if any with our offspring, many of whom are in far-flung airts.

  9. Lindsay Southern says

    The church community I am part of is only just beginning to get to grips with social media, even the website is in its infancy, use of email as a medium constricted as manynofnthe stakeholders and gatekeepers don’t use it or have access. So paper and phone calls are still v. Important and will be even as we improve our grasp of other methods of communication. Perhaps one of the reasons that the church should not get too reliant on email is not so much that it’s passé, but patchy. Not all have the skills to access it – or the money to afford the technology to access it,or in rural areas the coverage to make it a reliable means of communication. That’s not even starting on literacy levels… I see twitter, Facebook, blogging and emails has all fulfilling different purposes and the skills to use them wisely as essential, but need to be careful not to disenfranchise, isolate and further impoverish those who do not use it.

    • I’ve long argued that the churches need to develop special ministries to the digitally poor. They will be best equipped to do that by engaging with the vast majority of people using the greatest communications tools ever known to humanity and then setting aside resources and people to bring the word of the Lord to those who cannot (or more commonly will not) thus engage.

  10. Tim Moore says

    I think you rightly identify that e-mail has become a relatively more formal means of online communication. It’s worth noting that smartphones have increased e-mail’s longevity and made them more accessible, however.

    I think churches need to decide not whether to use a certain means of communication, but *how* to use it. I think E-mail works better for internal communication. For outreach, other social media are probably better, but depend on target audience. Twitter, when used well, can spread a message anywhere, whereas a blog or a Facebook group keeps things within a gathered community. Link to the blog or Facebook group on Twitter, and you open up new possibilities.

    While on social media, what about text messaging or Blackberry Messenger, or other instant messaging services? These could work for something more personalised.

    Another thought: how effective are podcasted or YouTube sermons and services? Whom are these meant for?

  11. Agatha says

    Not everyone who chooses not to use Facebook, or e-mail is “digitally poor”. They may actually have enough going on in their lives already to waste time on such matters.

    • As you so strongly suggest, Agatha. It is for many people simply their own choice and these at least should be least indulged if they moan about not being included in things.

  12. I cannot imagine how people save time by not using email or social media. Maybe they just don’t communicate at all.

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