Can you help me out here?

I’ve been asked quite a few times this week for help. However I need you to help me out first before I can decide what to say or do.

The thing is, people keep saying to me that they want to learn how to do the online thing better in a church context. After I posted that piece about 8 Things the Churches Can Learn from the Collapse of HMV last week that really stepped up. Indeed nothing I’ve written has been retweeted, shared on Facebook or passed around more for months.

The thing is, I know that you can help a church congregation to grow by using the internet well. I know I’ve a lot to learn but I also know that I’m just ahead of the curve on this and able to see slightly further over the horizon than most people. It isn’t magic glasses that make me able to do this, it is because I’ve had an interest in communication techniques for a long time, a background in IT and I’ve done a wee bit of mission work with congregations. My recent sabbatical also gave me some time to think. I’m also aware that what I’m writing about has something to say to campaign groups, community organisers and other assorted politicos. I write in my context. You read in yours and I don’t forget it.

I’m happy to write more about all that and it seems to be something that quite a lot of people want to hear about. Indeed, I’ve almost begun to think that I should start up a different blog just devoted to that topic. Would that be a good idea?

If I’m going to write more though I need your help. What exactly do you want me to write about? Oh I know that you’d like me to offer you a free magic wand that would fill a church with nice unthreatening people who happened to glimpse on a website that there might be a church in the area. However, you know and I know that isn’t going to happen.

Help me out here. What aspects of this do you want me to address a bit more? Is there anything you are aware of me doing online well that you’d like to hear more about. Or even better, is there anything I’m not doing I could try or anything I could try to do better?

I’m aware of an outstanding comment from a few days ago asking for a bit more gen on posting sermons online.

What else would you like?


  1. How about a post on how we can learn fill the church with challenging & courageous people instead.

  2. I don’t think that the two are unconnected.

  3. The one persistent thought I have is the difference of relative speeds at which church folks and internet folks operate.

    Days were when we would advocate a church website should exist (and try to migrate from static HTML pages to an engine such as a wiki or the pages half of WordPress, etc). Then it should be a blog. Then Facebook & Twitter were all the rage. Then G+. And as each generation follows at barely 6-month intervals, the amount of work to stay uptodate increases – and the potential audience grows as each social site’s userbase overlaps in decreasing degree.
    Introducing Church into such an arena brings at least two kinds of problems that I can see: what’s the heartbeat of a church? If the interval between Vestry meetings is, say, 3 months, then what recommendations can a resident IT geek make in the light of the above?
    Second, there are at least 3 stools to fall between:
    1) the church hides away from it all in a cosy isolation of tradition
    2) the lines of communication that social sites open can be seen as a vehicle for mission
    3) …but it can also be overdone, a bit too blatant-evangelical “come to our show tonight and be saved/healed/converted!”…

    Juggle this(TM) 🙂

  4. Is it incredibly obvious to point out that there are still whole congregations – it seems – to whom social networking sites are the work of the devil and email something the members use only in the privacy of their chamber? I’ve seen this attitude gradually diminish in my own congregation, but in the hinterland, where a signal is still weak and the will to do anything about it weaker still, there will continue to arise the cries about the dispossessed – and some of us lose the will to bother, frankly.

  5. You’re right, of course. 🙁

  6. Justin Reynolds says

    I think you need to clone Mary, the IT Officer at the Aberdeen Diocese, six times 🙂 She seems to be doing a great job in bringing the web to congregations that wouldn’t know how to start.

    I think Tim raises great points about the speed of change and the adequacy of existing structures to keep up with that. I’d just say – and I’m sure Tim would agree – that the problem starts one step before the issue of how to keep the ‘resident IT geek’ in the loop: most churches don’t have one. And if they do, it’s very often someone with an IT, not design background. One distinctive thing about web development is that it requires both tech and design skills. It isn’t something that anyone can pick up without a bit of outside assistance.

    Sorry, I realise I’m raising the same thing every time, but this does seem to me to be the nub of the issue.

    • No Justin – this is not the nub of the issue today. I asked what people would like me to blog about. Not what people thought the Scottish Episcopal Church should do.

      • By all means share some thoughts, although I’d state a preference for (categorized) on here rather than a new blog…

        I don’t know if these are things you’ve had in mind on sabbatical; I’ll present these concerns that seem to be in a relevant field in the form of only semi-rhetorical questions:
        * What kind of things can a church offer on its website, above&beyond “front of house”? What kind of things could constitute “resources”? (I know some, but…) Where does one find the imagination to come up with more, lest one’s website become stagnant?
        * Church organizations exist in a tree hierarchy (church, parish, diocese, province, various Communions) defined (if not exclusively then at least notably) on geographical grounds; typically a church website references local people and history as distinguishing features. The Internet cares little for geography. How do these two universes-of-operation intersect? How much time should my rector spend conversing online with someone far away who, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, is never likely to darken the door in person?
        * In a social Internet, being a locus of community discussion is treasure. How does one balance being “a corner of the Internet” where things happen, without feeling like a mere backwater?
        * A practical implication of calling oneself Christian might be that one refrains from bopping people over the head with rocks. That’s understandable on a street; translate it: can one, say, act justly and love mercy, online as well, and if so, in what ways might it be manifest?

      • Justin Reynolds says

        Sorry, yes I acknowledge that my point was a little off topic. But I was just referencing some of the things touched on by Chris and Tim. Providing advice to congregations about how to make use of an online presence is one thing, but many aren’t capable of setting up or maintaining one in the first place. It just seems to me that that is the deeper problem here.

  7. I wonder if it might be helpful to give a sort of timeline as to how/why you came to have the presence online that you do, and how/why Saint Mary’s Cathedral came to have the presence online that she does. I find it very helpful to see a ‘game plan’ of how something is done, if I am looking to implement something similar. Perhaps other churches/ministries/ministers who are hoping to have more of a place online would find it helpful as well.

    • Thanks Rhea – it might be interesting to think about priorities for somewhere wanting to build up a stronger online presence.

      • I think Rhea makes a good point. As well as the practicalities, I’d be really interested in your reflections on possible strengths and weaknesses of that presence – not of you personally(!) but of virtual versus physical community. For example, how does the nature of a G+ “community” joining together for prayer compare to a group physically gathering together? Where are the limits (if there are any) of online communities in terms of building relationships, reflection on current issues, corporate prayer, Eucharist?

  8. Justin Reynolds says

    To get back on topic, there are perhaps a couple of things that it might be useful to blog about, for churches with websites:

    i) Some advice on handy tools for preparing pics and files for upload. Regarding images: contemporary content management systems do offer some useful tools for cropping and adjusting images that have been uploaded, but sometimes it’s better to crop and prepare an image prior to uploading. In which case a fairly fully featured online graphics app like can be useful. Regarding files: some advice on saving docs to PDF before upload. Many of my clients don’t have any experience either with graphics editing or creation of PDFs, so some advice on those lines might be useful.

    ii) Some advice on writing for the web. Getting the tone right for online communications can be tricky if you don’t have much experience of it ( and even when you do). The web requires a less formal tone of voice than print, and the word count needs to be lower. Also, unless it’s an extended piece of prose, it’s important to get the point across in the first few paragraphs, using something like the reverse pyramid technique employed by news journalists.

    Both i) and ii) are necessary web editing skills beyond the use of a CMS, which web designers and agencies spend a fair amount of time discussing with clients.

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