“Digital immigrants” get crash course in technology seminar for churches

Technology and the Internet have become as commonplace in church life as hymnals and the offering plate. In fact, while technology has not replaced those two particularly well-known church icons, it has presented them in new variations. Worship lyrics can now be projected onto walls or screens, and church members can give tithes and offerings by credit card via an online portal.

In light of this not so subtle shift, the Dallas Baptist Association held a Technology 101 seminar earlier this spring to help bring what presenter Brian James refers to as “digital immigrants” up to speed. Digital immigrants, said James, director of technology and communications at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, are those who remember a time before technology exploded onto the scene. In contrast, digital natives, he said, are those born into the technological age—today’s kindergarteners, for example.

“My son, who is not even 2 years old, already knows how to work this thing,” he said, holding up his iPhone.

But, being born before the boom of technology—when no one had an email, let alone three accounts synched to a phone to which they have access 24/7—does not mean everyone older than 5 gets excepted from the expectation of digital involvement, he said.

“It’s not just our kids,” James said. “It’s me. It’s our adults. It is growing. None of us are really immune to this thing called technology.”
Not even churches.

In its 10 years of existence, Facebook has accrued 1.23 billion subscribers, James said.

“That equals the population of India,” he said. “That’s four times the United States’ population. It took the Catholic church 2,000 years to have that many followers.”

With that many people connecting with friends, family, businesses and organizations through technology each day, James explained, it simply becomes a frontier that churches must learn to skillfully navigate, all to the glory of God.

James highlighted several spokes of the technology wheel including social media, websites, email marketing, videos and church management software. When asked where a small church should begin if they have limited manpower and finances, James said, “Website.”

“Church websites are becoming the front door of your church,” he said. “People searching for a church now don’t go to a phone book anymore; they go online. That is their first impression of your church.”

That first impression, he said, needs to convey that there is current and ongoing activity at the church.

“Content is king,” he said. “If it’s still got last Christmas’ musical on there, it’s static. It needs to be updated. It needs to be fresh.”

James mentioned setting a clear goal for the site to either primarily be a hub for members or to primarily be geared toward visitors. He also mentioned aiming to create a “responsive” site that will acclimate well to viewing devices of varied sizes, such as phones, tablets and desktop computers.

For sending mass emails, James pointed to Constant Contact and MailChimp and advised that midweek is the best time to send email blasts. Monday, folks are busy getting back to work from the weekend, and Friday they’re too busy winding down for the weekend, he said. He also warned not to overload church members with too-frequent emails and to make sure the emails are spam-friendly so as not to end up in junk folders.

In regards to social media, James discussed Facebook, Twitter and HootSuite, a social media “dashboard” that allows users to interact through and manage several social media outlets at once. The obvious positive to these, he said, is their being free. Both Facebook and Twitter offer a church an opportunity to connect and interact with people, to get the word out about upcoming events, to take the temperature, so to speak, of what’s important to people and what gets them talking and to point people to the website. Advertising on Facebook, while not free, he said, is also quite inexpensive.

With Twitter, users have 140 characters or less to get a thought out or a point across.

“Twitter is great for short little nuggets of information,” James said, also discussing how to use hashtags, handles and retweets.

James also suggested integrating video into a church’s technology tool bag by using it for announcements, testimonies and mission reports. This way, he said, the fluff can be edited out and the pertinent information can actually make it through to the intended audience.

Lastly, James talked about church management systems that help to take church records such as phone lists, membership rolls and pictorial directories, among other things, and place them in an easy-to-access and often cloud-based database. This database, he said, can many times be accessed from a smart phone, becoming a clear aid in the ministry of the church.

Pastor Gordon Moore of Galloway Avenue Baptist Church in Mesquite said he picked up several hints and tips that will help his church to continue using technology to bolster their ministry.

“We’re paying for a mail service right now to do email blasts, and with our budget being tight, we’re always looking for ways to cut expenses. So as fellow minister Kenny Moore once said, ‘You can’t cut a thousand dollars in one place, but you can cut a dollar in a thousand places.’ So this will be helpful knowing we can save a little money going to MailChimp than with the service we’ve been using. It was also good to learn about how we can integrate some of our events with Facebook.”

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