Local church technology, media staff aid efforts to speak language of today's American culture
By Myra Holmes
The “language” of 21st-century America is technology. Google has replaced Encyclopedia Britannica as the go-to source of knowledge. Phones double as cameras, gaming consoles, news feeds, music players and more. Television and movies have raised expectations for visual entertainment, and Facebook and Twitter are changing the way information is disseminated.
And once again USMB congregations are working toward fluency in order to reach this culture for Christ.
Christian Leader talked to a sampling of people who serve in the areas of media and technology on the staff of USMB congregations for a primer on speaking the language of media: Dale Best serves as communications director at Neighborhood Church, Visalia, Calif.; Mike Boock is administrative assistant and technology coordinator at Bible Fellowship Church, Rapid City, SD; Megan Tabangcora is website and social media director at Laurelglen Bible Church, Bakersfield, Calif.; Matt Ehresman is media director at First MB Church, Wichita, Kan.; and Collin Smith serves as creative communications director at The Bridge Bible Church, Bakersfield, Calif.
Their job descriptions are wide-ranging, covering graphic design, audio-visual enhancements for worship services, website design and maintenance, email communications, social media and video storytelling.
They offer these tips for using media for ministry:
Recognize the necessity. While the message of the gospel is timeless, a plugged-in culture has come to expect information-packed websites and/or visual stimulation. A church that tries to communicate through flannel graph or mailers will likely not connect effectively with this culture. First MB’s Ehresman says, “We don’t need to follow the business leaders, but we have to meet people where they are.”
This is especially true when it comes to reaching young people. Boock, of Bible Fellowship, points out: “The younger generation is in dire need of knowing Jesus Christ right now. They are plugged in somewhere; why not get them plugged into your church?”
Recognize the benefits. Media is more than a necessary evil; it has clear benefits for congregations willing to learn.
It brings people together: Laurelglen’s Tabangcora says resources such as an online database and Facebook have helped people connect to each other and to Laurelglen. “It’s a great place to be in community,” she says.
It increases participation: Boock, of Bible Fellowship, says one benefit of offering Sunday sermons online, both recorded and live-streamed, is that it allows folks to feel part of the service if they can’t be there in person. That’s not only important when members are sick or hindered by winter roads but also has been a way for overseas missionaries to connect with the congregation.
It makes the congregation accessible: Many people turn to a website first to gather information on any business, product or church—so much so that a church without an online presence becomes virtually invisible. Having that online presence makes the church noticeable and available to guests.
It enhances worship: “Well-designed places make people feel more comfortable,” says Ehresman of First MB. Just as a well-designed home creates a comfortable environment, so a well-designed worship service, complete with excellent audio-visual enhancements or stage design, welcomes guests and sets the scene for a powerful worship experience.
It communicates more powerfully: Jesus knew the power of stories, often teaching through parables. Likewise, media can help tell a story in a more creative, powerful way. Ehresman compares watching a well-crafted video with simply reading the script; the video will engage more senses and capture the imagination.
It takes ministry beyond Sunday morning: Best, of Neighborhood Church, gives the example of a baptism testimony recorded on video. When that story is posted on the church’s website and social media outlets, it can be shared to a much wider audience. Maybe, Best speculates, someone will view that story and be motivated to take the next step toward Jesus.
Focus on the message. As in other areas of ministry, it is possible to become so eager to be relevant that a church loses sight of what’s important. Smith, of The Bridge in Bakersfield, says church leaders should think through who they want to reach and the message they wish to communicate. Then media can intentionally complement that vision and enhance the message. Consistency with vision is more important than looking “cool,” he says.
Start small. Of course, many congregations don’t have the budget to hire a staff person for media and technology. That’s OK, say these tech staff. They recommend finding one area of media or technology to try and let it grow from there.
Find volunteers. Neighborhood’s Best says a church should not necessarily view media and technology as something to staff. Like other areas of ministry, church leaders should be looking for those with gifts and passion in this area, then empower them to minister. “Equip them and train them, then set them loose and let them change the world,” Best says.
Seek out tutorials. While some of the tech staff the CL interviewed had specific training in media—Ehresman, for example, holds a master’s degree in digital media—others were self-taught. Tabangcora, of Laurelglen, says she often looks to the Internet to help her learn the next step and has received great help by asking others in the field. Many free resources are available.
Just do it. Just like learning a new language, investing in media can be intimidating. But Ehresman says that doing our best to bring people to Christ means trying new things. While it can be scary, he says, “The payoff is worth it.”
Smith, of The Bridge Bible Church, says that while other things may have a higher priority in a church’s ministry, every church can do something. “Do what you can do,” he urges.
Thank those serving. Because media and technology people are behind the scenes, they are often overlooked until something goes wrong, Boock points out. But those same people put in long hours and pour themselves into enhancing the church’s ministry. Thank them and support them. “They need your prayers,” Boock says.
While technology can carry a hefty price tag, it doesn’t have to. The media staff CL talked to mention several resources for churches interested in improving their ministry through media and technology:
For low-cost websites: Cloversites: http://www.cloversites.com/church/
For engaging worship presentations: Easy Worship: www.easyworship.com
For email list management: MailChimp: www.mailchimp.com
For graphic and video resources:
Seeds – Church on the Move: http://seeds.churchonthemove.com
Vintage Church Network: http://vintagechurchresources.com
Stuff I Can Use – Southeast Christian Church: http://stufficanuse.com
OPEN – LifeChurch.tv: http://open.lifechurch.tv
Elevation Church: http://resources.elevationchurch.org
Christ Church of the Valley: http://www.ccvresources.com
Newspring Church: http://newspring.cc/resources
Open Resources: http://www.openresources.org
NLC Creative – New Life Church: http://creative.newlifechurch.tv
Creation Swap: http://www.creationswap.com
One Drop Media: http://pc3media.org/
Graceway Media: http://gracewaymedia.com
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