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READER FEEDBACK: In fast-changing world, how technologically savvy is your congregation?

Chris Gingles, vice president of Healing Hands International, shows women in a rural Kenyan village photos he has taken with his iPhone. (photo by Erik Tryggestad)

A large majority of American religious congregations use Internet technologies — and those that do not are likely to be perceived as “out of sync,” says a new report from Hartford Seminary.
From a Hartford news release:

Ninety percent of congregations embrace email for communications, 69 percent have websites, and more than 40 percent use Facebook, a staggering rate of adoption since the general public use of Facebook was only four years old when the survey was conducted.
These are among the findings in a new Faith Communities Today 2010 report titled “Virtually Religious: Technology and Internet Use in American Congregations.” FACT is releasing this latest analysis to help congregations understand how internet technologies can contribute to their vitality.

The report reminded me just how quickly technology has advanced in just the last few years.
In September 2005, I wrote a front-page story for The Christian Chronicle with this headline:

Churches adapt high-tech means to old-time religion

That story highlighted, among other innovations, congregations that were making downloadable podcasts of Sunday sermons. Six-plus years later, sermon podcasts seem about as common as free soft-drink refills at fast-food restaurants.
About a year later, in October 2006, I wrote a front-page story with this headline:

As teens flock to MySpace, parents exposed to potential perils

Five years later, Internet safety for young people remains a paramount concern, but does anybody know what ever happened to MySpace!? (Humor intended.)
In September 2009, I wrote a column on the increasing popularity of e-Bibles:

Texting during worship? No, just reading the text

That innovation, too, appears to have reached the dinosaur stage all too quickly — in other words, those reading the Bible from their iPhone or Blackberry, not to mention tablet computers such as the iPad, draw fewer curious glances than they did a few years ago.
Just today, we posted The Bible: There’s an app for that, featuring top online study tools.
In March 2010, the Chronicle highlighted churches that provide live online streaming of their Sunday assemblies for shut-ins, out-of-town members and other interested guests. Other topics we’ve addressed include online social networking as a tool to save souls and this provocative question raised by an Abilene Christian University professor: Will Facebook kill the church?
One story that we haven’t done — but are pursuing — is a feature on Churches of Christ bringing custom apps to their flocks. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on this trend.
Reader feedback: What technology is your congregation using to serve members and reach the lost? Please be sure to include your full name, home congregation, city and state in case we decide to quote you.

  • Feedback
    @ParrishCofC is a congregation of less than 200 in rural Walker County, Alabama, we use social media like FaceBook and Twitter as part of our communication process, along with CallingPost. We use technology in our assemblies to project scripture readings, song lyrics, slideshows from visiting missionaries, as well as Bible Class and Sermon Presentations. We also recently used Skype during a special afternoon service as part of our Mission Awareness Sunday to talk live to a missionary in Scotland. We have WiFi available for people to use online Bible apps on their phones, iPods, and iPads. I preach using an iPad on Sunday evenings. We recently started recording assemblies to DVD and are researching what we need to stream them via uStream or some other live feed server. Technology can be a useful tool for spreading the message of the Good News. Thanks for this article.
    Scott McCown
    March, 7 2012

    Since I only use a wi-fi iPod for my Bible.is app, I wish my congregation would at least provide wi-fi capability during services. Technology here is limited to PowerPoint projection of the songs and some sermon outlines or video/audio clips. I have used my website as a signpost for the congregation because it is not felt that a website is important.
    Tim O’Hearn
    March, 7 2012

    We here at Northside have a web site that we use mainly to keep up with our prayer list and inform visitors of our times of service. I also use email to send information to our congregation. Larry Pruitt, Preacher
    Larry Pruitt
    March, 7 2012

    We also have projection capabilities and use it for worship songs and sermons. We are a congregation of about 100 members in Hanceville, Al
    Larry Pruitt
    March, 7 2012

    I like diigo.com to bookmark, both for church and nonchurch topics. You can set up distribution groups based on topics and network with other users (eventually Google Plus will do this with Circles and Bookmarks, won’t they???)
    Ed Dodds
    March, 8 2012

    Below is a list of some of the technology we use on a regular basis to engage our members and visitors.
    We use presentation software, propresentor.
    Have a joomla! Based web site with sermon audio, blogs, prayer requests, google calendar, ministry announcements etc.
    Phone tree computerized calling system for mass phone & text messages.
    We use YouVersion’s live event just about every week for sermon notes and polls.
    We use Mailchimp for mass email communications to the congregation and visitors.
    Kenneth Clapp, Stockdale Church of Christ, Stockdake, Texas
    Kenneth Clapp
    March, 8 2012

    We use technology “big time” in our Hispanic congregation: We use and give out all these tools every week: Power Point, E-mails, sermons in mp3, Songs in CDs, videos of Sunday’s sermons in DVDs, Tracts in pdf, Mini-sermons in YouTube, News in Facebook… Thanks to God and the use of technology, our congregaction has being able to reach people in more than 30 countries.
    Jos� Elmer Pacheco
    March, 8 2012

    I forgot to mention that we also use facebook, and though the congregation doesn’t have a twitter account, I use my personal one (as minister) to help promote and connect as well.
    Kenneth Clapp
    March, 8 2012

    Ir amazes me that congregations don’t have websites … especially since there are so many free providers out there. Our congregation uses the Our Church free websites service. The site has some clean ads that attach (that makes them free). However, for a minimum charge, you can run an “ad-free” option. We do pay for a domain name (www.plainviewchurchtoday.com). Last month, we had over 1000 hits — half from outside the state. Several visitors mentioned that they checked us out online before attending.
    Not bad for a congregation with an average attendance of 35-45!
    If we can do it, any congregation can do it.
    –Larry Fitzgerald
    Plainview Church of Christ of Colorado City, TX
    Larry Fitzgerald
    March, 9 2012

    In 1996, Kent Landrum and I made two presentations at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures: �Using Multimedia in The Local Church� and �Putting Your Church on the Internet�, and every congregation I’ve regularly attended since then has had a website and used projection in worship. A bit under two years ago, I posted photos of me baptizing my eldest son to Facebook to share with family who couldn’t be there. By any measure, I think I count as an early adopter.
    So please don’t take me for a lLuddite when I say that I think what the Church actually needs to do is provide real relationships for people overwhelmed with a plethora of information which lacks a real depth of connection. It’s all well and good to keep up with congregational happenings and prayer requests via email, but there is something about sharing a meal before Bible study that no amount of social network updates can equal. Likewise, nothing can substitute for the comfort of touch in times of trial, togetherness in communion, or the sounds of voices lifted together echoing off a vaulted hardwood ceiling.
    Technology has its place in our mission, but it cannot substitute for the personal and intimate relationship we share. Indeed, as more people are overwhelmed with technology, the Church needs to point them to authentic connectivity: man to man, and man to God by way of Christ.
    Jonathan Clemens
    March, 11 2012

    For years I’ve been collecting ideas and writing children’s bible class materials for our congregation-Otumoetai Church of Christ, Tauranga, New Zealand. Another woman at church and I have faithfully photocopied lessons for our own congregation as well as churches in New Zealand, Australia and South Pacific Countries. This year I finally created a free WordPress blog and put free children’s bible class material online at www.missionbibleclass.org. Teachers can download teaching templates, study for lessons, learn songs and follow links to online resources.
    Ten months later…over 120 countries…100,000 page views…and not one photocopy bill!
    Mary Nelson
    March, 11 2012

    We utilize a website and the free services our cable TV provider in the area provides-space for a 1/2 hour program, and information on service times on the community directory. Otherwise, we are more basic. When we give, we put cash or checks in the basket. When we have a sermon we use a overhead projector on the same slide for the whole sermon. We don’t have any computers, records are kept on paper. We have a telephone with an answering machine. In this time of fast pace, we should be able to look at the Lord’s church as being plain and simple. It was plain and simple in the first century, it still is.
    Gary Hatmaker
    March, 12 2012

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