One of the questions some of the attendees at the Christian New Media conference on Saturday from more traditional churches were asking, was why should their church be embracing new media?
If you look at the web presence of our two churches in the Finchampstead and California parish, we have pretty traditional web sites – the site for St James being more developed than St Mary and St John. Both are feeding to twitter (@stjfinch and @smsjcalifornia) and both also have Facebook fan pages, but I had to push quite hard to get the social media links on the front page of the St James site. At St James we do record and video occasional services and events copies of which are posted onto a resources page and also come through on iTunes, whilst St Mary and St John record their sermons onto CD to distribute on an ad hoc basis within the congregation, but not online. Therefore it was pretty interesting to hear what other churches were doing and why.
Certainly from our experience the reason for recording sermons and services is primarily for existing members who maybe wanted to hear a sermon again, or who perhaps were unable to attend an event. Whilst there maybe is a thought that other people outside the church might listen or watch, the general expectation is that people outside wouldn’t really be that interested. That idea seemed to be mirrored by some of the examples given in sessions at the conference, but then in a couple of cases churches have discovered that their videos and audio recordings have found a much larger audience. One church found that their sermons were being downloaded a lot in China, whilst another heard from a church in one of the former Soviet republics that were downloading their weekly sermons and then showing them to the entire church. Certainly that shows that embracing new media gives a church an opportunity to reach many more people than it could otherwise – although if you’re a small church community struggling to make ends meet in the physical world, you’ll certainly get questions over how you convert hundreds of views on YouTube into money in the collection plate!
However Dave Roberts of Partakers presented a different idea. He offered a model of using new media to include the excluded – rather than just using new media to take the church out, using the new media to bring the housebound into the church community. For example if you have someone housebound who is good at reading, have them read for videos and audio recordings that are shared with others in the church. Dave has posted the content of his session onto his website, and it is certainly worth a look.