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Church and social media

A Church of England clergyman who is active in social media pointed me to the above video saying:

The figures are three years out of date (a long time in this game) but the central message of this episcopal church video more than stacks up. As the local Church often comes to terms with this reality, the dinosaur institutions of the C of E are not only utterly stupid about it, but think it’s somehow clever to be utterly stupid about it. How long, O Lord?

Might I reinforce the point: it is not just the CofE that is a dinosaur.

How much effort is it for a Christian, for an ordained person, to set up a blog site? Would it take 20 minutes – half an hour to have quite a good one running? And remember: they are free. How much time would it take to set up a good, free website? Would it take a couple of hours to set up a really good one?

How long to set up a parish or diocesan facebook page? A few minutes? A twitter profile?

How much effort is it to put your sermons online week by week? To record them as podcasts? What is the quality of the diocesan website? Parish facebook page? Pastor’s twitter profile?

My clergyman friend is so right. When I attend clergy meetings it is as if so many of them pride themselves on their digital ignorance.

This is the age of blogs, social media, and aps.

The church has put time, and training, and money, and buildings, and energy into where people lived: Area A. But the young and energetic people have all left Area A and have moved to Area B. “Oh no, I’ve never been to Area B. No, I wouldn’t even know how to get there. Yes, I gather that’s where most people are now, but I don’t really get it. What’s wrong with Area A? Yes, I know only a small group of old people in Area A now come to worship – but we faithfully keep doing what we’ve always done. I’m sure that after this small group of old people, other old people will come… I hope… …”

ps. If you want to check when a website was last updated, just paste following code in the URL address-bar for that webpage and press enter:


This does not work with all browsers. So if it doesn’t work in the browser you are using, try some others. Not having an up-to-date website is a mortal sin. Having a website that looks like it was designed in the 80s is a venial sin. Not knowing what an address-bar, URL, or browser is – well… seek out a digitally-literate priest for confession.

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20 thoughts on “Church and social media”

  1. Perhaps. But my understanding is that it is almost a given that seminary students nowadays have laptops. Many churches (however small the parish or group of regular attendees) and denominations and para-church organizations have their own websites. A smartphone version of a site can be hosted for about US$5/mo. Some Christian forums are well attended. Sermonaudio.com has sermons from a wide spectrum of theological persuasions. I’d use it more often perhaps, save that my own church’s sermons are available on our own church’s website. And I count various Christian leaders among the blur of my 4000+ Twitter followers and fewer Facebook followers.

    Granted the message of the cross is not as viral as video games and fashion stars. Granted search engines are increasingly preferring local results (in some respects with good and bad isolating effects). Granting the clamor to be visible on the first page in search results will only get worse, while domains and web pages out there have skyrocketed in numbers in the last few years (with an increase in die-offs).

    But there are still churches and Christians on the street corners of the virtual world vying for attention in the busy market place. Maybe not an older generation of CofE hierarchy, but somebody. Maybe not of the sort one might prefer to represent the body of Christ, but something.

    And yes, folks in their 60s plus are a growth group of social media users. Probably there are some Christians among them.

    1. Thanks, Peter. I’m not totally sure if I’ve got your point. I think you are saying that there is Christian material on the internet. That’s clearly undeniable, and not surprising. That some of what is there to represent “Christianity” is dubious is also true, IMO. I think I would press your point – if seminary students have laptops, IMO, just as I would expect them to do a course in preaching, and another in presiding, I would expect each to be working and reflecting on their online presence. I’m struggling to see why any parish would not have an up-to-date, attractive website. So I’m not starting from the internet and noticing Christian presence, I’m starting from the other end – particular Christian presence, and wondering why this particular one and that particular one is not digitally present. Blessings.

  2. What gets me especially crazed is the ones who “pride themselves on their digital ignorance.” How is that serving God or the church?

    Where we differ a teensy bit, Bosco, is that as a communications professional, I really do not want clergy setting up websites and starting blogs willy nilly without getting support from those of us who are savvy about such things. I’m not convinced that a sloppy amateurish site with horrid or no functionality is better than none at all. Here again, the unwillingness or inability of some clergy to seek assistance never fails to sadden and disappointment. I’ve observed it across denominations; throughout Christendom. Lord, have mercy.

    1. Fair point, Meredith. To some degree. If you have particular points you think clergy can/should keep in mind as they set up blogs & websites, present them in nice 8 minute videos on YouTube. I’m happy to embed such help here where about 15,000 visit a week, and point to them from my 75,000 followers on twitter. I fear your warning may provide yet another excuse. In the 6 years that I have been running this site, everything has become far, far easier. So much so that I’ve rebuilt my site totally twice (I’m still in the process of rebuilding currently). Each time with simpler software (Dreamweaver to Rapidweaver to, now, WordPress). The templates provided by such things as a Facebook page or WordPress are good, simple, I think pretty easy and danger-free starting points. My issues are with old-looking, out-of-date sites. Certainly, when they are wanting to get into things, you and I and others are there to give hints and help. I, certainly, am constantly trying to learn and improve, and am limited by time. Blessings.

  3. I use social media as a tool to invite the youth (that I already know in our real life parish) to youth groups. That and I do find that when I post religious items on my wall it does generate spiritual conversations that would not otherwise exist in that realm without Christians being present on Facebook.

    We still need to remember tech is a tool not a strategy. For example 100% of visitors to my parish over the last 2 years came through face-to-face interactions.

    There is no magic to building a webpage and they will come. We need to keep clear on the purpose; and its not more pew fillers – its about guiding folks to knowing God more. And tech can help.

    1. Agreed, Joel – the goal isn’t getting more bums to warm the pews. Interesting statistic about visitors to your parish. I’ve heard the statistic that 85% of people who decide to go to visit a worshipping community check out their website first. There’s probably variation in that statistic, but I think it’s an important thought… Blessings.

  4. @FatherBob from a Parish in Melbourne, Australia has been making good use of Twitter and a Sunday evening show with John Safran on Triple J Radio for a few years now. He is into liberation theology and is an interesting old bloke that I enjoy following despite my atheist leanings 😉

  5. Julianne Stewart

    Is there really so much that needs to be said, to warrant everyone having a blog/website? I am happy that you and a handful of others have a blog/website but I would not have time to read many of them, and even less time to contribute meaningful comments of my own. What percentage of blogs are largely used by just the owner and one or two other people?

    Certainly there are a lot of postings on facebook etc, but most of them are utterly mindless, like “awesome photo,Troy”, or “Jane Smith was at Coco’s Cafe at 4.40 pm”, or “like”. Our parish church has a website which I use occasionally to check mass times or possibly read a sermon that I had enjoyed hearing, but it wouldn’t bother me if they didn’t have one. There is simply too much out there already for anyone to absorb in any meaningful way, without more people being encouraged to create content. I like the Cistercian saying — speak only if it improves the silence….

    1. I think you are making an important point, Julianne. I think you actually respond to your point when you say that it wouldn’t bother you if your parish didn’t run a site. When I am a visitor in an area and want to join Sunday worship, when something happens and a person thinks about going to church (just to give two examples) – how do we proceed? I have here, more than once, expressed my regret that the church has stopped participating in our newspaper’s material on weddings and marriage. Few churches place service times in the newspaper now. Are these changes being done strategically, with a dynamic shift to this information being easily accessed on the web? I do not find this to be the case. Blessings.

  6. these resources may also be useful in understanding social media

    http://bit.ly/xWgmF9 – every second 1hr of video is uploaded to you tube
    http://bit.ly/yF5GrS – social media volume counter
    http://bit.ly/j3Fg9C – social media revolution (2011)
    http://bit.ly/lFjXom – social media revolution (refresh)

    http://bit.ly/oWo97G – 100 to 200 contacts is the limit
    http://bit.ly/xaONmd – 50 social media facts
    http://bit.ly/zybIBr – social media and vicars

    http://bit.ly/x6MT2a – social media explained
    http://bit.ly/znAEBM – world map of social media

    1. Thank you, that is really useful in parts. It is the practice and comment policy of this site to use our ordinary name here – it appears that you have reason to preserve your anonymity, but do consider dropping me an email. Blessings.

  7. I think we can assume here that most readers are tech-savvy enough to have their own facebook pages, etc, and so they are likely to know more than just this site (please note I said “most”)

    However, to back up Meredith, churches need to have professional sites – as pointed out, people check these first – if it doesn’t look good, they won’t go past the home page and will move on. Oh, and keep the “coming events” page up to date – I’ve seen pages advertising events two years ago. On another point, keep to URL standards. For example, Anglican church sites should be of the format ..anglican.org. This follows an easy to understand format and looks professional. Should also be cheaper than organising your own domain.

    With blogs (and Twitter), they are useless unless they are updated regularly with relevant material that is worth reading – or else it will be ignored. This blog is an excellent example of a relevant one that people will follow (well done Bosco :0)

    On an off-topic note, the discussion on area A & area B reminded me of a book church leaders need to read. “How To Close Your Church … Without Even Trying” (Cohen & Gaukroger).

    Dave :0)

    1. Thanks, Dave, but I continue to add what is probably a complementary perspective. If a church is sloshing in the money, great: get a professional website. My experience of the pricing of such sites is that they profit from maintaining the impression that creating and maintaining websites is an extremely complicated skill. It is not. I have advice how to create a good free site in a couple of hours. St Andrew’s is one site that was set up following my directions. For those who understand the significance, it has a Google PageRank of 3. Churches here have congregations of 30-50 people. They struggle financially. Increasingly they cannot afford full-time, trained clergy. To say they need a professional website is disheartening. I have suggested more than once here, get some teenagers together a Friday evening, shout them lots of pizza and coke and get them to set up a WordPress-based website, Facebook page, etc. Who knows where it will lead… I really appreciate your encouragement of what I do here. Blessings.

  8. Here I am, writing on a particular topic when my own old blog site is only available as an archive (thanks to my son setting that up) after my account was suspended last summer.

    My son came for a visit over Christmas a couple of years ago. We planned to go to the “midnight mass” (which starts at 10:30). I knew there would be a service, and when. And he did too, because “we’ve always done it that way”. But just for kicks, he checked out the website, whose calendar didn’t mention anything special — just the week-to-week events. And he called the church office whose answering machine gave no information about special times for the Christmas services. He commented to me (and I passed it along) that if he was just a random person, he wouldn’t have thought that church was having any Christmas services, and would have gone elsewhere.

    Just underscoring the fact that more important than being functional, it needs to have current info that real people would be looking for.

    We’ve had many (4?) websites since my son set up the first one in the ’90’s before going away to college. They tend to get set up, and then the webmaster moves on without passing along the secret password to anyone else to update things. And eventually, usually when we’re in an interim period, someone else gets the idea that we should start over from scratch. And then, there’s the problem of informing all the Episcopal related sites, including Anglicans Online, of our new URL.

    I rarely look at ours, because I don’t expect it to be current. But maybe it is.

    1. Some very important points here, Sue. You will notice I say that not to have the site up to date is a mortal sin. I wanted some service times at a well-staffed church. It was not on their site (which is professionally produced, and maintained by one of their paid staff). I rang – the first person I got in the office didn’t know. I was passed to a second person. Who didn’t know…

      Your story of the loss of passwords etc is tragic. I have rebuilt this site completely twice, but I maintain the URL and hence all the links etc. from people who are interested.

      Important lessons


    1. Thanks for your visit, Zack, and for asking. I’m presuming by your own internet site you mean Empty Vessel Project. The Vimeo video is obviously public domain for you to embed. My preference would be that you post some parts you want to highlight of my post with a clickable link back to here for people to read the rest. In any case, whatever you use from here, the expectation is that you credit this site with a clickable link back. Blessings.

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