No matter what the size or type of church you lead, having an online presence is as much a necessity as the offering plate.
Here’s a case in point. Peter Cetale, a devout Catholic, noticed a problem while attending his church while he was still in college at Cornell University.
He told Ithaca.com that attendance was dropping. Budgets were growing tighter. Community connections were becoming strained. According to research he had pulled from the Pew Research Center, the longevity of his church was at risk. Membership in churches had seen a 20 percent decrease among Christians in recent years and, among a generation with an increasing reliance on technology, 80 percent of Catholics leave the church by the age of 23. The same study showed 52 percent of protestants leave their childhood faith by age 24.
IN SEARCH OF AN ONLINE CONNECTION
Cetale, who started a technology company after college, set out to find a way to bring his church, historically slow to adapt to cultural changes, into today’s digital world.
He began work on a platform that would help congregants, especially millennials, engage with the church in a way that was compatible for them.
He has a finished design, although still evolving, that hopes to assist pastors who are having difficulty connecting with parishioners. The platform, called “Religio” tracks people’s attendance, assesses their level of engagement, gives leaders a better understanding of their congregation and help maintain attendance. The interface also modernizes the church experience, from prayer requests to streaming Christian radio and a list of the day’s hymns, in order to give parishioners the ability to weigh in on the church experience in a simplified, more fluid way.
Religio is designed for Catholics but its concept can be used across denominational lines. Many churches are experimenting with their own platforms.
MEETING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE
Scott Beck, the Online Experience Pastor at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, takes on the task of creating community and engaging members every day.
He told MinistryTech.com:
“Our online campus serves as a welcome mat for those that are just checking out our church for the first time, home sick, on vacation, moved away and can’t find a new church, yet for some, this is just how they attend church. We have a live chat host that can interact with people and we can accept prayer requests and pray with people in real-time. We stream our services and reach people from all over the world. My hope for people “attending” online is that they will encounter God from right where they are.”
He acknowledges the perfect model hasn’t been created yet and there are difficult issues to resolve such as, “How and who is moderating the platform?” “How much would it cost?” “How do churches keep people engaged?” “What makes this so unique?”
THE FACEBOOK EFFECT
And then, there is the 800 pound gorilla in the room: Facebook.
Beck says Facebook is leading the way with this kind of technology, churches have to find ways to be better. And since so many people are on Facebook, it is difficult to get them to use a separate tool.
Still, the challenges are worth the effort as churches strive to fulfill the Great Commission.
But as Beck quickly reminds us that technology is just a tool, “it is not just technology that is going to reach the millennials, it will be our expression of love in the context of relationships that will.”