In today's ever-changing technical landscape, it's important that technical directors develop effective strategies for managing the technology and digital services used in their churches, especially with an increasing amount of churchgoers currently searching for spiritual content online.
In October, this important topic was addressed at a WFX Symposium by Rob Coletti, director of client services for Piksel Faith, Alan Riley, vice president of sales for Piksel Faith, and John Darsey, pastor at Redeemer Church in Georgia.
According to Coletti, it all begins from the top down, so the pastor needs to be involved in the strategy.
"This is something you want to do and you want it to be successful for your church. You have to define the strategy and you have to cast the vision to your staff and to your churches," says Coletti. "This has to latch on and make it clear. This isn't just something that you're interested in. This is something that is necessary for all of you."
Darsey says that today's congregation tends to shy away from the front of the church and many prefer to stay a bit anonymous. Churches that can fit hundreds upon hundreds of people often see the same faces and empty pews. Thanks to technology, churches now have the ability to digitally fill the room and get their message across.
"Today when you stop and think about the abilities that we have digitally, we have the ability to fill churches and instead of thinking so much about membership, we need to think more about the lives of attendees," he says. "If my responsibility is to spread the Gospel, the vehicle for spreading the Gospel today is the Internet. It is a digital solution."
With the message on-line, more people will tune in and listen to God's words, because they can do so when their work and busy lives allow them to. Plus, those on vacation, at college or just away can always check in as well. Darsey knows of one person in France who regularly listens in.
Technology can be anything from live video streaming of services to a simple app, where people can go to see announcements. And of course, utilizing social media sites like Twitter and Facebook is key to keeping the church community connected with photos, videos and important messages.
Learning from Mistakes
Creating a digital strategy has its challenges. Coletti says there are a number of ways to fail, and it's important to be smart about your approach. In today's day and age, success is really about viewers: people who are watching and connecting and engaging. And if you can't connect with them, then there's no point.
"One reason for failure is that managing a digital strategy just gets too complex. You've got so many wires crossing and you've got so many different trains running across different tracks, you get overwhelmed because you take on too much at once or try to do it all on your own," he says.
Having poor technology can also be a big problem.
"If someone is trying to watch your video or your stream and it's freezing on them or it's buffering constantly then you'll just have people dropping off. And again, if you don't have the people, there's no point in the technology," Coletti says. "We've seen major failures from folks who start with no strategy. "Technology is not Jack's magic bean. You don't throw it and it grows into a beanstalk. It takes work."
One concern of churches is that with so many people watching on the Internet, gifts will decrease and it could hurt the church in the long run.
"What we have always encouraged folks to do is that a lot of people who are watching, especially people who are not attending anywhere, they understand from the background, they understand that giving is an important part of that. And so we want to make sure that there are opportunities," Coletti says. "When we talk about ROI, return on investment, we don't want the churches to look at this simply from the dollars and cents because you can't ever just look at ministry as dollars and cents. Basically churches that emphasize online giving usually see about a 30 percent increase in the overall giving to the church."
A lot of it, he adds, depends on how it's emphasized from the pulpit and from the platform as the pastor gives them opportunity.
"We know that there are people who are out there who would love to participate financially and they will do so, if they are just asked," he says.
Darsey says that in 11 months his church's online giving went from zero to about $1,900 a month and approximately $1,100 of that was money they weren't receiving before.
Riley feels that even if the pastor wasn't the driving force behind the factor for going digital, he still needs to be on board 100 percent.
"Because it's a truism, the speed of the leader determines the speed of the group. If the pastor is not vocal from the platform talking about this and it's clear that he is not feeling ownership of it, the congregation's not going to feel ownership of it," he says. "We tell pastors, what you need to do on Sunday morning after you've started streaming your services live, you need to make sure you know where that camera is and you look at it and you speak to those folks and you welcome them.'"