IHP: Media Thoughts about Building Up a Tiny Church
First full day of the In His Presence conference... the conference is primarily about worship and supporting worship ministries but there was one session that was about web media that really got my head going. The session before actually hadn't ended (creating print media) so there was some cross over, essentially graphics design issues. The most surprising thing was that such a large church as the Anaheim Vineyard was going to use a third party to host their website (www.kingdomtool.com) primarily because they discovered that they needed the means of having the various pastor's secretaries update their part of the website without running the risk of them messing up the rest of the site or having to do anything geeky. Previously I had been thinking that I want to move our site to Geeklog so that various persons at our church could also do their own updates, but having used it, I can see that using Geeklog would probably be expecting too much.Another thought that was bouncing around my head was that, given my church's actual small size and lack of other meetings beyond the Sunday morning service, that we should be looking into how we can use our virtual presence to help build the community. That is way, way past what I'm sure either the pastor or other members of the church are thinking about. I mean, just having a working site that doesn't look like it was thrown together at the last minute would be an improvement. I mean, we have a handful of "whitehairs" and then the rest of us are in our late 40s or above. This isn't small, this is almost non-viable. So, my thinking is that there is an increasing number of under-40s who are pretty much continuously on the Internet or at least continuously checking on their MySpace account and they need a church home just as much as any of us. If the Lord really means to use us, if there's a reason why we're still around, why not explore this avenue reaching our to our neighbors and community.
Four years ago when I was looking for a church to go to I looked around at what was on the Internet, but primarily went with Juls suggestion when she found out that her former pastor was the pastor of the Vineyard church in Newport. Last year when I began to look for a church closer to me here in Long Beach my first thought was to search the Internet and I found almost nothing of real use. If the church had a web page at all it was a static page that was almost never updated. Most church had no web presence at all and were only listed in some "church" directory in the local phone company web-directory. I did discover that there were dozens if not hundreds of little churches all over the Long Beach area, but there was almost no information that could help me decide what churches to visit beyond making a phone call, and even then that wouldn't have probably helped. Ha.
I did visit a Presbyterian Church because they had pictures on their website (#1: they had a website; #2: they had pictures that made the made them seem like a community), and at a time when schools and communities were over-reacting to dodgeball mania ("it's so bad of our kids' delicate self-esteem") they had pictures of their dodgeball team and a game that they had with another local church. I think they even had team t-shirts that featured a giant bull's eye on the front. I thought, here's a church that has a sense of humor and doesn't take itself too seriously. Alas, they were far too traditional in their Sunday worship and I had that sense of being the first visitor they'd had since the Nixon era, so I continued my search.
All this to say that if we're going to do a page, if I'm going to do a page the question has to be asked: Who are we and how are we different than all of the other churches in the neighborhood? What is it that we have to offer that someone might be interested in becoming a part of? It's not enough to list a bunch of doctrinal tenets and list service times. Again, there has to be something of our personality that comes across from this thing. I think a lot of church people don't get that. They get that it's important, but think that listing the service times and places and maybe a picture of our pastor is enough. But it really has to communicate "why us." And quite frankly, that's a really difficult question to answer. I mean, I know why I'm still there. I know many of the things that we lack. And I know that it's essential that we have a web presence, some means where we can use this incredible communication tool to share what God wants to do through us with those all around us.
I guess if we had this tremendous dynamic teacher and he (or she!) spent his/her week glad-handing people in the community and from this formed a following, that'd be one way to grow the body. Or maybe if we were more able to capitalize on the "Vineyard Church" name, we'd be able to get various vineyard-ittes who happen to have moved into our area. But we don't seem to have the former and for whatever reason the latter isn't happening (my brother one time commented that he thought that the Vineyard movement was dying... just like me to join something just before it gave up the ghost!). So, what was once a pretty good size church (a few hundred, from the stories I've heard) has been reduced to less than a handful and we're just barely hanging in there. How does one promote that? I had been thinking that I wanted to put a collage of pictures in the page banner but there might not be enough of us for it to not look like ... well, like there's only less than a handful of us. It's like a movie or TV show when the budget is so small that they can't pay for enough extras to convince the viewer that one is not looking at a cardboard movie set (think "StarTrek V" the battle scenes where there weren't enough "warriors" to even fill the frame). This is going to be tough to do. JBB