One of the largest challenges facing church today is how to approach the whole concept of what is becoming known in the industry as cyberministy, reaching out to parishioners through websites, blogs, social media outlets, Twitter and the like. It is an area that has at first been met with resistance among church leaders, but the fact of the matter is that most people in this technological age receive information mostly through cyberspace. The days of paper church newsletters are going the way of the do-do, unfortunately, and whether we like it or not, something has to be established within churches to reach out to members electronically.
This can take many forms, of course. Most churches today have at the very least a website people can access to obtain information about worship times and event schedules and to find the contact information of staff members and church workers. This sort of setup is mainly used to serve the needs to already active members and is in some ways simply replacing the hard copy church newsletter.
But what many church leaders are realizing is that having a web presence can be an entirely separate and vibrant ministry in itself. As Matthew Peeples, a pastor in Knoxvile, Tennessee, contends, churches now are essentially serving two congregations: the one sitting in the pews and the one sitting in front our their computers. And the needs and desires of each congregation can be vastly different.
Ministry to the cyber congregation means providing multiple outlets for viewing and communicating the message of the Gospel. Churches that engage in a more developed cyberministry offer audio and video and/or live streaming versions of their worship services through their website or through youtube or vimeo channels that members and nonmembers alike can view any time of day or night. Another crucial aspect of cyberministry is giving people the opportunity to share their thoughts electronically through a Facebook page or a Twitter feed. And the response from the church to any electronic communication like this needs to be prompt and genuine. People who have reached out through cyberspace need to know that they have been heard and that they are valued.
For this reason, many churches have staff members who work exclusively on sending and receiving and responding to the messages of those who interact with a parish’s cyberministry outlets. What may have at some point seemed frivolous for a church to invest in is now paramount to providing for a thriving church body.
Many pastors have related experiences they have had with email and text exchanges they have had online with people they did not know who had found their church’s website and were seeking answers to questions they had about faith. So many of those who reached out in this way eventually met with the pastors in person and become members of their congregations.
And that is what is crucial to remember in all of this. The personal touch is still a necessary part of the process of ministry. While all the trappings of a cyberministry are important, they are in essence only tools to bring more people to relationships in-person with a church community, which in turn will lead to a real relationship with Christ, not just a cyber one.