Tel: 905–690–4709 dk@tfwm.com - Darryl Kirkland, Publisher

Digital Spiritual 411

Imagine the following scenarios: A complete stranger/agnostic calls the church secretary and simply says, “Tell me about your church.” OR a young, shy couple visits your church. They are interested in knowing more but a) don’t want to appear stupid by asking dumb questions and b) aren’t sure they want to give out their name and phone number to anyone and don’t want to commit to a “get to know you” lunch. What do you do?

Most churches have some sort of bulletin, booklet, pamphlet or other text based “visitor packet” for their church. They usually have a description of the church’s core beliefs, an overview of the programs, upcoming events, and some contact information.

However, several are only on paper and ink, restricting the amount of information you can potentially communicate. What if you could create a visitor packet that could include a visual representation of the church, videos and graphics from past events, as well as show current upcoming events with current contact information? What if it could answer the reader’s questions and allow them to give their name if they wanted to donate to the church or receive more information? Sound good? It’s possible, even for your church.

The above scenario is a mixture of several different technologies all labeled together into what I’ll call a digital visitor’s packet. Simply put, this is a collection of media technology gathered together to communicate. This collection can include a CD-Rom as the core part of the technology and include video, text, graphics, and access to the Internet.

Why a CD?

It’s Tangible
CDs work for a couple reasons. First of all, it combines the best of a number of worlds. It has the video aspect of a promotional tape. It has the interactivity of the Internet, and it is tangible. This means it can be posted at the back of the church on an information table. It can easily be mailed to the person on the phone. It can be given to anyone with a computer whether they have Internet access or not. It can then act as a visible reminder to review the information.

It’s Visual
CDs can contain graphic information such as pictures from the various events in the church. This allows a picture to do the speaking for you. Along the same lines, CDs can also contain video. On a CD, a single, non-parent 20 something can click on a video about the 20 something group and see a 30 second video about the program. This preserves the interactivity and allows the maximum content to be displayed and communicated within the duration of the attention span.

It’s non-linear
CDs are also interactive and non-linear. That means that someone can jump around to whatever information they like without having to sit through the content she or he doesn’t particularly care about. This is beneficial to the single, non-parent 20 something who wants to know what the church has for them and doesn’t want to sit through the nursery information. With linear media, such as videotape, they are forced to sit through one section to get to the next.

It Can Interact with the Internet
With this technology in place the possibilities are almost limitless. The Internet opens up dynamic possibilities for streaming video, information exchange, and updating movies less expensively than recreating CD content every three months.

So the question then arises, “How do I make one?” Like any informational piece the church (or any other entity) needs to take three things into account: The speaker, the listener, and the content.

Who is Listening?
Who benefits from a digital version of what we already have on paper? You must examine the society at large with whom we as the church communicate. In this so-called “Postmodern Society” we are dealing with a great deal of cynicism, and a great deal of hurt. This culture thinks it knows what Christianity is all about but is usually mistaken. There is a broad mistrust of institutions combined with a great deal of searching and longing for a place to belong. It is also a culture where the TV is on for over 7 hours a day in the average household, 63% of households have computers, 84% of those have internet access with over 5 million people in the country having a broadband connection as of the end of 2000. This is a culture with digital conversations, and an information hungry mind, that is looking for relations and connections but not necessarily trusting those who might give it to them.

Who is speaking?
The church communicates almost continuously in one form or another and speaks from many different platforms concurrently. Consider the question at the beginning of this article where a stranger calls up and says, “Tell me about your church.” Is he asking the church as an organization what sort of programs and classes it teaches? Is he asking the church as a spiritual teacher, for truth and the roots and beliefs of Christianity? It’s difficult to say from that simple question and more dialogue would need to take place if there was to be meaningful discussion. But what if the questioner doesn’t want to converse or never asked the question in the first place? What then?

The church communicates on many levels. At the same time it is overcoming stereotypes and pre-existing baggage from its own history. This can include the condemnation of Galileo to the Spanish Inquisition to Nazi Germany calling those it persecuted, “Christ Killers”.

This is baggage the modern day church needs to overcome. For some people we may only get one chance to overcome some of these hurdles. We need to make sure that what we say, the tone we use to say it and the vehicle we use to say it are going to make the message last, be relevant, and affect the recipient in a way that can’t be ignored.

What is the Content?
What goes into a digital visitors packet? The topics covered on the CD should be anything you want to communicate after careful analysis of your audience.

What do they want to know about your church? This might include your church’s statement of faith, programs and events associated with your church, your church history if it is interesting or if it played a major part in your town or region, pictures and bios of the clergy and pastoral staff. I think it is a good idea to address, not just the church, but Christianity as well.

Don’t forget, with this piece you are selling the whole package. Your content can range from a simple FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) to a broad apologetic of the faith. You can form the FAQ using questions that have been asked of your members by people outside the church (if you can’t come up with a list of questions asked recently, you might have another problem on your hands).

Go out into the community and ask people what they think of your church. Think of it as market research. Asking people on the street or in a grocery store line what they think of your church can be very illuminating. If they’ve never heard of it or can’t think of anything the church has done recently that might be your first FAQ, “What does our church do in the neighborhood?” Your digital information is not meant to replace personal contact but to either augment it or to help break the ice.

Once you have thought about your content, the next question is to determine how to organize it. Try to do some brainstorming with a professional media designer. The best answer is probably going to be a mix of a CD-ROM based text and video, streaming video, and other types of content such as Flash, which can be downloaded off of the Internet. Cost starts to be an issue at this point and will vary widely based on a number of factors, including the amount of pre-existing material, the amount of video that needs to be edited, and the scope of the project.

Society nowadays has at its disposal some of the most powerful integrated technology the world has ever seen. The church would be foolish if it didn’t use this widespread multimedia technology to witness and communicate more effectively.