You may have seen this photo published by NBC News about the difference in the crowd in St. Peter's Square from when Pope Benedict XVI was elected the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and the announcement of the newly minted Pope Francis just last week.
It is an image that dramatically captures the rapid advance in technology and culture—and the difference in the way we live our lives—over these last eight years.
This change has profound implications for how we live, lead, and minister today.
Remember that in 2005, the iPhone, the advent of the modern smartphone, didn’t exist. It was still two years in the offing. Facebook was available to college and high school students, but would not be open to the public-at-large for another year.
For all the advances in digital communications and social networking, email continues to be the most reliable way for congregations to digitally communicate with members and potential members. Why? In the transition we find ourselves in between print and digital communication, email is the most reliable way of digitally sharing your ministry’s news and information. It’s as close to mailing a letter to everyone’s home as you can get, just without the paper and postage.
Unfortunately, most congregations fail to get the most out of their emails for several reasons:
Incomplete email lists (who gets it)
Inability to measure their success (who reads it)
Too much or too little information
Lack of focus
However, for some that use email well, a weekly email update is becoming the anchor of their communications strategy, lessening the need for a time and paper intensive production of a monthly newsletter.
Here are some ways and a few examples of how to send great emails that people will read:
Technology pervades nearly every aspect of our daily lives—especially those of our teenagers—and yet we rarely talk about it in our churches.
People carry powerful smartphones, wonderous tablets, and they work daily on desktop and laptop computers. They are continually plugged into the internet and social networks—technologies which have completely saturated our daily lives and work.
And yet, as pervasive as these technologies and digital media are, we don't really talk about them in church. Why?
Perhaps there is an unspoken presumption that these devices and networks don't have anything to do with our faith. In fact, they powerfully shape our faith in ways we are often unaware of—both by the information we receive through them (how we are formed), and how we live out of faith in digital spaces (how we enact our faith). It may also be our own relative discomfort with understanding and operating these technologies ourselves. We can feel less than knowledgable and outpaced (read: intimidated) by our teenagers.
In this digitally-integrated time, churches need to take seriously and engage in conversation at the intersection of faith and technology for all ages, but especially youth. As our youth live more of their lives online, they will also live out their faith there too. If we don't engage it, we will miss out on a huge part of their lives...and leave them without spiritual guidance.
It sounds crazy, doesn't it? I mean, how will people reach you if they need help, want to share good news, or need pastoral care?
It would be crazy to give up your phone for Lent.
And yet, we quite easily, and in some cases flippantly, talk about giving Facebook and other social networks for Lent like its no big deal.
This reflects a profound misunderstanding of the role social networking now plays our lives and ministry.
When we talk about giving up Facebook for Lent we usually mean that social media are simply a form of entertainment, that they are ancillary to our "real lives." When we place them in the category of giving up meat, coffee, chocolate, we insinuate that Facebook is a guilty pleasure that we are probably be better off without, but usually don't have the willpower to give up.
However, digital social networks have become an integrated and, for many, an essential, part of life, relationships, ministry, and, yes, faith. Just as much as any phone.
2012 was the most challenging and gratifying in my professional career. I published my first book, left one call and accepted another, and relocated our family of six from Boston to Philadelphia. It was a great year to be blogging to document it all.
What I've learned about blogging is that one does not only write a blog to process the present moment, but also to observe how one's own perspective, style, and interests evolve over time.
I blog, in part, to discover what I'm interested in, what seems worth writing about, and to chip away at larger ideas and challenges in 1000 words or less. In short, in blogging, like all writing, I suppose, the thing you learn the most about is yourself.
So, in a new a new tradition (drum roll) here's the best of my blog, 2102 edition:
Here's the 2012 edition of the blog in raw numbers:
“And the word became flesh and lived among us....” (John 1:14)
Last summer, one of my Facebook friends I’ve never met, Tracy Pasche-Johannes, a fellow Lutheran pastor from Muncie, Indiana, and her husband, Jeff, were in my hometown of Boston on vacation. “We’re in Boston! Would you like to meet in person?” they asked in a Facebook message.
We had never met before and we had a pretty thin connection to start with: we shared one common friend, who, at one point thought it would be a good idea for us to know each other and introduced us on Facebook. We had observed one another’s status updates, messaged back and forth a few times, but that was pretty much it.
We agreed to meet up for an Italian dinner in Boston’s North End. Over pasta and Chianti, canolli and cappuccino, we fleshed out one another’s status updates and blog posts, putting a voice with our writing, describing our families, locating one another within our ministry and community contexts.
Over the course of the meal, all the words, links, and video we had shared back and forth on Facebook became embodied and enfleshed, and our digital connection grew into a deeper personal relationship. Our dinner was, in the Johannine spirit of “the Word made flesh,” a feast of the incarnation.