In November of 2014, I had the opportunity to visit Washington DC for a conference and took a morning to explore the National Mall. Having no clear idea of what to expect, my friend and I fortuitiously started at the Library of Congress.
Upon entering the lobby of the Library, we were presented with two books. To our right was the Giant Bible of Mainz, which was among the last hand-written bibles produced in Europe. It is a stunningly beautiful work of art, and the pinnacle of the technology of the time.
To our left, about 5 metres across the room, was a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the first book produced using movable metal type.
Gutenberg’s invention of the mechanical printing press made it possible for the accumulated knowledge of the human race to become the common property of every person who knew how to read—an immense forward step in the emancipation of the human mind.
This short walk across a room represented a monumental change in technology that allowed for far greater access to the scriptures than was previously possible. And it is possible that the shift from handwritten books to the printing press was matched in importance by the shift from the printing press to digital publishing. With digital publishing, not only can everyone read anything, but anyone can publish anything.
Churches who ignore this are no better than churches who ignore the implications of the printing press.
At the same time, inappropriate use of web technologies can harm our mission as much as help.
Here is one idea that churches should consider when planning and implementing a web strategy.
Build a web, not a website.
People are accustomed to using the internet to interact and connect, not just to find information. This isn’t to say that a static, information only website isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it falls short of the potential.
Interaction and connection require two-way communication, which means that your web needs to integrate tools that allow your congregation to respond to you in some way. There are many tools that allow this, like Twitter, Facebook (ugh…if you must), discussion boards, contact forms, or the opportunity to subscribe to and comment on your blog posts.
And this brings up the fact that if you want people to respond to your posts, you need to have a process in place to ensure that you are regularly publishing blog posts, and here is a possible strategy for that.
Narrate your preparation.
As pastors and teachers, you all engage in some sort of process when preparing your material. Maybe you sketch your ideas in a mind map, or you get inspiration while you exercise, or you spend time in a local library or coffee shop, where there is enough background noise to focus your concentration. Whatever it is you do, you go through a process of deciding what you will and, more importantly, what you will not say.
Here is the thing about a blog: it allows you to not only clarify your thoughts, but it allows you to share your challenges and the decisions that you make about the content you present. Give your audience a preview of the challenges you face in preparing your presentation. What are the difficulties with your ideas and claims?
Use your preview post to create cognitive dissonance, or the sense that there is tension between what the people in your audience think they know and what might actually be true.
Narrate the aftermath.
Hopefully, you will come to some reasonable conclusions based on evidence from the bible and from the world. But things are rarely that tidy. Ideas have consequences. Conclusions are tentative. And there are always outliers in the data.
So present those problems. While it is tempting to present your conclusions as definitive, there is always a chance that you are wrong, and presenting that is a tremendously powerful way to build trust in your audience. People are correctly suspicious of ‘authorities’ who present their ideas with undue certainty.
Narrate your omissions.
You have to make decisions about what content you choose not to present, not because those ideas aren’t important, but because you don’t have time, or some ideas are more tangential, or maybe more controversial.
An advantage of web technologies is that these omissions don’t have to be completely ignored. You can easily publish your reasoning for omitting what you did and provide some commentary that expands on what you presented.
Why narrate your process?
Publishing the process in which you engage before and after your presentation has significant benefits.
- You will provide a richer and more complete presentation of your ideas which will benefit your audience.
- Your audience will be able to review your presentation later.
- Your own thoughts will become more clear.
- As you share and publicize your process, other teachers and church leaders will benefit from your thoughts.
In short, you will become a better teacher, your audience will have a richer experience, and your colleagues will gain insight that will enable them to learn from you.