Category Archives: Web Ministry

A New Job and Neighborhood

Word is starting to get out a bit that I have resigned my position with Stonebriar Community Church this week and accepted a position with the 30th largest church in the US. We wanted to let all of you know this as early in the process as possible, but also had some details to work out before I could make things official. I have been away from consistent blogging for awhile so that I could get this life decision made.

Where is this?

Christ Fellowship in West Palm Beach, Florida offered me a CIO type role that was just too awesome to not consider. After a rapid, yet extensive interview process, Ashley and I came to the same conclusion as Christ Fellowship that God had created an amazing fit between what they need in a technology leader and what God has made me to do. I will initially manage a department of 6-8 folks doing everything from programming to helpdesk to data warehousing. The team is pretty junior, but very talented none the less. Really a good group to be able to mentor.

What will you be doing, exactly?

For some of the more technology challenged readers, I will try to boil this down for you. I will manage a team of people who keep the email working, the files storing, the computers healthy, the data safe, the website updated, the member contact information reportable, the videos playing, the telephones working, etc.

In addition to these regular Church IT duties, I will be helping the church navigate the technology waters to a place of understanding how technology can be leveraged to improve the way they do the Christian life together. Whether this is through a better website that connects people with each other, systems that help improve the discipleship of church members, or an intranet for better communication within the staff, the goal of the position will be to partner with the other executives to champion technology projects that are sponsored internally. I am a change agent for technology within a church who already loves change and technology. What could be more fun?

Are You Moving?

Well yes we are. Believe it or not, God’s call on our life in this case was so strong it is making us give up our Texas residence. Leaving our friends, family, and this great State of Texas (Long live the Republic) were about the only downsides of this ministry move. We are seriously grieving moving to the beach. Some of our friends are just laughing in our pitiful faces and saying, “There are a lot worse places to serve the Lord. It could be Africa or a Peanut Farm!” Thank you Jesus it isn’t both! And they are right, West Palm Beach is about the most affluent place you can be a church worker. Living in constant good weather and around nice things shouldn’t be such a pain. We just love what we have here. We are comfortable. We are fully supported.
Some scripture came to mind in this that haunted us a bit:

Mathew 16: 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.

Mark 1: 16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17“Come, follow me,” Jesus said. 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

When is this happening?

My last day of work at Stonebriar is August 10th and my first day of work with Christ Fellowship is August 13th. I will work remotely for three weeks. We will move over Labor Day weekend, with my first day on site being September 3rd. “There is a lot left to do” is an understatement of understatements.

With this having happened this week, I have heaps more to say about this, but it will have to wait cause I am out of time for today. We’ll write more soon.

What Ministry Technology, Church IT, and Web Ministry People Have in Common

The Answer: Technology

This blog entry won’t be interesting to the majority of my regular readers. But, I wanted to respond to a great conversation on the formation of a Church IT “group” going on over on the blogs of Jason Powell and Tony Dye. I am posting this on my personal blog because A) it is longer than a comment should ever be, and B) it offers a different view than what seems to be the consensus on those two sites that a national, professional organization should be formed. Feel free to hack/mod/refute my points here and keep the other threads focused (unless their authors introduce some of my ideas there).

Who Are You Anyway?

In many respects, I am on the fringe of Technology Ministry conversations. Most of you will not have heard of me, because I lurk a lot. A LOT. I run the Web Ministry for a biggie-sized church in North Texas. Have been doing Ministry Technology work for about 7 years in everything from desktop support to data center build-outs. I am a technology generalist/strategist who sees the big picture and am the worst sys admin ever (seriously, I’m embarrassed). I blog about Web Ministry sometimes too. I have spoken about scalable Content Management at MinistryCom and NRB. I help small businesses with formation and technology planning. Blah blah.

My Assertions

1) “Church IT” overlaps with Web Ministry. This week found me helping some IT geeks from our staff (we have 7 total including ChMS staff) get up to speed on WordPress. We continually work together on the email newsletter, group calendaring, the intranet, rich media storage, etc. Church IT professionals, Web Ministry professionals (and some would argue Communications professionals) have in mind the same broad goals of a) Connect the staff and lay volunteers with the people we serve (and vice versa), and b) Help our staff connect with each other to better do the former. You might add that Web Ministry folks have c) Connect the people we serve with one another.

Regardless of which department your position is budgeted in, or where you as a volunteer report to, the high-level goals are the same. We have that much in common.

2) While the above is true, it does not have to follow that the two should be combined when time to huddle together. After all, there are heaps of Ministry Technology denominations/factions who are doing similar things with a slightly different focus. Some in churches, some in para-church, some in missions, and some as vendors.

(BTW, I am compiling a long list and could use your help. Post others you know of in the list here. Password: passthetest )

Sure, the ministry web designers over at GodBit have different interests than someone dealing with a LAN and software support in a large church. Also, most of these currently “disparate” communities have formed to support one another within their niche focus. Sometimes this is “help me …” and sometimes this is “did ya know …” and sometimes this is “what if ya…”. None the less, the infrastructure and users have overlap; the operations of a web based tool will always depend on IT and whoever “does the web stuff”, regardless of if the tool is a CMS, ChMS, prayer system, etc.

3) We should not ignore convergence. More and more, the devices on the fringe of the network cloud are how people access the data, the communications channels, and ultimately the people. “The Network is the Computer” still holds true, and for now the glue is http. Beyond technology convergence, there is a melding of ministry types as well going on. Media ministries (para-church) are being birthed out of churches as sister ministries to the church ministry. When they become big enough to operate on their own, they usually split off. What happens to those IT people when they are no longer within “XYZ Church”? Are they no longer the best resource for single sign-on?

4) There are heaps of edge components to the “Ministry Technology” cloud/conversation like this one that are just begging for a tipping point. These dialogs likely follow a long-tail distribution, wherein only a small portion of the whole conversation is truly being discovered and utilized by us. It has occurred to each of us at some point that “hey, I am not the only person who gets this Church IT stuff”. This happens when the loosely coupled network nodes finally find a bridge/path to one another. IT Roundtable types of events have long been a great bridge.

5) While IT Roundtable meetings, SXSW get-togethers, and technology tracks in larger ministry conferences are bridging events between the nodes in the Ministry Technology “network”, the infrequent occurrence and physical proximity to all the players prevent mass participation in the Digg/Slashdot sense of the word. Meetup, Upcoming, and many other Web 2.0ish communities prove another model… which is, The Participation Age has arrived.

6) Something more than a “Church IT Association”, with forthcoming annual conference, is needed to address the situation above. Two main reasons (you may think of more):

i) In an association or yet-another-group, there is no aggregation of content or built-in findability of knowledge. As knowledge communities attempt to scale, the best practices, tips, and how-tos get trapped in organizational structures that get outdated, in technologies that get end-of-lifed, and in pay-to-play memberships. Sometimes, the participants in the conversation ultimately board up the entrances to protect what they have. This is all the walled garden problem, friends. We have enough of that in the church.

ii) NACBA and other fine professional organizations like them do become healthy and functional. However, non-profits have overhead, need funding, require management/baby-sitting, and many times fail to grab the attention of their target audience due to their centralized, ivory tower nature (amoung other things). Do you want to have the same problems in this new organization of recruiting, assimilating, and tracking volunteers that you have in your own ministries?

What I Am NOT Saying

1) That this is the emergent church problem all over again. That as M. Scott Peck (don’t have a clue who he was, sorry) said, we should “Share our similarities, celebrate our differences” all the time. None the less, the emergent church folks have done a better job at gaining critical mass, being agents of change, and getting people focused on their loosely coupled likenesses than has the Church IT crowd. They did it without a master plan or a top-heavy governing body, too.

2) That CITA or any other acronym laden professional group CAN’T work. It can and some do. I just question its scalability/viability for us post-moderns and for those coming along behind us. We have the chance to form something that can last longer than a company with a name. Membership groups are last century, but still work today. Will they tomorrow?

3) That “Official” groups are inherently bad. I am not anti-institution. I do believe that belonging to a “group” has a higher barrier of entry than just commenting, blogging, or volunteering to bring a video projector or the pizza. Associations require committees, while assemblies require participation/presence. Audience qualifications/boundaries for an association would be “works for a Church doing IT?”, while qualifications I prefer are “Does IT related stuff for a ministry?” (hint: includes volunteers and part-timers).

4) That all the Church/Missions IT and Web Ministry groups that exist today should merge and form one of the largest technology groups to ever have their interests removed from them. If you think I am promoting a one-world government, you aren’t listening. I am saying that we can have more than one sub-division, but that this formation question we are entertaining is a neighborhood question and not a sub-division question.

What I AM Saying

1) Exodus 35 and Nehemiah 3 and The Cluetrain Manifesto (link to Wikipedia, where else?) provide a better model for getting big things done. A model, in fact, that resists the temptation to take the focus off the participants and put it on the process/structure. A model which admits the creative commons and the priesthood of the believer work. We can trust the self-selecting members who come together in a meritocracy to help the rest of us in our callings. Those not wanting in, will stay out.

2) An unconference-styled gathering model in the vein of Refresh and Barcamp is similar to an IT Roundtable and will get you where you want to go. You’ll still get plenty of vendor-sponsors to provide the lunches and swag. You also get regionally-based meetups (at a frequency the local participants desire) all over the world with no significant, centralized overhead. No formation costs. No risk assessments. No insurance.

What you need: You need a) a group of Ministry Technology leaders to conceptualize the whole thing, b) a people finder (google maps?), c) some well-written recommendations for people organizing an event, d) a wiki or CMS with subdomains to host the self-forming node clusters planning and discussions, and e) a method for determining who is coming (upcoming.com or meetup.com?). Refresh Seattle is one example sub-site and O’reilly Foocamp ’05 is another.

3) Opening up, syndicating, and aggregating the ministry technology discussions in one place will make things more findable and more searchable. The Web20Workgroup is one example that has a bit of a privelaged upper-class bent, but still works. The 9rules Network is a classic example of how to aggregate differing views within a common interest. Blogrolling, a webring/blogring, and a Pligg site (Digg Clone) are also viable technology options. Pligg and blog users could reference forum discussions and web-based listserv messages archived via something like mhonarc. The most simple approach for this might be to create a unique, obscure Technorati tag that someone could build a search on top of using their API. Or, someone could build a Technorati type site on top of pingomatic.com

What you need: You need a) a conversation to decide the scope of the aggregation site/search, b) some competent people to make some hard technology decisions, c) some volunteers who can setup the technologies (hey, we know how to do this!), d) a quality web host with plenty of bandwidth and idle processor (either VPS or Dedicated box I would think), and e) a trustworthy person to hold the domain name in trust and manage the DNS.

Wrapping It Up (I promise)

If you have made it this far, thank you. I know for most of you I am a johnny-come-lately. I respect that perspective. In reality though, there are heaps more of me out here. What we don’t need is another set of membership dues or conference fees to cost-justify, travel time out of our project plans, levels of approval in the way of new ideas, or multiple websites to hit to get what we need now. We want freedom of information (without any overhead) and a place to share valued opinions. Sure, membership has its privelages, but we are already in the big country club upstairs (will it have golf?) and are all hoping to get there when our jobs are finished.

Tony Dye astutely asked “Are We a Group?”. I believe “we” are. Now, who are we? In light of mistakes the protestant church has made in way of divisions, how should we really congeal/form?

[UPDATES]
04.25 – Jim Walton is in on the discussion. Eric Busby commented to Jim, “Have you considered asking ICTA…”. Nathan Smith pointed me to the ChurchBit Google Group, which describes itself as “A place where churches and those who serve the church can learn about web technologies in order to fulfill the great commission. An emphasis on Web 2.0, Web Standards and Application development.”. Still no takers on helping me identify all the ministry technology sub-divisions in the list here (password: passthetest), and no response or trackback from Tony Dye or Jason Powell.
04.30 – Delinquent in getting updates on this post. Sorry. Have moved this post and others to my new blog.

Where is Jason?

Everywhere and nowhere, that is where. In addition to some significant life changes I hope to blog about next month, I am in the midst of a big web ministry project at the church where I work. We changed our audience focus from insiders to outsiders, and are completely redoing our site visually and architecturally.

I did heaps of research on Church web sites, and was fortunate enough to partner with some of the greatest design and technology folks doing stuff for ministries. BUT, I missed one site that would have changed my entire perspective on this deal. Unfortunately, I am almost done… and it is too late to reverse course. I am just sick I didn’t see this before starting my project.
Bobby Chandler, one of two designers on our church staff, has the scoop.

What Highrise from 37signals Means for Ministry

Truth be told, that is just another one of my catchy subject lines to make you read the post (sorry to those seeking a trustful person, ’cause I am as depraved as any blogger). I have subscribed to 37signals news alerts by email and I just got one that summarizes something I have been looking forward to considering. You can read about their description of the product in the quote and at the links below, but let me just add that I am very excited to see how this tool could be used by church plants, smaller ministries, and those of us helping out ministries with technology. Looks to be a great way of keeping track of people in a low-footprint, agile kind of way.

We’ve been busy putting the finishing touches on our latest
product, Highrise (previously known as Sunrise). Highrise is a
shared contact manager that helps you keep track of who you talk
to, what was said, and what to do next. Like Basecamp helps you
collaborate on projects, Highrise helps you collaborate on
people. You can use it alone or with your co-workers. You can
think of it as a company-wide, web-based, shared address book
with a few twists.

Here are a few Signal vs. Noise posts previewing Highrise:

Preview 1: An introduction to Highrise
URL: http://tinyurl.com/2pyusz

Preview 2: Highrise permissions and groups
URL: http://tinyurl.com/39vqq9

Preview 3: Highrise welcome and workspace tabs
URL: http://tinyurl.com/2fbrpo

Preview 4: Adding people to Highrise and dealing with duplicates
URL: http://tinyurl.com/2pblnm

The Return of the Tent Maker – The Unconference Scheduled for May 4th

Rex Miller, who I am meeting for lunch tomorrow for a little chat, has announced the Return of the Tent Maker – The Unconference. Details are forthcoming, but what we do know is A) he is calling this an unconference, B) it is being hosted at Irving Bible Church, and C) it is scheduled for May 4th.

An “Unconference” is a loosely-coupled, attendee-led grouping of talks that are highly interactive. Typically, everyone arrives at the conference and posts up a talk topic on a white board (which has time slots for various discussions) that they are interested in giving or moderating. Others who are interested in the same discussion may ask to help lead the gathering, or may just show up ready to dialog on the topic. Others may lurk in the back of the room waiting to see if something develops which is interesting to them. One of the common rules of these discussions is that if you are bored, get out and find something that interests you. This leads to some roaming between talks which is kind of interesting.

The whole unconference (pdf) idea is not new, being birthed in the late 70’s/early 80’s, but it has only recently been applied to technology conferences. “Return of the Tent Maker” *may* be the first ministry focused unconference, though I can’t say for sure. Does anyone else know?

Perhaps the most blogged unconference was foocamp ’04. The barcamps are pretty popular too though.

It would be cool to do some SpeedGeeking at this Return of the Tentmaker unconference. I love hearing what others are working on and toward. A wiki would be a pretty sweet addition too (the others all have it)! In fact, Rex, if you can get movement for this idea and it really is an “unconference”, I will pitch-in by having my freelance company contribute the Team version of Stikipad. Let me know if you like the idea.

How to design News & Events pages for Churches?

We are in the middle of a new web project where I work as Web Ministry Coordinator. We are completely overhauling our site design and information architecture with the help of Chris Merritt and Nathan Smith. Of the many things we are trying to do, including creating a staff blog on the church site, rolling a News & Events page is top on our list.

Church news and events are usually a big focus for church web sites, but this focus is spread out throughout the site. At most church sites, you might get a calendar page with detail of upcoming events. We really want to create something which can compete with the major news outlets, but deals with hyper-local content specific to our church, it’s people, and the local community of 30,000 folks.

We want to include local news, church news, announcements, upcoming events, calendar events for the week, blog entry teasers, birth announcements, death announcements (which we will either name “Grieving the Loss” or “In Memoriam”), prayer requests, and service opportunities. The idea is to create a page that people might save as their home page in their browser, or at least use as a reference point within our site for everything new happening at and around the church.

The challenges when you start trying to design for this page are huge. Somehow it has to fit within the regular church site design (which should accommodate sparse content also), but still work for a news page where the user may scroll three pages. I am still not completely satisfied with the result we plan to launch in April, but this December blog post by Luke Stevens about online news design has been really helpful for me to get my brain around the concept and the design challenges. It is also neat to see how various news sites from around the world approach the problems (eye candy included at the link above).

Web Video for Churches-The Future?

For a few weeks I have been pondering a post about the various options for ministries wanting to distribute video via the web. Looks like Bill Seaver and Greg Atkinson may beat me to it with a comprehensive look… which is great because I never felt good about the post anyway. Not really an expert on the topic. Even so, let me point to a few things I have been keeping tabs on after my time at NRB.

Having been an avid YouTube lurker since it’s start, I am fascinated by the concept that churches could use video they are already creating, or that well-trained servants produce, to engage new and interesting people in a discussion that may eventually open the person to Jesus. NRB, though attended by a strange mix of blue-haired comb-overs and over-confident Millennials, connected me with a number of interesting projects and people I had not been aware of before (including the microexplosion blog referenced above).

iquestions.com, which I mentioned before, is an interesting video project. I think they need more of a user-contributed video focus and less “subject matter expert” advice to gain critical mass. They seem to be well-funded though, so it may be a question of which audience segment are they trying to reach. They use some cool technology for the backend of the site, and the design is pretty sweet too.

I met up with GodTube.com at NRB as well. Great hearts behind this one and I really want them to be successful. Built from scratch, their technology seems to have missed some key components, like a profanity filter and possibly comment spam prevention to name a few. These are hurdles they can climb though, and being a clone of YouTube (focused on ministries) isn’t a horrible idea since many churches may want to experiment on GodTube before branching out into more secular venues where their messages will be attacked more viciously.

Erwin McManus was the keynote speaker of the REACH track at NRB. His church site is interesting on a number of fronts, but this description of his video production tools turned me on to Viddyup and the iTunes Lame Encoder. Watch one of their videos to see what kind of quality these tools put out. Amazing!

Another seemingly smart guy I stumbled on through some clicking through NRB links is Maurilio Amorim. He doesn’t have many posts yet, but hopefully he will get going and teach us all some things.

The last NRB nugget I will mention is WiredParish.com. Looks like they have a podcasting revenue model tied to their site, but there are some nice freebies like this blog post series about the top 10 podcasting mistakes. Brad Abare is the one who gave me the heads up on WiredParish, so credit is due there.

NRB Reflections – For Ministers Reluctant to Spend Money on Web Ministry

Another question and answer post from my talk at NRB.

Doing online ministry well represents a significant investment in strategy, time, and resources. This means money. What would you say to a pastor or ministry leader who is reticent about creating a whole new budget item for the Web?

1. Create an Exit Strategy.
If they are a broadcast media ministry, I would suggest they create an exit strategy, because they are nearing the end of their product life-cycle. Millennials don’t care about broadcast. They like user-generated content. They don’t trust authority, but they trust reputation. Not the kind of reputation that comes from being a subject matter expert, but the kind that comes through relationships and shared experience. It isn’t to say they wont read a newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch your TV programs… but it is to say they listen with more skepticism and cynicism than any group before them. They won’t give to your ministry just because they consumed… they don’t figure they owe you anything since content everywhere is free.

2. Pray About What to Do and How Much to Spend.
I would recommend the ministry pray through their fears or reluctance. And hey, technology isn’t for all churches… and certainly isn’t applicable globally yet. It will be some day, however. So, pray and ask God to show your ministry how technology can become part of the strategy and vision. Exodus 35 shows us that God brought the right people with the right skills at the right time to build the temple. He will do the same with technology and your ministry.

3. Start Well Today and Grow It Over Time.
Start slowly. It isn’t all or nothing. Do something now and do it well. Then do the next thing and do it well. If you have a web page with 10 pages, that is enough. Creating content for 10 pages is about like drafting 10 good emails. You can make the time for that. So start with a base and add things consistently to improve the value. Believe it or not, a web ministry can be started on as little as $25 a month as long as someone is willing to put in as few as 10 hours a month.

4. Get Volunteers Engaged to Lower the Burden and Cost.
Lastly, get your constituents involved. If you are a church, ask for volunteers who can help with photography and writing. Or, get volunteers to keep you accountable for keeping stale content off the site by emailing you when they find out of date information. Put an especially astute volunteer in charge of researching calendaring and event registration technologies for your ministry. This lowers your work effort, let’s them use their gifting, and gets something new on your site faster. My main point here is that the site is never perfectly finished, so get your people involved in making the site happen. This DOES NOT include coding from scratch, but that is another issue for another time.

NRB Reflections – Technologies Churches Could Use More Effectively

This is another response to some questions proposed for my talk at NRB. Two previous posts about NRB were my Initial Reflections and What Ministries Need to Know about User-generated Content.

What are examples of online technologies where churches could be doing a better job?

1. Forums and Email lists.
These have been around for awhile, but in many cases they are not being owned by the ministries. By owned, I mean promoted and managed. It’s one thing to ask your constituents to engage you on your forums, but it is another to have the maturity and perspective to let sinful people be themselves. Many times in ministry we want the people we serve to not bring their baggage with them. Well the online culture promotes transparency and vulnerability. The privacy of homes let’s people do things they would not otherwise do, and yet, this provides an amazing ministry opportunity. Forums, when done well are an example of a 10 year old technology that hasn’t been done well but by only a few ministries.

  • One example is theooze.com. This community has grown to include over 150,000 monthly visitors from ninety countries. Run mostly by volunteers, it is an example of a successful virtual space where Christians and non-Christians engage each other sharpen one another.
  • Another example is TableandFire.com. This is a forum run by a music minister at Irving Bible Church, near Dallas. They invested in the same forum technology that Apple Computer and other large companies have used. I found the forum not through my association for with their IT and Communications teams, but through a Google search for “Dallas Motorcycle Training”. These guys do church community well both online and offline.

2. Social Networking technologies.
Christians are incredibly interconnected. We forward hoaxes, cute stories, and warnings about peanut butter faster than any other group. This is because we build reputations faster than people in the world, through our strong association with organizations. We carry these relationships and associations with us online. Ministries should consider the use of social networking technology, which will help to build a more dedicated and loyal group of constituents.

  • Simple things like online memorial pages that live as permanent places of memory for loved ones say something big about how important others are to us.
  • Enabling prayer communities with tools that allow people to share their prayer needs while maintaining their privacy and dignity.
  • For large churches, well run job or classifieds listings that layer opportunities on top of the social fabric of the church would be a great way of bringing outsiders in from the community. Put simply, Jobs are one of those things which can get people past their affiliations and distrust.

3. Content Management Systems.
Producing and Managing quality content comes down to caring enough about your constituents to ask them what information they need, and then providing it in the ways they care to consume. Compared to donor relations, how much money does your ministry put into content creation? Wait, I am not talking about product creation. Not CDs, seminars, booklets, or offers. I am talking about content which extends the relationship with the constituent by meeting them where they are, and dialogging with them instead of talking at them.

I am talking about building trust through keeping old, stale content off your site. I am talking up-to-date calendars and event registrations that are functional and easy to use. I am talking about resources on other sites which you link to. A link to another ministry is not a full endorsement of the ministry, but only an endorsement of what you are linking to. Using Content Management Systems to their fullest extent by funding content creation with enough staff will go a long way to keeping people on your site longer and making them want to return later. All with the end goal of building trust and loyalty with the person so you are the group they think of when life becomes hard, they experience successes they want to share, or cause-related needs become apparent to them through other sources.

NRB Reflections – What Ministries Want to Know About User-Generated Content

I was asked a few questions for my talk at NRB that were fun to answer. I thought I would blog the answers in a few posts.

User-generated content is a huge buzz topic right now. As a Christ-centered ministry, how can we take advantage of this trend without exposing ourselves to problems?

  • I don’t think you can. Frankly, there is some level of risk/exposure with any new idea. No pain no gain is the catch-phrase, but with user-generated content, this is true. And I realize it is scary that there aren’t a lot of examples of ministries doing this well, but not that many are trying either. We can move past this fear though.
  • Sometimes user-generated content isn’t a matter of reinventing everything as much as it is a matter of opening the content safe and allowing others to participate. iQuestions is a good example. They have video for all kinds of questions, with “experts” answering the questions. Well, that is great… but will it scale to tens of thousands of questions? It probably won’t. Will it catch the top 400 questions about the Christian life? Maybe. But what about all the others?Does the 16 year old girl who wants to know if French kissing is a sin have a balanced answer to the question? Not if we rely on a single or a few experts, because she doesn’t trust them. But having lots of people who have been there come in to communicate similar things says a lot to that 16 year old girl, in spite of the few people who might encourage her to mug-down (showing my age here) all she wants. I don’t mean to pick on iQuestions. I think it is a great idea. It is an example though where re-crafting your model in a way that allows users to contribute can lead to greater things.
  • When thinking about how user-generated content could impact ministry, consider your ministries mission. Then think about what it would look like for your constituents to take a more active role in your mission. I don’t mean through giving, I mean through contribution. Exodus 35 shows us that people are given things by God which they can contribute. So dream about how your ministry can open the doors to allow those you are in relationship with your ministry to contribute to your ministry. Hint: this isn’t stuffing envelopes, but involves something on your web site.
  • To answer directly the problem side of the question. You need smart people who can look down the road and anticipate the problems. These are likely consultants or people who already run large internet ministries. You need policies and terms of use statements for sure, but you also need a balanced, Christ-like approach to how you handle conflict and mediate disagreements. In all things, be like Christ. He walked among the sinners and ate dinner with the dirty. He didn’t ask people to clean up before coming to him, and neither should we.We should learn a method of encouraging people to be baptized into a new faith where they can experience freedom from the baggage they bring to the user-generated content. This is what our ministries are really on about anyway isn’t it? Sure, the conversation is taking place in ways we don’t yet fully grasp. Our values should not change… nor should our approach with people (unless of course you aren’t doing it well now). As problems with user participation come up, handle them with a thick skin, a huge heart, and a forgetful mind.Ants Providing User-Contribution

The value of user-generated content on your ministries staff and membership culture will far outweigh the pains involved in moderating the discussion and gently correcting those who are out of line. In this case, the pain is worth the gain.