By Jeff Crabtree
The Church is in the world…of computers. Most church leaders realize the Internet and other forms of digital communication hold great potential for personal ministry. Ministry updates take seconds instead of weeks. Urgent prayer requests, devotional materials and good humor can be shared with a few keystrokes. As you dive into the world of digital ministry, consider the following practical suggestions.
- Be brief. Unless it is a personal letter, make emails and web articles brief. Digital communication should be short and to the point.
- Use good grammar. I have received e-mails with little or no punctuation. Some came in all upper case, others in all lowercase. These messages are difficult to read. Because most emails are done quickly, everyone makes mistakes, but willfully ignoring basic grammar rules makes the problem worse. Also, when sending text messages, avoid using popular abbreviations, unless you are sending a message to a member of the family.
- Be selective. Be selective about material you forward or link to on your website. Like bulk mail, secondhand information is quickly losing respect in the digital world. Verify your sources, just as you would for an academic paper or publication.
- Avoid viruses. Keep your virus protection software up-to-date. When you receive or detect a virus, quickly alert those with whom you correspond. If you detect a virus on your website or blog, quickly alert your web hosting service or shut down your site to avoid infecting others.
- Beware of reply features. When replying to emails, be aware of the automated “reply all” features. I have received answers to e-mails that did not originate with me because someone accidentally hit reply all, and mine happened to be one of the receiving addresses. Unless you want an entire list to read your personal response, stay away from reply all.
- Give Credit. Give full credits for forwarded, copied, or borrowed material that you send in an e-mail or post to your blog or website. And the phrase, “Received via e-mail” does not give you license to reproduce anything for publication. Also, don’t copy images from other websites without first receiving permission. Many online images are rights-protected and copying them for personal use is illegal.
- Respect Others. Remember, not everyone is working with the latest equipment or high-speed Internet access. Websites with heavy graphical content can be very slow to browse.
Digital Ministry Guidelines
In addition to the above observations for general digital communication, consider the following suggestions to help you be more effective as an online minister.
- Share Websites. If you find a helpful site, share it! Post a link on your blog, briefly summarize the site, and explain why you think it will prove beneficial, and give an accurate, complete address.
- Develop Online Visibility. If you are not already making use of technology, prayerfully consider developing an online ministry. Even if you cannot publish a website, write articles for others to post to their website as a “guest blogger.” Send encouraging emails to both home and international missionaries. Develop a comprehensive email list for your church family and send out urgent prayer requests or other important news items.
- Electronic Evangelism. Use e-mail for your own evangelistic efforts. Recently, after a two-hour flight, I exchanged e-mail addresses with the man who sat beside me. Three weeks later, I sent and email and asked if he had read the Scriptures I recommended. He responded to tell me that he understood that he now understood that he had to be born of the Spirit, and not of the flesh, that all the good deeds and kindheartedness would not get him into the kingdom of heaven. No, he has not made a profession, but he has made progress!
- Contact Absentees. Use e-mail or a networking site like facebook as one way to contact absentees. A quick note like, “Just wanted you to know we missed you Sunday. I hope you had a good trip and we look forward to seeing you soon,” is always appreciated. Take this one step farther, however, and contact the individual in person! Online communication will never replace face to face ministry.
An E-ssential Tool for Ministry
Extend your ministry to the digital world. Write notes, send encouragements, and build friendships. Answer questions, share your faith and promise to pray.
Moses had a rod. David had a sling. You have a computer…and it is an essential tool for ministry in the 21stcentury!
About the writer: Jeff Crabtree is a pastor in New Brunswick, Canada.
Adapted from Contact magazine, October 2001.