by Greg Gibbs and Rob Taylor
I (Greg) recently had a conversation with Rob Taylor, Pastor of Generosity at Idlewild Baptist Church about some of the challenges and opportunities presented by technology. Rob asked me questions and I got to answer them. We have had a friendship since we worked together a few years back on a massive debt-reduction campaign at his amazing church near Tampa. I thought it might be helpful for others to see this exchange, so we chronicled it here:
- Why do churches need to change the way they are reaching out to their congregation? Why is using technology important today?
Rob: Technology is important because it is the way that so many of us communicate. And older members are no exception. It is a misconception that “old people” don’t use technology. They pay bills through the bank’s online systems and talk to grandkids using Facetime and Zoom.
Greg: Rob, I think older members may struggle with how technology should or should not play into their church life but I don’t think they are anti-technology, per se. My father pays bills online, uses Facebook, has an iPhone, etc. and he is almost 80. But he refuses to do anything but write out an old-fashioned check to the church because he sees that as an act of worship.
- A recent poll conducted by PushPay showed that 61% of church leaders were interested in learning more about creating plans and strategies for driving attendance in person and online. Where should they start? What digital tools should they use?
Rob: Again, I am a big proponent of surveys. But not ones that are national, per se. Remember how much we learned (and changed!) because of the IBC survey? I would literally poll or have coffee meetings with older members, Sunday School classes with older members, etc. and ask them, “What technology do you use? What technology would seem helpful to your church experience? Where would using technology cross over a line for you and feel uncomfortable when it comes to church life?” Ask!
- Not everyone wants to embrace technology. How can leaders help their staff and congregants move forward with them?
Rob: Like any other thing about which people are skeptical, the way to allow them to embrace it emotionally as well as tactically is to tell stories of how it is helping accomplish the mission. For instance, a group of members may be strongly opposed to digital worship services. Regularly share with them a story about how someone connected with God who otherwise may not have if we did not offer the ability to engage with the church online.
We are still in an era when the church will need to have alternatives to whatever digital platforms they use. The church lags behind culture (sometimes for very good reasons). So even though culture is pretty close to fully digital, the church is still playing catch up. For instance, even though someone can watch the worship service online, the church will still have in-person service. And even though someone can give financially online, there are still members that want to write a check. This will exist for a while yet.
- What has made the largest impact on your church regarding digital strategy?
Greg: At my home church, Kensington, where I spent 10 years on staff developing a generosity strategy, we run a “digital giving” mini campaign every May. The idea is that people may be inclined to sign up for digital giving so that while they are away for summer vacations, their giving will stay consistent. It is like clockwork – every May we do it – and every May people sign up.
Additionally, the weekend team has found ways to promote the various services (there are multiple sites, all with different teaching pastors) via social media and church communications. That was happening before pandemic, so the culture was aware of the technology before it became critically important for so many.
- What would you say to a church that was reticent to embrace technology?
Rob: What I would say is “take it slowly” but move in that direction. Take the time to explain to various groups how it helps accomplish the mission – particularly if you can identify people who may be more reluctant. Begin to build a coalition even though you may not get a consensus. And try “experiments” – this is a great way for introducing technology. For instance, instead of saying “from now on, every event will require an online sign up” just try one event first. “We are running an experiment – for the men’s breakfast next month, we want to see how an online signup works.” This reduces the sense of panic or fear about everything changing to digital overnight.
Greg Gibbs is available at firstname.lastname@example.org and is a Senior Lead Navigator for Auxano, and team captain of Auxano Generosity. Rob Taylor is available at email@example.com and continues to serve Idlewild Baptist Church, one of the largest SBC churches in America.