By Matt Carlisle
UMNS Guest Columnist
Throughout the summer of 2005, I traveled with researchers to meet with members and leaders of The United Methodist Church. Our purpose: To gain a deeper understanding of the people of this storied global denomination; learn how you use and don’t use the Internet; and, ultimately, pinpoint what you wanted from your denominational Web site, UMC.org.
I liken our experience to one of those “On the Road” reports by Charles Kuralt, the late broadcast journalist. It was a reminder that every member and every church has their own unique story to tell. I was blessed to be witness to your stories. We took every opportunity to gather useful information, speaking with people on planes and buses who had never been to church in their life — simply to learn what would motivate them to visit a church on Sunday morning. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews, we built each component of the new UMC.org, launched last January.
During my subsequent travels, I began to sense a common thread that ran through each interview. It wasn’t articulated the same way by all, but it was clearly the No. 1 request. Share the story of this denomination in new and relevant ways online. Create a Web site that impacts Generation Y (born 1981-1999) and those who are part of the New Silent Generation (born mid-1990s to mid-2000s).
No small task.
I am optimistic by nature, but seasoned enough to know that no single Web site will create the revolution that people were asking us to build. A Web site can create a spark leading people to communities of faith, where nurturing relationships lead to healing and spiritual growth. The grassroots revolution happens when congregations of people step outside the walls of their church buildings and offer hope to those who are ignored by society.
The new UMC.org (www.umc.org) is built. New stories and resources continue to be posted on a daily basis and, as your needs change, its functions will be enhanced. As for creating a Web site that impacts new generations, I will share with you what I’ve learned-and hopefully spark ideas about how to be in ministry with the Y and New Silent generations.
Here are the facts:
• More than 211 million people in the
• Worldwide, 1 billion people use the Internet, or 16.9 percent of the world’s population. That percentage has increased 208.7 percent since the year 2000. (InternetWorldStats.com, March 2007)
• Forty-five percent of U.S. Internet users “say the Internet helped them make big decisions or negotiate their way through major episodes in their lives.” (Pew Internet and Life Project, 2006)
• “Nearly two-thirds of online Americans use the Internet for faith-related reasons. The 64 percent of Internet users who perform spiritual and religious activities online represent nearly 82 million Americans.” (Pew Internet and Life Project, 2004)
• “The number of teenagers using the Internet has grown 24 percent in the past four years, and 87 percent of those between the ages of 12 and 17 are online.” (Pew Internet and Life Project, 2005)
• “In focus groups, teens described their new environment. To them, e-mail is increasingly seen as a tool for communicating with ‘adults’ such as teachers, institutions like schools, and as a way to convey lengthy and detailed information to large groups. Meanwhile, IM (instant messaging) is used for everyday conversations with multiple friends that range from casual to more serious and private exchanges.” (Pew Internet and Life Project, 2005)
• “More than half (55 percent) of all online American youths ages 12-17 use online social networking sites” such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com. (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2007)
• Technorati.com (the Google search of blogs) now tracks more than 70 million weblogs and sees about 120,000 new weblogs created worldwide each day. (Technorati.com, April 2007)
Today, the Internet is impacting religion as Johannes Gutenberg did with his invention of movable type printing and the publication of the Gutenberg Bible in the 15th century.
I shared some of the above statistics in a recent workshop with a group of United Methodist pastors, and it became suddenly clear to everyone in the room that pastors will need to be well-versed in the use of new technologies in the coming years.
The advent of the Internet, video/audio streaming and social networking means that a congregation’s active and tithing members may not solely live in the local community, but reside two states or a country away. This means that our traditional forms of being in ministry may occur online, through blogs, instant messages and more.
As I explained to that group of pastors, this isn’t something that you can stop or curtail. The train has left the station. The question is: How will you and your church equip yourselves to be relevant in the lives of the Y and New Silent generations?
Churches that have embraced new technologies and are successful in using them see these tools as an extension of their ministry. It enhances our traditional definition of being in ministry. A church Web site ought to be considered a virtual meeting space for your congregation. Many congregations spend millions of dollars to start a satellite church or build a new wing. Imagine the impact on the lives of young people by using just 20 percent of that amount to create a dynamic Web site.
All the tools and resources you will ever need to start the revolution are ready and available online. Many of the annual conferences and general agencies have created valuable resources to get you started. Are you equipped?
Are you ready for the revolution?