December 8, 2018
By Jamie Moloney
Ministry and technology, at first glance, seem at odds with each other. Jesus walked from town to town with His disciples, preaching and healing as He looked into the eyes of those in need. We, too, are called to follow Christ as we minister to others. Unlike ancient times, however, our ways of communicating today have taken us beyond the person-to-person encounters in ways we could not even imagine fifteen years ago. This challenges us in lay ministry to think beyond the physical presence, and question how we can better integrate technology into our ministries.
Having been part of the Communications Committee in The Association of Pastoral Ministers (APM) in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for several years, I looked at ways of taking us further into the digital world. The purpose of APM is to lead others to ministry and in modeling new ways of ministering” (from APM’s Mission Statement). APM’s mission is to “discover and implement ways that will strengthen and improve the quality of our ministry, modeled after the life and teachings of Jesus.” Using email, setting up a website, and eliminating paper copies of the newsletter were all steps APM took to move into the digital world.
Yet, that was just the beginning. More needs to be done to connect and interact with members. We began utilizing text reminders and reworked our website to have an interactive members area.
Using email to send out reminders for upcoming programs had been the most common way to reach our members, and my guess is that it is also your most common way for communications. However, today, most people have cell phones in which they can receive their emails and text messages. Text messages are a quick and easy way to communicate with a group of people. Doing a Google search, you will find several free options for sending group text messages.
The service I like is Remind.com, a free internet-based option that also has a mobile app. Setup is quick and easy, and several groups or classes can be created through a single account. Once I setup my own account in Remind.com and setup a group (or class) for APM, our members were given the option to send us their cell phone numbers, to be added to group text reminders. They were assured that only APM-related upcoming program reminders would be sent out, and only once, a week before the event. If there was a change or cancellation to the event, a reminder would also be sent out. This keeps the reminders simple, infrequent, and relevant to our members, while respecting their privacy.
Sending texts was one new way we added to better connect with our members. The other way was an interactive, members only area on our website. The members only area is where members can log on anytime and share information, resources, best practices, discussions, and links to articles, etc. This creates more possibilities to interact with other members and bring members together without having to travel. To have this option, members need to have their own account, and a members-only secure area to share information and discussions.
APM already had a website but did not have the option to setup members. As with reminders, there are many free or inexpensive website options that can provide what we needed. I chose to use Wix.com, because I could setup a free website, using templates to create our web pages. Though I wanted to start with a members-only forum, Wix.com offers many other options such as online registration and payment.
Once I had the forum page with member only access, members were invited to create accounts and join the forum discussion and begin to connect with one another online. When we had our site up and running, the topic that received the quickest responses was regarding an article on the upcoming February meeting in Rome to discuss the sexual abuse crisis. The focus in the article was on collaborating with the laity and resonated with our members. The response showed the importance of sharing current, relevant information for our members.
In addition to the forum page, a blog, resource page, and a separate Board Members Only area was also added. By collaborating in online discussions, we can better support and encourage each other in our ministries, as well as using what we are learning with those to whom we minister.
When thinking of the future in ministry, bringing people together online through forums, social media, and other technology or digital tools are a necessary part of discipleship. Once again, we look to Jesus as our model for meeting people where they are at. Being knowledgeable and active in the digital world is meeting people where they are at. Ministry and technology are a both/and situation. We meet people face-to-face and in person, and we connect digitally using the technology that is available today. We can only imagine what the future will bring in ways of communication as we continue Christ’s work on earth.