Equipping a Congregation for Digital Literacy

Many church members are newcomers to the digital world, and they need extra help navigating this new space. There is some irony in that we have had the technology for years now to reach our homebound members with the Sunday message, but we haven’t taken time to learn how to use the tools available to us, and they likely would not feel comfortable accessing the material without some help. This chapter explores the last piece of the puzzle to online worship—equipping members who are not tech savvy with the skills they need to access worship online without the burden and frustration of confusion or the embarrassment of failure. In some cases, a bad experience of trying and failing to get connected during the pandemic might work against you for future ventures.

Confidence

Perhaps the greatest challenge (and irony) is that the people who most need this technologically connected worship experience are members of the older generation who are least likely to learn the skills necessary to access the material. As a rule, it’s generally easier to raise money to buy them Wi-Fi and iPads than to persuade them to use such tools if they are not already tech savvy. However, this trend will decline in future years as more and more generations leave the workforce and enter retirement having used similar technology in their careers. In other words, lay the groundwork now, and more people will make use of it as time goes on. Your goal should be to build confidence in your congregation to use at least one piece of technology without fear or frustration. It takes patience to lead them down this road, but you will all be stronger on the other side.

IT Office Hours or “Hotline”

Right now, you can think of someone in your church who is great with technology, and hopefully they are on staff or volunteer regularly. If you can enlist their help to make themselves available, they can be a great community resource that helps members stay connected online and develop digital literacy in your community. Think about how access to technology could improve the quality of life of homebound people who have never had a video chat with their out-of-state children, grandchildren, or other relatives. It can be difficult to determine who needs help, but making the effort to provide this service to your congregation can offer a point of connection and ministry opportunities that might not otherwise occur. Often people are unaware of what questions to ask, so it is important to coach whoever is tasked with the role of IT assistant to be aware of a variety of skill levels and to answer even rudimentary questions with grace.

Smart TVs

If your worship services are on YouTube, they can be easily accessed via the YouTube app on a smart TV. For members with standard TVs, you could host a “get connected” drive where people donate $40 Roku devices that will connect to any TV with an HDMI input, and they allow the installation of a YouTube app. A knowledgeable staff member or volunteer would need to be available to train the church member in the use of the device and to create a YouTube account for them that is subscribed to your church’s channel for easy access on the TV. This challenge is compounded if there is no current Wi-Fi at that particular member’s house, but if they are willing to learn, there is probably someone willing to donate money to help them get connected, and this can be part of your “get connected” drive.

Smartphones and Tablets

Smartphones and tablets have become more affordable in recent years, with iPads starting at less than $350 and iPod Touches or other smartphones or similar devices starting at less than $200. Because many people like to upgrade when newer models are released, you have an opportunity to “recycle” old devices. You could provide a place at your church for people to donate their old devices (with personal info erased), which could then be redistributed to those who need one. You may need to designate someone to help people erase data from their old devices, and that same IT point person can also help new users create accounts and learn how to use the device. Small suggestions can help someone in isolation become more proficient at staying connected. Once when visiting a church member, I saw her power her iPad down completely after showing me a picture. I asked her about this, and she said, “Well, that’s how you turn it off, right?” She had no idea that these devices could simply be put to sleep, and my simple tip saved her minutes of frustration waiting on the device to power down and back on again later. It takes vulnerability to accept advice, but it can be better received if it is delivered with humility, patience, and understanding—all pastoral traits to be developed!

Computers

Someone in your congregation might be savvier on a computer than a tablet or smartphone, but they may not have access to the updated models due to a lack of resources or even the attitude of “the old computer still works, so why would I buy a new one?” They may not realize how quickly technology becomes obsolete or how greatly improved a current $250 laptop can be versus a $2,500 desktop from years ago. This is where education comes in handy, and there may be someone in your church willing to donate machines to have on hand for those who would like to be connected. You might start a “Connections Ministry” to help members at every age stay connected and up to date with everything going on in your community.

Small Groups

Book clubs, Sunday school classes, accountability groups, etc. can be offered with a hybrid or entirely online option as long as you have a motivated group willing to put in the effort to meet regularly. All it takes is equipping a tech-savvy member of the group with coaching and training on how to take the meetings online with Zoom or FaceTime in order to make the group available to anyone who can’t be there in person.

This post originally appeared in Sensing God Online: Navigating Worship in a Digital World by Justin Bishop, now available from Smyth & Helwys.

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