Earlier this month, I gathered with Unitarian Universalist leaders of congregations across my state for a cluster meeting to lead a workshop on digital ministry. It was exciting to work with these brick-and-mortar church leaders on using technology and online platforms such as Facebook to build an online community. Being a learning fellow at the CLF, this is something I had a lot of experience doing!
Very often, brick and mortar churches see things like websites and social media as a chance to communicate about their offerings, or as a resource for the same people who attend in person, but that’s not what digital ministry is. Now, don’t get me wrong—technology is a wonderful tool for communication and organizing, but it’s also a tool for something greater. It is a tool for addressing the larger social changes in our world, and changes in how we gather and meet people. The impact and demands of social media and online life on our culture are undeniable. Check out these statistics:
- 90% of Millennials use social media
- 1 in 5 couples meet online
- Every minute, 72 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube (that’s over a decade a day!)
- If Wikipedia were made into a book it would be 2.25 million pages long
- The most active group on social media is mothers with children under the age of 5
- The fastest growing user base on social media is 65+
Simply put, social media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. Digital ministry, as we practice it at the CLF, builds real and sacred relationships.
I know the power of online community for myself as a long-distance seminary student. At Meadville-Lombard Theological School, my fellow seminarians are scattered all over the United States and indeed all around the world. Despite seldom being in the same physical space. some of the deepest relationships I have forged in the last six years have happened in that community. The way we stay connected and deepen our connections? You guessed it, online!
Religious education luminary Angus MacLean told us over half a century ago that “the method is the message.” By this, he meant that how we teach and learn is at least as important as what we are learning. As another religious educator, Cindy Leitner, says, how we do ministry shows people “how we live out our principles in community to develop ethical generations of Unitarian Universalists to follow us. The intersection of learning, worship, seeking justice, being in right relationship, building loving community across age and other barriers, working to be inclusive and put an end to oppression—this is the core of our congregational life and our ministry”—and I have seen all of these aspects of congregational life flourish at the CLF:
- When painful news is shared during online joys and sorrows during worship, and the community rallies around that person to show them love and support.
- When we are shocked and mourning a tragedy, and we gather for an online vigil to share words of lament and grief.
- When someone taking a CLF online class shares new wisdom or insight, and we find a place to be both real and vulnerable together as a group.
- When a Facebook discussion leads us in new and deeper understanding of our faith.
We are creating religious community that supports and sustains us on our journeys. When the CLF launched online covenant groups, the response to that invitation was tremendous! (We are currently working to add additional groups and facilitators to accommodate as many as possible who who want to participate. This is the kind of problem a religious professional loves to have!) This tells me there is a great desire among our online community to go deeper in their connection to each other, the the CLF, and to their own spiritual journeys. Which is no surprise to me.
If you are someone who is interested in learning ways to enter into deeper connection with the CLF, I hope you’ll visit our website, read some of the great Quest columns available online, join our Facebook pages, online small groups, learn more about our justice and advocacy work, and imagine a place for yourself among us here in the digital church.