Over the last several years presbyteries and dioceses have been struggling to identify leadership strategies that are sustainable while at the same time closing gaps in ministry in their regions. As discussed before, the church had been an early leader in what we would now call shared services. Denominational structures filled in the gap where congregations could not do the work on their own. Today the major gap is technology and we must find ways to close it.
The difficult thing about technology shared services is that the market is constantly evolving. A service that made sense five years ago may not make sense to offer today. Even in the 21st century this runs counter to church culture–we are slow to change. However, the bigger constraint the church’s adoption of shared services is a gap between the products and our ability to consume them.
The product gap in the church is huge. Most mainline churches can receive Google Apps for free, obtain grants for Google AdWords, and stream their services live online via a variety of platforms for little to no cost, but yet most congregations have no capacity to consume or manage them. Beyond this, all social media platforms have little cost barriers to use. The average church business administrator is just not tooled and has little to no experience with pricing or seeking out assistance with such products.
This where mid councils need to step up to the plate. One such presbytery is taking a stab at what this might look like. My own presbytery, New Hope Presbytery is hiring an Associate Presbyter for Technology and Small Church Ministry. While not perfect, it may be one of the first mid-councils to recognize the gap congregations are experiencing.
The biggest issue I see in a position like this is scope creep and sourcing. Sourcing will be a big issue for these types of positions. Most mid-councils will be tempted to create hybrid positions like New Hope as a way to make the position full-time. While this is to be commended it creates other problems. There will always be a compromise in the hybrid role. In the above example, where do you find someone that is passionate about small church ministry and a competent technologist? What are the educational expectations? This can’t just be someone “who is good with computers.” Additionally, just a commentary on the New Hope job description–the two roles seem to be ships in the night. Why should this person be on the road all the time given the multiplicity of ways you can collaborate remotely via technology?
The second problem of these types of positions is scope. On one side of the spectrum, someone in this type of role should be able to provide high level tech support for issues like domain registration, and Google Apps setup. Though this person can not be successful at that while also being expected to help a church upload their bulletin to their website. Churches still have to have a lot of skin in the game. The mid-council’s role is to train and help you get your church website off the ground–not to upload the pastor’s blog and manage your Instagram account. On the flip side, the church secretary shouldn’t be tasked with administering the email domain and IP telephones. A balance of responsibilities has to be laid out as services are rolled out to congregations.
Overall I’m quite excited about what my presbytery is doing in this area. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start–the person they choose for the job will be critical to the success of the role. Technology strategy and support is a major role that mid-councils could play a role. As presbyteries and dioceses look at sustainable options for the future, I hope they will look to technology positions as a way to meet a glaring gap in the life of the church.