A Digital Ministry forum ‘for the rest of us’

By John W. Coleman

“Digital Ministry for the Rest of Uswas an ideal title for a helpful online forum offered by the Eastern PA Conference Dec. 5, where church practitioners shared valuable knowledge and experience using limited tech-speak.

The Congregational Development Team (CDT) sponsored the informative, 90-minute Saturday morning interactive seminar via Zoom, hosted by the Rev. Kevin Babcock, Conference Coordinator of Church Support Services. The three hot topics covered were:

  • Foundations of Church Technology, led by the Rev. Kevin Rutledge of Covenant UMC in Springfield;
  • Live Stream or Recorded? Pros and Cons, led by the Rev. Amy Banka, Senior Pastor, Hopewell UMC in Downingtown; and
  • DYI (Do-It-Yourself) Live-Streaming and Recording, led by John Mattox, a technology volunteer at Linwood Heights UMC.
Rev. Kevin Rutledge

Rutledge, a part-time pastor who also works for a company that helps churches with technology needs, stressed websites as the primary communications necessity that every church should have, repeating a common refrain. He recommended WordPress as the best overall website option but also recommended others, including several low-cost, diverse online-giving services, like Tithe.ly, that now offer integrated website development products, text messaging services (also known as SMS), and church management software.

Rutledge, a former member of the Conference Communications Resource Team, described how text messaging can be used to communicate with worshipers and church members in real time, with content targeted to their interests and levels of involvement.

“The goal should be to not just give or get information from them but always to help them go to the next step (of engagement),” he said, adding that texting prompts much higher open and response rates than merely e-mailing people.

Rev. Amy Banka

Banka said Hopewell UMC, like many churches, was long interested in doing online worship and ministry, but didn’t prioritize it until forced to by the COVID-19 pandemic. She talked about several internet and telephone communication options, from phone-messaging service DialMyCalls to Livestreaming to providing, and preferring, pre-recorded worship services viewable on the church’s Facebook page.

“We decided livestreaming was not an ideal platform for us because there were too many crashes and quality problems with lighting and sound, especially with music” Banka said. “Pre-recording is more difficult, but it gives us better quality.”

Photo courtesy of Hopewell UMC.

Moreover, the worship team now creatively records in various locations around the church and beyond—including Longwood Gardens and a recent, drones-eye, aerial view of the campus—all to offer worshipers different, meaningful perspectives.

John Mattox shared DIY video equipment tips and hacks, including the Mevo camera, popular for livestreaming.

There was much more—and yet, not too much—tech-worship wisdom that generated questions, suggestions, chat messages and clearly, a hunger for more among the more than 30 attendees. Babcock promised to offer more CDT-sponsored learning experiences in this and other areas of interest for churches.

“This has been great; lots of valuable information,” wrote the Rev. Olivet Brown in the chat section. Others expressed similar reactions, including the Rev. Shauna Ridge. “This has been helpful. Thank you all.”

A recording of “Digital Ministry for the Rest of Us” is available now on the Conference YouTube page. Check it out, and be sure to register for future CDT interactive seminars.