Best practices: During February, March, and April, 2012 the New Media Project bloggers are looking intentionally at new media “best practices.” Join the conversation: What are the new media best practices in your church or organization? What are some other examples of how communities engage in new media well?
Last month on our New Media Project blog, I talked about the importance of mission-centered and mission-driven social media use, and I pointed to my case study subject, Darkwood Brew (DWB), as an example of a church that was compelled into the new media world by their mission. As a recap, Darkwood Brew is a weekly online television program that is broadcast live over the web and available for free download in perpetuity. They describe their program as a blend of “ancient contemplative practices with cutting-edge interactive web technology, world-class music, arts, biblical scholarship, and special guests from around the globe via Skype.”
Countryside Community Church, the UCC church in Omaha, NE, that runs Darkwood Brew, invested a considerable amount of capital to start and maintain the program. They received a very generous grant from a private family foundation that allowed them to remodel their lobby into a coffeehouse space with state of the art lighting, sound, and video recording equipment (including a professional editing and production booth).
The folks of Countryside consider DWB a significant arm of their mission and evangelical outreach. While they are happy to benefit from the program themselves—and many congregants come back to the church on Sunday evenings to attend the program live after worshipping in a traditional service in the morning—they intend it as an outreach ministry to people around the country and world who are searching for deep engagement with the resources of the Christian tradition outside the debates between “liberal” or “fundamentalist” theology. They want to reach the world with a message of God’s radical, inclusive, encompassing love. Their hope is that small groups in churches and homes around the world will gather to “do the Brew” together, finding “real life” community in the midst of virtual community.
Given the mission of Darkwood Brew, it is easy to see why such an investment of capital seemed worthwhile. They want to present a program that is as high quality technically as it is theologically in order to hook people with their message. It is worth noting that engagement with other social media platforms—like Facebook and Twitter—flow out of the mission and product of the online television program. Pastors and congregants use Facebook to promote DWB, but they also use it to continue discussions and friendships formed while participating in the weekly program.
It is a little difficult to hold up DWB as a “best practice” for other congregations since most congregations probably can’t come up with the money it took to remodel a church lobby into a television studio. On the other hand, if you spend an hour watching the videos that are most popular on YouTube and Vimeo, you’ll quickly notice that many of them are produced with a good handheld digital camera and inexpensive movie editing software like iMovie or Video Editor. So if your mission is outreach online, don’t be daunted by high price tags.
It is much easier, however, to point to Darkwood Brew as a best practice of letting the mission of a church drive its engagement and adoption of new and social media. Figuring out what you want to do online will help you figure out what you need to do it.
How do you decide what forms of new and social media your church should engage? How do they fit your mission?
Kathryn Reklis, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is the Executive Director of the Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D candidate in religious studies, concentrating in theology, at Yale University.
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