Speaking of Faith and Globalization – Good News for Church Webmasters

During the return leg of a power weekend roadtrip from DC to Massachusetts for my brother’s wedding, I caught an episode of Speaking of Faith while stuck in Connecticut traffic. Good timing because my patience, if not my faith, was being tested. The featured guest was Manuel Vásquez who discussed globalization and faith, based on his book “Globalizing the Sacred.” The associate professor of religion at the University of Florida (Gainesville) described how the Internet elevates rather than overwhelms local religious events in a way that transforms both major and minor religions.

Here are a few excerpts from the show’s transcript. Vásquez described the 1996 apparition of the Virgin Mary in Florida that inspired the book. “…the Virgin appears in a bank building in Clearwater in the middle of a strip mall, this very beautiful image…soon this event becomes an event that, although started locally, it becomes globalized. … And you have the media right away sending crews to document it…it make[s] the rounds on the Internet.

“…Pretty soon you have tourists heading to Orlando to come and see the famous apparition of the Virgin. A makeshift altar is set up there for the Virgin. And you have immigrants who are working in the nearby fields coming in to celebrate in December, thinking that this is the Virgin of Guadalupe that has appeared there because the apparition who appeared and, you know, happened in December. And so you had this polyglot group of people coming together, and for us it was a fascinating microcosm of how religion is acting today in the world. Religion is entering these very fast and very widespread means of communication….

“…At the same time, [it’s] very much localized. So the global does not erase the local, but rather it is as if the local has been taken in through global media and beamed globally in such a way that now it becomes a shared space throughout the world…this is not just a unique event…this is indicative of the reality of religion today with globalization.”

Check out the transcript or podcast if you’re looking for inspiration for your church web team. Let ’em know how your local activities can extend and transform across the globe.

Internet Evangelization Day 2007

Internet Evangelism Day — have you heard of it? I hadn’t until Church Tech Matters mentioned it. Apparently in 2007 it’s April 29.

The concept sounds interesting as it’s a day dedicated to:

  • What God is doing on the Web
  • Outreach strategies that work online
  • How your church can use the Web for outreach – and how to make effective church websites reach into the community
  • Planning an Internet evangelism-focused day for your church

Good stuff, right? What’s leaving me with more questions is that so much of the promotion of the day seems designed to get links to ied.GospelCom.net rather than the event itself. (Internet Evangelization Day .com redirects to their site with plenty of instructions on how to link properly.)

I’m celebrating Internet Evangelization Day by launching my church’s annual website users survey. How about you? And do you think the promotion has the right balance between the cause and search engine optimization?

Why Your Easter Bulletin Cover Makes Newcomers Flee

Mass times, staff, sacraments...
The St. Charles bulletin cover includes standard features such as a picture of the church, address, phone numbers, email addresses and web address. But visitors won’t know that if you hide this behind holiday art.

Does your church replace its usual bulletin cover with an artistic one for holy days such as Easter? Don’t make that mistake this year.

The typical weekly bulletin cover includes contact information for your church, clergy, staff and volunteers; plus some key schedules. Covering up this essential information with well-intentioned artwork means that all those newcomers who made a rare appearance at your church for the holiday won’t become regulars. That’s because they won’t know how to get in touch with you again. And during the one weekend of the year when you have the most visitors, no less!

If you are forced to display an attractive, but information-free, bulletin cover—such as if the deadline has passed or you’ve been overruled—here are some alternatives to limit the damage.

  • Photocopy the plain cover and insert it inside the bulletin as a flyer; or,
  • Include a bulletin blurb announcement with the absolute basics: phone number, street address, main email address, web address, Mass/services schedule; or,
  • Create a special invitation-style bulletin insert aimed at newcomers that includes your parish contact information; bonus points if you have an upcoming welcoming event to mention here.

My church learned this lesson the hard way when a diligent newcomer managed to track us down despite an absence of contact information on the cover of our fancy Easter bulletin. In an understandably puzzled tone, she asked why we didn’t have any contact info whatsoever in our bulletin. At that point we realized the disservice we were doing to our guests.

On Easter, don’t roll a boulder across the entrance to your church by hiding your contact information.

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Photo: Will Subway Riders Remember This URL?

Johns Hopkins Warfare How-To Poster

Show of hands: do you think anyone will remember the URL in the ad pictured here?

If you are currently standing on the Metro, like I was upon first spotting this announcement, then don’t raise your hand because you might tumble into the Express-reading commuter squished next to you.

Yet there it is on the inside of a Washington, DC subway car. Sure it’s a narrow audience for this event, but at least give them a more memorable Web address that might stay in their short term memory from the time they leave the Red Line, fight through the crowds and get to a computer to learn more.

Is your church advertising in public venues? Remember to keep your URLs short and memorable. You can always forward your website visitors to the full address once they land on your site–but they have to successfully reach your site in the first place.