Two Ministers Turn 180 Degrees For Online Ministry

March 29, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Posted in Online Ministry | 2 Comments

I recently asked Rev. Linda Olson Peebles and Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz of the UU of Arlington, VA to write about the role that online ministry plays in their calling. Here are the responses.

Rev. Linda Olson Peebles, UU of Arlington, VA

Rev. Linda Olson Peebles, minister of Religious Education:
I strongly endorse “Online Ministry” created by adopting Social Web applications. My congregation, the UU Church of Arlington, Virginia, began experimenting with Online Ministry in Sept. 2009 when it launched a new, which we now refer to as our “online church.”  This project has exciting implications for the future of Unitarian Universalism. The benefits will be returned tenfold for the investment to UU congregations by transforming and growing our faith beyond their walls.  Here are some of the benefits as I have experienced them:
1.  I myself am technology-challenged.  But when I posted a very simple note mourning the death of Mary Travers, others immediately responded with comments that added their own tributes which included videos and music,. These contributions gave my own little eulogy added power and much wider exposure.  I put a few minutes of time into something  which, within a day, had the benefit of hours of creative exchange from others.  It was the largest return for effort I had ever experienced, and I was impressed.
2.  When members have become ill, we have been able to reach out and stay in touch in ways that magnify and expand our pastoral ministry.  People join in to help, news is shared, video greetings are sent, and people feel embraced.
3.  When members move away, they can stay in touch.  A family stationed abroad. with children who miss our church, told me that they use the videos of Sunday morning services for their own services in their home, and have sent me back their parts they added.
4.   When snowstorms cancelled church (twice this winter!) we still were able to be there for one another – with videos of the ministers sharing stories and sermons those Sundays, and with people in conversation about their experiences and spiritual reflections on being snowed in.  I was snowbound at home but recorded a video of my Winter Solstice sermon outside as I built a bonfire and discussed the shortening of our days.
5.   To advance our work to be a multi-racial, multi-cultural congregation, this platform allows us to show videos to highlight the power of diverse voices, ideas, experiences, and stories, much more than words alone can do.

Beyond how wonderful this experiment has been for us (and we are still growing into the possibilities), what truly compels me to urge this work for others in our faith to pursue is this:
1.  This form of social networking for churches is so teachable and versatile that every one of our UU congregations could use it to grow and become more effective and creative in their ministries.  They just need to be shown how wonderful and do-able it is.
2.  Social networking can be the answer to our chronic “marketing” dilemma, pondering how to get more than .001% of people to even recognize the name of Unitarian Universalist, much less what it means. In the first few months of our UUCA site being up, 18,000 individuals visited it, a number that far exceeds the 1,300 members of our congregation! The capacity for our message, our vibrancy, and our relevance to reach a wider audience than ever before is astounding.
3. Every one of my colleagues who visit our site have become excited, and want to be able to share their ministry in this way.  And some leaders have told me they imagine that this could help the Church of the Larger Fellowship revolutionize its impact around the globe.

I hope that what we have discovered will be shared very broadly, very soon.  Yours in our shared faith.

Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz, UU of Arlington, VA

Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz, Minister of Community Building: I was skeptical at first about the idea to construct a social platform website for UUCA. Like so many of my colleagues, the “buts” and “what ifs” arose strong in my mind, alongside very real questions about the healthfulness of promoting more time online for anyone. I have turned 180 degree on this, and am now an evangelist for churches in our movement. Increasingly, I see how this interactive online presence draws people to us, facilitates smoother operations in the work of the church, and provides entry points for many who would otherwise take much longer to find their way to our church, if indeed they ever found us.

An online ministry supports my work as a professional minister:

  • When it looked as if we would likely have to close church because a blizzard was coming, we videotaped the sermon and had it ready to release on the website Sunday morning. This February sermon was a special “sermon series” event, one of the sermons Covenant Groups had been planning to discuss. Though church was in fact canceled that Sunday, members of Covenant Groups were able to watch the sermon online, and the group discussions went on as planned.
  • When the DC City Council was about to pass historic marriage equality legislation, I blogged about a rally that only a few of our people had been able to attend. For this and many similar events this church year, our website has enabled me to show up for social justice causes and to share them with the congregation immediately.
  • Recently a young couple went looking for a minister to officiate their wedding. They found a blog on our site about the joy of performing weddings. I will be doing their wedding this spring, and it is likely they will begin attending services at our church.
  • We believe a recent influx of young adults into our visitor room and our New UU classes is almost certainly occurring because of our new website. Two thirds to three quarters of the participants in the last three New UU classes have been 35 or younger, a reversal of the demographic of the previous year.

Moreover, an online ministry empowers congregants to do the work of church:

  • A congregant recently became seriously ill and went to live with her daughter in another city. However, she has remained connected to her church community in Arlington through the website. At Christmastime, several of her friends posted an videotaped “Christmas Carol Card” to her. Members, friends and visitors who are shy and slow to warm up in a crowd can venture into relationship and get to “know” people through blogs, discussions and program groups. Further, once people have met in person in coffee hour, a program or a scheduled one-on-one conversation, they can keep the connection going online during the week, by commenting on blogs, personal pages, or discussions.
  • Leaders of projects such as the services auction or Chalice Theater can easily set up systems for feedback, signups for programs or ticket sales. In the past any interactive capability on our website had to be created by staff, and depended on staff finding time to do it.
  • Members and friends post and read joys and sorrows, and respond to one another with care and concern.


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  1. […] My church has attracted, according to Google Analytics, about 40,000 unique individuals to its site in two years — 94% from the USA, and the rest from 170 countries representing 94 different languages. We are struggling to turn this overwhelming interest into new physical memberships. These numbers are proven by the percentages of Sunday new comers who say our site compelled them to visit. The percentage of under 35s who attend our New to UU classes increased and has been the result of our online presence. […]

  2. Linda,

    How exciting. I have been working on some ideas for web delivred R.E. resources and ministry. Two educational hot topics right now are Gamification and Digital Badges. Online games, simmulations, and imersive learning experiences could provide increased access and draw for many. Likewise the digital badge aproach (check out Mozilla) might be an asset for both onsite R.E. programs and for a wider web congregation and may also offer a worthwhile aproach to professional training and development of religious professionals (one already closely aligned to some of the R.E. credentialing process). I was curious if you had thoughts about these avenues. Certainly for me one of the gaps is how to conect my ideas with potential colaborators who would bring greater skill and knowledge of game design and modeling etc.

    Ralph Roberts

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