“Our message has not changed, but how we present it has,” said Chad Clifton, the creative pastor at Midway Macedonia.
Part of Midway’s staff is dedicated to producing online and multimedia material for the church.
“We’re finding a big span of people connect with our Web site,” Clifton said.
Although Midway’s Web site has podcasts of sermons, photos of church activities and a form for tithing online, it’s no substitute for the real thing. Clifton said the most visited page on Midway’s Web site is the map and directions to the church.
At Carrollton First United Methodist Church, student pastor Greg Cochran said he uses technology, especially social networking sites, to keep up with his congregation. Along with Web sites for both junior high school and high school parishioners, Cochran said the youth ministry has accounts on MySpace, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.
“Even kids are using MySpace and Facebook as a way to share their faith,” he said.
Since 1993 when he became a youth minister, Cochran said he’s seen technology go through several phases. Now, he said, his parishioners are more likely to send him a text message or note on MySpace than call or even e-mail.
“They aren’t big e-mailers. I guess it’s too slow for them,” he said. “They’ll go it through Facebook and MySpace because there’s no waiting.”
Carol Boyd, an adult Sunday school teacher at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Carrollton, found that adults were often too busy to attend classes. Last weekend the church started its first online Sunday school class where parishioners and guests can go to get lessons and post questions or comments to a message board.
“We were noticing for adults that getting up at 9 o’clock on Sunday mornings isn’t easy,” Boyd said. “Adults teaching Sunday school for children are missing out.”
Web discussion boards also let people participate in discussions when it’s convenient for them.
“You can post those remarks that you think of afterwards,” Boyd said.
The online discussions also let non-church members participate in discussions about faith and learn more about St. Andrew, Boyd said.
Along with online resources, churches are continuing to use video, music and multimedia presentations during services.
Depending on which service you attend at Midway, you might see a traditional organ and choir or a rock band leading hymns.
“While you can’t be all things to all people, you can have components for everyone,” Clifton said.
At the First United Methodist Church, Cochran leads separate services for young people. An all-youth band leads the services and other young people man the sound and video equipment.
“It enables the gifts in them to be used,” Cochran said. “Kids want to serve; they want to be a part.”
Midway has a five-person staff working full-time to produce the church’s Internet and multimedia content. But during weekend services cameras, lights and microphones are manned by a team of 30 volunteers.
“It’s an outlet we use for any member who is interested in this area,” Jonathan Underwood, Midway’s lead media engineer, said. “It’s like being a Sunday school teacher.”
The Internet has also helped organize volunteers. Midway’s creative director, Thomas Davis, said musicians playing at the church can go online and download their music for the week and get listening track to practice with.
High-tech Web sites, non-traditional music and downloadable sermons are a big change for some parishioners, but for the pastors who use new technology, they are a new and fun way to reach a greater audience.
“The older we get, the less likely we are to want to change. But once we explain to people that our message isn’t going to change, they start to see the value and the need in it,” Clifton said. “The church has to continue to evolve.”
Cochran said he has been to churches that are reluctant to use technology, but those churches tend to have an aging congregation that isn’t bringing in new members.
“Not all churches are embracing it, but the ones that are are growing,” he said.