Under 40: Disconnected?

It all started with a tweet from Paul Bayes, Bishop of Hertford.

“Hey, UK clergy under 40, have a look at this. It’s a US Lutheran perspective but how far does it speak for you? Thanks! What young clergy want you to know “

I’m not under 40, but that didn’t stop me from going and having a nose, partly because I’ve only been ordained two years, am still serving my curacy, and so feel like one of the toddlers of the clergy world.  So I reckoned that qualified me.
Three points in that post spoke to me.  

They are never going to act or sound like previous generations of clergy.
They are no less theologically committed than their predecessors,
But their work looks different and their language sounds different.

The churches I serve have populations that are mainly aged 50+ (I say that with apologies to our young families, but across the benefice it’s true).  We even run a computer club which teaches “Silver Surfers” how to email, go to websites, use Skype, upload and download photographs.  We “understand” the importance of digital communication.  Except when it comes to faith and church.

Our website is about 7 years old, and finally broke a couple of months ago.  It is run by some of our younger people (and here I am talking those in their 30s and 40s).  They have full time jobs, young families and pressured lives.  They are trying to keep something running which needs rethinking from start to end.  So what do we do with our website?  It’s not bad, let me stress.  It has contacts, email facilities, weekly newsheet, lots of information for those looking for occasional offices, plenty of history of the buildings.  But it doesn’t encourage dialogue.  It’s there to be read and inwardly digested, like most websites of its era.  

But how do you persuade a church that dialogue is a good thing?  That you may engage people you wouldn’t “in real life” (ugh, horrid phrase).  I use Twitter, Facebook, this blog, I’ve formed some great relationships which move from the virtual to face to face and back with ease.  So I get that the internet is populated by a lot of normal people as well as by s3x-mad p0rn-seeking obsessives.  But that seems to be the point of disconnection between me and those older.  
I accept online dialogue as the norm, older clergy mostly don’t.  
I know that are thousands of exceptions.  But until clergy aged 55-70 get this, (because they are mostly the ones up the hierarchy) we will lose yet another generation.  So no, I think a twitter feed on a church website is a good thing, if it is widely advertised locally and updated regularly, and used as a point of engagement, not just for information.  I think having a website with a regular blog and comments is a good thing, and it probably won’t get hacked and used to infiltrate MI6, or to set up a p0rn ring or for money laundering.  I think investing in making digital contacts with local people is sensible, not a waste of time messing about at a computer.

Let me stress, I am not exactly down with the kids.  My teenagers use me as a living breathing example of the most uncool being on the plant (an honour I share with their dad).  But in use of SocMed, I am far closer to them than I am to the generation above me.  Even though I’m a bit more than 40.

8 responses to “Under 40: Disconnected?

  1. Everyone on our PCC is at least on email, but many of them are extremely suspicious of the internet. Great opposition to having a Facebook page (which could be updated with photos and details of services much more easily than our website). Unfortunately lead clergyperson only into Powerpoint as aid to sermons, not into SocMed at all – even made slighting reference to 'twits' who use Twitter in a sermon :-((.
    Website now on WordPress so more easily accessible, but wonder who will take over updating it from me?
    Neither Facebook page nor website has ever been used for dialogue, just information. I'm not clergy, and am in my 60s but feel I inhabit a different world from most in my congregation ( who are 40-90+)

  2. I agree. I think we need to redefine the “Great Divide” perhaps into those who “get” the on-line world and those who don't. And although this appears generational, it really isn't, although age is a reasonable starting point. The issue is then how those of us who do “get it” can help our Churches tap into this world without feeling too threatened. Not easy in places where there is still angst over 8 o'clockers not being connected to the “main” congregation…..

  3. Yes, this was a major finding from our comprehensive research across rural churches in (mainly) England and across 5 denominations.
    The Rural Theology Association membership only has 30% take-up of emailed newsletters; while we essentially still have to contact all Country Way suscribers by post.
    I agree with all you say, Claire, but it is an uphill struggle.

  4. A freely confess that the Arthur Rank Centre website could be better – wespecially in terms of interaction. But we are moving. And while I'm well over 40 (hah!), I'm an honorary member of that category of those working their tails off to maintain stuff while getting on with everything esle that needs to be done. The first thing that oes under these circumtances rends to be Twi**er (sorry, Claire).

  5. You echo the story of our Benefice. Yes, all of our Church Wardens have email, which is our main means of communication. For two years now I've been trying to convince them to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts. I actually have them ready to Go. But, I await the Vicar inputting some important stuff such as vision and mission statement? I did a draft, but he was uncomfortable with what I wrote. Such is life. We've had endless discussions in Benefice Council, I've provided endless examples of the benefits of social media, but they want the facebook pages to be like the website – doing it to the viewers, not responsive! I despair!!

    Our website is run by one, busy individual. Our parish administrator can do some update for things like service grids or events, but nothing more. She is extremely clued up, web savvy and could run the whole shebang, but, as it is registered in the name of the current admin, resistance is total. It needs a total revamp to bring it into the 21st Century and not be a revamp of the Parish Magazine!!

    Suspicion is the issue. When I ask them are they on twitter – a deathly silence occurs and than one or two hesitant voices will say, “that's hard to get used to” or “It's dodgy and people spam you” I mention locked accounts and they look at me as if I have two heads.

    I know that the Vicar has some plans for my future ministry, which I hope will include some form of internet evangelism and outreach – I think that only than will some realism creep in.

    The frustrating thing is that when I speak to even older parishioners, they say that they use facebook and twitter to keep in touch with their grand children – so the market is there, we just need the courage to go out into it and to be there for them.

  6. Thoughtful comments, and I'm taken by the 'get it/don't get it' divide. Twitter and Facebook user and blog reader, and most of my comms use t'internet so I suppose I do 'get it', but unsure how to maximise the opportunites in the middle of an under-resourced and very busy benefice

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