Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Internet Matters

People on Twitter and Facebook have seen me complain lately about the glacial speed of my church's Internet connection. I realize that such gripes make me sound petty and spoiled. Obviously, there are lots of other injustices in the world greater than my inability to download videos or music at my workplace. My point is not that functional Internet is the most important issue in the world...instead, I wish to proclaim that churches should no longer consider Internet to be a luxury.

This gap in understanding can best be summed up in something I read at Harris Interactive the other day. A recent poll indicated that the average U.S. teen spends 10 hours a week on the Internet. (This wasn't terribly surprising.) However, U.S. parents thought teens spent about 4 hours a week on the Internet. There is a 24-hour-a-month discrepancy between how much teens are on-line and how much their parents think they are on-line.

If adults don't have a realistic understanding of how much their children use the Internet, it shouldn't surprise me that adults at church (most of whom don't have teens in their house) don't perceive a need for a church to be technologically adept. It's also not entirely their fault -- many of us in youth ministry haven't demonstrated exactly WHY it's so important for us to have quality Internet access at church. It's much easier for us to use wi-fi at a coffee shop or our home than to plead our case at council meetings for the necessity of Internet.

(Of course, this establishes all kinds of bad work boundaries and passes on a financial burden on the church worker, either in the form of $2-3 cups of coffee or $30+ in monthly Internet charges.)

So why is it so important for a church to have sufficiently fast and strong Internet? Here are a few reasons:

1. Inexpensive resources. When I started working at a church in 2001, the best $200 you could spend was on curriculum and leader guides from Group, Youth Specialties, Youth & Family Institute, etc. Fast-forward 8+ years, and you can make a case that youth workers shouldn't need to spend a dime on materials. A person just needs the technology resources and know-how to unearth the wealth of useful information at their fingertips.

2. Communication. Most teens spend 1-2 hours on-line every day. A majority of parents and adult leaders work in an office where they are constantly connected via email and other networking sites. Name another "place" where a critical mass of parishioners are hanging out on a regular basis. Why not make it as easy as possible for people to engage church members where they are?

3. Efficiency. It's a waste of the church's time and money resources to have staff people waiting for web pages, attachments, messages, video and music files to load.

4. Outreach. A friend of mine recently told me that a church web site is "the first set of doors a visitor walks through." If a church has empowered staff people with leadership in the congregation, why not give them the tools to be as welcoming as possible? The presence of functional Internet allows churches to be more nimble, better communicators, and...

...I could go on, but the coffee shop with wi-fi is closing...

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