Monday, February 5, 2024

VIDEO: Technological Innovation

In this webinar hosted by Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations, learn about how hybrid worship is here to stay, and how else technological changes of the past few years are reshaping congregational life.

This webinar is part of an ongoing webinar series. Each week the institute will offer a lunchtime webinar and Q&A period to explore the latest church research and insights for beginning the ministry year full of optimism and direction. Thursdays 12:15-1:30 p.m. EST.

Register for our webinar series here.

Below is an edited Q&A Transcript from the webinar:

When Texas A. And M. Found pastors lacking entrepreneurial qualities, what types of pastors were these? For instance, were they fully certain age groups? Are there any details that you have?  

Heidi Campbell, Texas A&M University: Yeah, the first thing is that it wasn’t necessarily a judgment call on our part. It was them (the pastors) saying, and then the software pointing. (The pastors would say) this is what I have, and these are the skills I needed and where. And then they said, I didn’t feel like I had those, at least at the start of the pandemic. So it’s more of a thing like this is where my energies were put. And now I’m forced to think in a very different way, and a very different kind of mindset. So most of the people who responded to our surveys were either the person or the senior pastor that was making these responses, or the person who was in charge of the tech team that sometimes was like another person ministerial staff, or it was, maybe, you know, a designated like lead volunteer. But in most cases, most of this response was from small churches and under 100 so these were people who were, you know, mostly senior pastors.

Do you know how a congregation decided to make the changes or not? If so, is there any relationship between the polity of the decision-making and regular attendance or giving?

Charissa Mikoski, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: I don’t think we have any questions in our survey that specifically address what factors contributed to wanting to change. But I think you raise an interesting point about the polity and the decision-making and the differences between denominations and religious groups, and how they approach things. And I think part of what you’re getting at is why we found that Catholic and Orthodox congregations were most likely to be in person only, and I think that has to do with their views, and what happens. And that is not something that can be translated, whereas other Christian denominations may have different views on that, and that you can do commun virtually, or that kind of thing. So I think that probably contributes.I know from some of our case studies that there are a variety of models of how congregations make decisions about this. It’s just one person making decisions, some have committees or just depend on the resources. If they have anybody in their congregation who knows how to work technology kind of like what Dr. Campbell and Sofia we’re talking about.

Heidi Campbell, Texas A&M University: We don’t have any correlations or causations between if they have these traits, then they were more or less willing to kind of adapt. What we did find from the pastoral interviews is that most of the pastors were willing to change. It might have been not they might not have been happy about it, but they kind of thought this was the only option that they had that was viable to keep going. But other the vital, or how robust, and how quickly the change happened. Results depended on what they had to go through, like, if there’s a group of elders or a committee, then they had to get approval, we wrote an article on the whole idea. Technology resistant, and a lot of pastors said, felt like they were working against people in their own congregation just trying to make this change, and where they were they were kind of thing utilitarian. We just need to do this, even though it’s uncomfortable. And then a lot of churches kind of slowed down the process. When those kind of places were and so kind of gives us a sense to what sense did in times of crisis, you know. Do we need vetting, or do we need change? And then reflection. 

Sophia Osteen, Texas A&M University: I would echo what Dr. Campbell said. We don’t have anything that we found statistically. I think one of the things, though if I was just gonna say thematically, I definitely think one of the findings that I think Dr. Campbell and I’ve spoken a lot about has been, how much support pastors feel like they would have if they did decide to make these changes. And so we heard from a couple of people some of the minorities that had a worship director. That kind of took on the role of tech director. And there were a lot of themes just like, it’s, I’m having trouble getting people on board with these new ideas we’re having. And so whether that was the lead pastor, whether that was more of the congregational issues of people not having access to the technology that would be required. And so I do wonder if some of that has to do with hesitancy, and maybe a lack of agreement among people that it would need to require to get the ball rolling in terms of these kinds of innovations. 

As churches increase the use of technology, did any of you see steps that they were taking to keep people safe from trolls scammers, and other predatory folks?

Heidi Campbell, Texas A&M University: There are a lot of strong learning curves. For example, you know, pastors learning a lot about what is copyright. And you know, and Facebook like, if you play him and you don’t have the copyright approval. It’s going to block out the hymn that’s for service. And so that as well as kind of thinking about, you know, churches not realizing over on Zoom or on Facebook. We could have people kind of, you know, in the chat or other spaces. And so again, a lot of on the feet of learning and what I think was, you know, there was a lot of informal kind of learning where pastors, through the project that we had, as well as I know, within denominations developing kind of these Facebook groups and a lot of sharing best practices of what is what can be learned. But I think that there are a lot of resources that need to be kind of made available from both. What the teachful moments that pastors have learned as as well some of these strategies for especially smaller churches, of how we can deal with these things that we learned were going to be issues. If we enter the digital age with our church worship.

Charissa Mikoski, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: I’ll just add that I think this is an interesting question, and definitely something that pastors and folks should be sharing and crowdsourcing information with, especially the question of how to keep people safe, but also be open and inviting to new folks. If you’re doing a Zoom link, you don’t wanna put that out into the world because that’s how people can get in, and then Zoom bomb you. You wanna make it so that new folks are able to join if they want to and not keep it just insular and just. The only people who know are in the know are able to access it. So I think there are definitely some broader discussions that should occur about safety.

Did you hear any of the grant money being used for a training course, or did people take boot camps for pastors? Or did the Lilly Endowment or the Center for Congregations create some of those training courses that would have helped?

Heidi Campbell, Texas A&M University: Unfortunately, in the early days it was kind of every man and woman or every pastor for themselves. I think there was a lot of kind of again, more consulting groups and stuff that emerged. But it wasn’t until late summer and late 2020 and so it was more like, people were trying to just share resources and part of the training program. These tech talks or these grant programs. The tech talks were kind of a place where they could come brainstorm. There’s often a pastor who is sharing ideas. We have even had some follow-up webinars ever since. Our report 3 came to get leaders’ responses to it. And again, in those that people are saying, Oh, this is the best, you know, web hosting platform in our area, and that today. So I think it’s a lot of kind of informal learning, and hopefully, we can capture some of that, and funding can be made available to help, so we don’t lose the learning that has been acquired.

Sophia Osteen, Texas A&M University: If I can add to that something else, I feel like we heard. Was that depending on the denomination? There would be Facebook groups. We heard that from a lot of people that would be like, you know, we’d be in these webinars, and they’d be sharing some of the kind of challenges. And then someone would say. Have you joined the, you know Midwest Episcopal churches? We’re talking about how to do, for example, vacation Bibles go online and so there, I think that I agree with Dr. Campbell. We definitely didn’t hear of formal ways that they were looking into these things through workshops. But people were definitely putting together resources and sharing them with people who were having similar issues. 

Allison Norton, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: Well, I just wanted to share a few more insights from the EPIC study that came from our 81 case study congregations. So we’ve been doing research on the ground with 81 churches across the country and one of the the themes popping up from that and kind of speaking to these more organic or informal networks or realities in which congregations resourced each other. In these early days, when there were so many unknowns we did see several stories pop up from our Megachurch participants who maybe had already the existing resources structure experience with technology, for them to sort of take on a role. And some of them did this very self-consciously to say, we already know how to do this. And so we’re gonna help those other churches in our broader networks to make for them. This is a new thing to kind of help support them through this process. So we did see some examples of some of those more network side approaches where the congregations that already had the experience and and and and the you know the tools in place for them to come alongside some churches which tech was a new thing to help them as they went through that process. 

Is there any data that could help churches deal with tech changes going into 2024? How do we use platforms like Instagram or YouTube to reach younger people?

Heidi Campbell, Texas A&M University: There are some spaces that work in doing this kind of work before the pandemic. I’m thinking about the work at Virginia Theological Seminary with the E formations, and there are a lot of resources that they have produced. And they have an annual conference to get people to think about it. You know whether it’s online church services, religious education, spiritual formation, etc. There’s a plethora of consultants that have emerged. But unfortunately, like it’s you know, the talking point is, now everyone’s interested in concerned about AI when I think that more time and energy needs to be put into this collecting of resources and put resources. There are things out there that just haven’t been well collected and put into hubs for people to access.