Predicting Church Trends: Pastor of Social & Digital Communications

I don’t normally make predictions, but this is one I see coming like the light of a freight train in a tunnel. I believe that there will be a need (and eventually a demand) for a Pastor of Social & Digital Communications.

I’m not putting any bets on when churches will make this move, but when church leaders realize that social media isn’t a fad but instead a fundamental shift in interpersonal communications, the need for such a position will become apparent. Ironically, I believe that churches have a significant leg-up on just about every other social media market due to the fact that there have been the core makeup of social media segments in churches for thousands of years. Said another way, churches already have multiple small groups of people with similar or same affinities, needs and goals. The church social network existed long before it was made real-time anytime, anywhere by digital technologies.

What Defines A Pastor of Social & Digital Communications?

In my opinion, it’s more than a job description (though that’s helpful to a point), the position is a reflection of the unique DNA and needs of a church in context to their local and glocal (globally local; time and venue are almost entirely irrelevant on the Internet) communities.

Update: I don’t believe this will be the same as the current role of an Internet Pastor, which I believe is more similar to today’s multi-site campus pastor. Also, after additional consideration, I don’t think this will be a position at small or possibly even medium sized churches. To take a guess towards the future, I’d say this position might be more oriented towards the Communication team with a pastoral bent.

If a church is a focused on outreach through projects, social justice and equipping, I believe the role of an SDC pastor (Social & Digital Communications) will largely be around coordinating online event registration, making community connections and helping organizing logistics.

I also believe the same position at a church that’s more discipleship focused will most likely have more of their time coordinating between ministry leaders to ensure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing and working with a robust database of church members, attendees and community leaders & organizations to help raise awareness, make personal connections to the right leaders and managing multiple channels of information dissemination and communication.

Understanding Channels & Communication Mediums

Because this role has an emphasis on social media and Internet technologies, it most likely prove necessary for this staff position to have a strong communications background, leveraging social monitoring tools and clearly understanding demographics. Though the term “targeted demographics” sounds like pure marketing speak, what it represents is a truth in every church and organization:

The need to get the right information to the right people at the right time in the right way or ways.

Churches deal with this week in and week out today…

  • Making phone calls to senior adults
  • Sending postcards to first-time visitors
  • Sending HTML-rich emails to Gen X’ers
  • Sending SMS text messages to Gen Y’ers
  • Sending a combination of emails, postcards and personal phone calls for people who miss serving or attending (such as children’s classes)

The Matrix of Social & Digital

These channels of communication must be managed through a matrix of frequency, demographic, medium and priority.

Frequency is how often a need, activity, event or opportunity occurs. It also must represent the number of times the message is communicated across different mediums with different content.

Demographic is the target group, from church wide all the way down to an individual. Sub-demographics are the methods for slicing up a target group (young adults) into other, more specific parameters (single, married, attends X-often, has not attended since Y, has or has not served in a similar activity in the past or has signaled an interest that is saved to their profile (an attribute such as “like volunteering with other kids” or “wants to serve with other single mothers”).

Medium is the kind of content and the distribution channel for the medium. From video to email to text message to Facebook to Twitter to phone calls, defining the technology/vehicle options that best reach a certain people group(s), the content can be customized and delivered at the right time to the right people.

Priority defines the urgency of the information and the authority to remove, replace or reschedule other communication and/or engagement.

Is This Really A Dedicated Person?

Why I think this will become a common new position is the combination of talents, technology integration, leadership and interpersonal relationship capacity. While I do believe certain staff members may be able to “double up” on some of these roles today, I also believe that the velocity of change in technology combined with the need for near real-time communication will require a dedicated person who can meet the unique requirements of this role.

So, what do you think? Am I too early on this prediction? Are most churches so far behind the culture and technology curves to make this any kind of near-term need? Share your thoughts and speak into my prognostication.

 

12 Comments

  1. Great vision of a key medium to ‘get the Word out.’

    Reply
  2. Not too early, I fill this role now…the title is more simple; ‘Internet Pastor’ or ‘Digital Pastor’ depending on the room.

    There are a lot of churches moving in this direction although most have favored technical chops over leadership skills, communication and pastoring.

    I was hired because I’m a church planter by trade.
    Vince´s last blog post ..Un-contacted Tribe in Brazil What do you think

    Reply
    • Vince, I’m saying that this is different from an Internet Pastor. An Internet Pastor is typically more akin to a campus pastor with the “campus” being a virtual church service. What I’m saying is that the role is focused more on communication, logistics and connections vis a vis Social Media. See my description in the post above and it should look fairly distinct from an Internet Pastor (at least the ones I know, such as Scott Williams up at LifeChurch.tv).

      Reply
      • Yes, sounds like my roll. I sit on the teaching team, the communications team, spiritual growth team and small groups and orchestrate all things web for them…as well as the internet campus part of my job.
        Vince´s last blog post ..Un-contacted Tribe in Brazil What do you think

  3. My sense is that in most churches what you describe will actually not become a dedicated person. Like the typing pools of the 1950’s which gave way to the word processors of the pc revolution, the centralization of such things in one person is unlikely to be effective.

    Rather what will become necessary is that all of our staff’s and volunteers will need to learn the importance and requisite skills to do what you talk about. All of the things you mentioned in your post are things we have been doing probably for 4 years now. Part of it is done by our internet pastor, part of it by our communications staff, etc. What I see is the need for a new literacy for all church leaders which embraces the importance of digital media, visual persuasion, and social media.

    A similar situation for us in the past arose when the church hired a “Director of Evangelism” at some point it became obvious that hiring one person to “Do Evangelism” was actually counter productive – others thought they now did not have to “Do Evangelism” because that guy over their does that. The position didn’t last long – and we reiterated our need for all staff, volunteers, indeed the entire culture to be evangelistic in nature. I think this is precisely the same thing.

    Reply
    • Chuck – interesting observations. I think that the concept of one person focusing on this position becoming counter productive is possible, but that would assume that a majority of your pastor staff would be willing to learn, leverage and share via social media. I think that in churches with very young pastoral staff that this is more likely. However, what I’m asserting is that since it won’t be practical (or possibly even possible) for what you describe to be possible for the majority of churches.

      Still, I like the open ideas and the possibilities of discovering what will help the local church be more effective.

      Thanks for sharing, Chuck!

      Reply
  4. I think you are spot on with this prediction. In fact, I suspect many churches already have someone performing this role. Not because a formal position was created for the role, but because a tech savvy, forward thinking individual or group of individuals stepped up to fill the need.

    We use a number of digital communication channels at Woodlands Church (website, blog, twitter, facebook, texting, The City, and more). Communicating with and engaging with people through these digital channels requires a strategy and significant amount of effort & time.

    Reply
  5. We’ve been doubling up here at Destiny Church. Our Youth pastor is the Facebook guy and I handle the twitter stuff. I do wonder though that these roles may get absorbed by a Web Managment role rather than a social pastor role.

    Reply
  6. If I were on the search team of a mid-large sized church, I would recommend that we seek a “Senior Communications Officer,” whose main role would be to bring synergistic alignment of ALL information and communication technologies with the vision, mission and outreach of the church. He would lead, plan, develop and execute strategies, internally and externally.

    The SCO would be a 360-degree leader on the senior management team who would use his/her influence in all directions, to assist and support the pastor and senior staff.

    The emphasis on communications and social media in the world is only going to intensify. God has orchestrated the greatest communication breakthrough in history. Churches will need seasoned leadership to coach, mentor and enable staff to leverage technology and media for everything from business practices, to visual storytelling, to reaching unchurched people everywhere…to take maximum advantage.

    There may not be a one-size fits all, but I do believe patterns of effective leadership in this area will emerge.

    This is a very important discussion. Thanks for leading it Anthony.
    Gordon Marcy´s last blog post ..Ministry Removes Language Barriers for Church Online

    Reply
  7. Intriguing…I like your thinking and the idea of a dedicated person moves it from task driven to shepherding or pastor driven which I believe will be critical as we move forward.

    Anyone already doing this and worked out any of the bugs?

    Reply
  8. I agree this is becoming something that is needed. I think having it be a pastoral role is also a must. It would not just be about doing all the communicating but determining what should be communicated. Even with every new medium it is still the content that really matters.

    I see this very much as a teaching role as well. Just because you know how to use Twitter doesn’t mean you know how to use it effectively for achieving your goals. Someone needs to be setting the goals and determining the best way of communicating that through the various different methods of media.

    Reply
  9. Your idea of churches using social media as a way to make others aware is an interesting idea. So often, religions stay rather traditional, but as the world grows, so does technology’s usefulness. I’m excited to see where this trend goes, and if your prediction is right or wrong.

    Reply

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