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The Digital Revolution is Challenging Both Churches and Newsrooms in Similar Ways

The Digital Revolution is challenging both churches and newsrooms in similar ways.
For 28 years in a row newspaper circulation has been in decline, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
People don’t get their news the way they did in 1989. They want nuggets of information delivered in convenient and eye-pleasing ways. We communicate visually and succinctly now, but newsrooms aren’t adapting as quickly as they need to. And neither are churches.
That’s why both are losing members and subscribers.
Social media has changed the way people communicate. Today, according to Pew, seven in ten Americans use digital platforms to connect with others, engage in news content and stay entertained.
Erik Qualman, author of “Socialnomics” and other texts on the digital revolution, has said that social media is no longer a choice. To succeed, businesses and organizations need to jump on the social media bandwagon.
“The power of social media is it forces necessary change,” he tweeted.
But it’s not as simple as presenting information in multimedia form. It has to start that way, then continue offline through community engagement opportunities.
Like newspaper audiences, church attendance, too, has been declining, in part, because many faith leaders aren’t sure how use new technology effectively. Many are using a church website as a billboard, rather than as a way to engage with audiences. 
Chuck Redfern, who worked as a newspaper reporter in Northwestern Connecticut before becoming a Baptist pastor (now retired), said although some churches are using the Internet and social media well, too many remain hostile too it.
“They cloak their hostility in phrases like, ‘The Internet is shallow. We offer depth and friendliness.’,” he said.
Often this is because congregations are making it harder than it needs to be, thus invoking a fear of needing more manpower.
For instance, Redfern says churches need to be posting audio of their sermons online, which is easy to do with any smartphone. He said because people shop for churches online, posting sermons is a good way to let people sample the church before making the decision to come inside.
But it can’t stop there.
“Most are looking for fellowship. The Internet cannot substitute for genuine fellowship,” he said.
That’s why both are needed - quality content that intrigues a visitor and invites them to look further, to participate in the conversation. That’s true of newspaper audiences too.
Jeff Jarvis, Director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, has long argued that for the news industry to advance it can no longer publish a story and then move onto the next story. Now it needs to offer the story and then invite engagement through social media and offline events, giving the audience a chance to discuss the topic with the journalist and with other readers and viewers. Call it social journalism or participatory journalism, giving news consumers this way to connect with a story is how they in turn feel interested in investing in the publication.
I’d argue that houses of worship can, and should, do this too. No one wants to be talked at, they want to talk with.
Many news startups are successfully doing this and churches should follow their lead. In Spokane, SpokaneFAVS - which covers religion news offers religion commentary - hosts monthly forums for its audience. The Texas Tribune brings live interviews with policy makers to college campuses. Geekwire, a tech startup, even hosts foosball tournaments for its readers. These are all ways for their loyal readers to spend time with the staff, the writers and editors of these publications. This shows them they’re valued. If more newspapers did this, and if more churches did, those downward trends in circulation and membership will start turning the other way.




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