Episode 114: The Digital Church with Jim Keat

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In the wake of the 2020 COVID pandemic, churches were forced into the digital frontier whether they liked it or not. But now what? In this episode, I talk to Rev. Jim Keat the Digital Minister at Riverside Church in New York City about the importance of reaching out to those people living across town and across the country who might want to worship with your congregation

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Well, hello and welcome to Church in Maine. This is the podcast at the Intersection of Faith and Modern Life. My name is Dennis Sanders. I'm your host, and this is a podcast where we talk about religion and public affairs. So about fifteen years ago, I was hired on by a kind of local body of the Presbyterian Church USA, the local Presbytery, to be their communications specialist. And my job was basically, um keeping up the website and kind of whatever else they wanted me to do. And it was kind of a kid in a Candy Stark type of job because I basically tried everything. UM. I created our Facebook page, I made sure that we had a weekly email newsletter. I got us on Twitter, and you know, I just tried a lot of different things. And this was at a time, especially when the church, especially mainline congregations, were um really getting into social media and into um websites. This was kind of a at the beginning of this whole thing, and you know that there was excitement, and I remember going to a lot of different kind of events where they would talk about the how great social media was and how churches needs to be online and and so, you know, a lot of that was trying to help churches get online. Churches we're getting online. This was kind of all over the place at the time until maybe about it seems like both Middle judicatories and churches they all kind of got to a point where, you know, they were done. It was kind of more of a passing fad UM. A lot of places got rid of their or let go of their communications people, UM, and things kind of settled back into a probably what life was like in the church maybe before two thousand five and then and actually more specifically than March, and all of a sudden, people are basically thrown back, thrown into having to do almost everything church related digitally. UM pastors all of a sudden had to learn how to basically film overnight. UM social media became the lifeline lots of different things that basically pushed mainline Protestant churches really back into UM social media, UM websites and the like. UM. And now as the pandemic is kind of in our rear view mirror, this time, it's a little bit different. We're not necessarily going back to what things were, you know, years ago, where we weren't online. UM churches are still doing live stream for a lot of different reasons. UM, they're testing out various things such as UM from social media, especially some of the newer social media like TikTok, and so we end now all of that has a name that really didn't have before, digital ministry, and so churches now are having to deal with not just the people who are in their pews or chairs physically on a Sunday morning, but also people who might actually be viewing this online. And they don't necessarily have to be in the same town where the church is located. They could be half a country away or half a world away. So today we're going to kind of talk about digital ministry and all of the kind of how churches are now having to really create and open up this second or new front in ministry that is UM virtual and what does that mean and how does...

...that work UM and what should churches do. So today UM we're gonna hear from Jim Keat. Jim is the Digital Minister at Riverside Church in New York City. He's also the Director of Online Innovation at the Convergence Network UM. Beyond that, he is also a digital consultant to various UM progressive faith groups UM and organizations UM. He received his uh MDV from Western Seminary in Michigan, UM, and before he was actually at Riverside, he was also UH the Associate Minister for Education at the Middle Collegiate Church, which is also in New York City. So we talked a little bit about, well a lot about digital ministry, what does that mean for churches UM in this day and age, and UM also kind of what is the future for digital ministry. So I really do hope that you, UM, if you are someone who belongs to a congregation that is still doing UM digital ministry, that you will figure out and listen and maybe find out ways of how you can improve what you've done UM and also see where things might be headed. So with all of that, let's listen to this conversation with Jim Keat Well. Jim, thanks so much for taking the time to chat today. Great to be here. Dennis, good to chat with you too. Well. I think before we go in to talking about UM online ministry, I'd like to know a little bit about your story. UM. I know that you are an ordained pastor, kind of what was the your road that led you to your current position at Riverside as their digital minister. Yeah, well to go way way, way, way way back. I was born on the day of the first commercial cell phone call. So me and the cell phone where we're just twins from like Jacob and Esau story. I guess although that that doesn't always end well. Uh but uh so I've grown up with you know, these technologies forming around us. I'm I'm an elder millennial at geriatric millennial in that that world of thinking. Um So I remember getting my first cell phone as like an eighteen year old and my first email address, and I have I had those things as part of my adolescent development. So I've just seeing these digital things continue to come to life all around us and around me. And then as I went into vocational life, ministry was where I felt drawn. My my dad as a pastor, so I literally grew up in the church and I started as a youth pastor at a really big church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And I didn't think I was doing anything like digital ministry, but I was like, Oh, I'm gonna make little videos to send to the parents so they can know what we're talking about this coming Sunday, and I'll make a video for the leaders and I just started using digital stuff to help people be more connected. And when I was in seminary at the same time as I was a youth pastor there, seminary made me learn Greek and Hebrew because those are good language pastors to know. I decided to teach myself HTML and CSS because I thought those good languages for the future of the church. Now I'm probably just as fluent in Hebrew and Greek as I am HTML and C S S, which means just enough to be dangerous, but uh, but it kind of got me started on this, like, what is the vocabulary and the skills and the experiences that's even going to be necessary not just for the Church of the past, but the Church of the future, and by definition of the future always coming closer and closer the Church of the present. So I just always kept tinkering, and the internet was a fun sandbox. I could try things. There was a lower barrier to entry, and that you could just throw it up and see what sticks to the wall and keep going. Um. Working at a church in New York, I was the minister of education, so like, oh, we're gonna do a podcast, a sermon prep podcast. It just seemed like a natural extension of adult education. And then that ultimately led to just constantly tinkering with all things online and thinking the church can't wait to figure this internet thing out. And granted, there are many corners of the church in its wide expressions who have been doing a whole lot on the Internet. Some see the Internet as a new frontier for evangelism, others see it as a space just for incarnational presence. I tend to be more of the ladder, and it tended to be the mainline church, which I have found myself in for the ladder half of my life. The mainline church seems I would say, we have really good theology, but we tend sometimes to have really shitty websites. And I was like, can't you have both? Can't you have a good theology and a good website? And so I just started asking, well, why not let me try to play with that space and see what that could be. And...

...that led to me coming to Riverside, focusing specifically on digital media online engagement. And then in twenty nineteen, I, my wife and I were ready to leave the city UH, and so the staff there said, let's talk about what your role could be. What if you didn't leave the staff, but we just rethought you were focused, And what if you were just really focused on our online congregation and our online content. Yeah, I'd be like a digital minister. Yeah, that's a good idea. Now, this is twenty nineteen, before the world knew what Zoom was and everything, so there was so many congregants and colleagues who were like, what's the digital minister. Then fast forward to March, Oh, thank god, we have a digital minister. So the general story now it's the water that all of us are realizing we need to swim in. But this has been the spaghettia I've been throwing against the wall. It was I think a decade ago I was at a conference speaking and I had a slide that said virtual isn't the opposite of real, it's the opposite of physical. They're both real. Because these virtual encounters are real encounters. People are like, oh, that's cute. I don't really understand it. Pandemic life. Oh yeah, virtual is very real. Zoom churches, church, these connections are real connections. So long story, really long. That's how I ended up as the digital minister at the Riverside Church in the city of New York And so what has that been like, especially as a in some ways deployed staff that you're you're doing digital ministry but you're not in New York, but you're you're you're still basically putting out content. What has that been like? The first year was interesting because everyone else, you know, working from home was not a thing. Remote work was was not the norm as it is now. The one benefit I had going for me is I've been on staff at Riverside since seen So I was in New York for at Riverside for multiply two or three years, getting to know the congregation, getting to know the staff, my colleagues, and then when I did go remote, it was less who's this guy that's randomly doing stuff? It was like, oh, Jim, we miss you. So I had a connection as a pastor to the congregation already, and then it was more like once they understood the concept, oh, yes, we're sending you out so you can help help other people understand what Riverside is doing beyond the walls of the building and the confines of the of New York City, and so that that helped, But it was still very jarring because I'd be calling into a lot of staff meetings and I'd be the only one calling in on the phone and everyone else is sitting around the table. Oh yeah, there's someone on the phone. We forgot That's where for me life in the pandemic something was a great equalizer. Oh we're all on zoom. This is great. Welcome to the way I've been experiencing life for the past year, and this reality isn't going away in so many ways now, the culture has just shifted. So being deployed now, I feel very close and connected. Our Sunday morning worship service we always avertizes, including some prerecorded content from our various congregants who are across the country, around the world, or myself will be recording things very weekly for our worship service. So we have screens on the service that are are are interest weaving prerecorded contents, so are our remote congregants feel like they're actually a part of the leading of the service, not just peeking in through the windows. So the congregation sees my face and here's my voice in church every Sunday. Um I lead virtual coffee hour after church every Sunday. I'm involved in so many parts of the church. It feels like maybe even more connected now on this point in the pandemic than I did even when I was in New York City, because I think the difference has also been when I started this experiment of being Riverside's Digital Minister, and it was very much an experiment the first year, like what is this, Let's see what happens? Uh? It was me just trying stuff and trying to convince people to take this digital stuff seriously. Now my role involves a lot of things, but I like to look at it in two primary ways. One, I'm I'm trying stuff to see what what we could do. Proof of concept, Let's try this out, Let's let's explore this new thing, let's see where it can take us. But then I'm really consulting with my own colleagues at Riverside, helping the other ministers understand what is a digital expression of their work and their ministry, because it can't just be me doing all the digital ministry. That's like you know, the the youth pastor being the only one who does anything with teenagers. No no, no, that's not or the Justice minister being the only one who does social justice work. No no, no. The role is that we lead, all of us and doing this work together. And I think being a digital minister is the exact same. It was interesting you picked at the point about experimentation. Um, that's something that it seems like, especially in this kind of realm, you have permission to do. That is not something that churches, especially mainline churches, have always been good at. Um is experimenting. Do you think that this whole kind of change in digital ministry is helping the wider church in some...

...ways experiment in different ways? I hope so, And I hope that it lets us realize you don't know where the dart's gonna land until you throw it. How many committee meetings do we need to have to examine how we should hold the dart and where where we should angle it and everything. You've got to just throw the thing at some point and then learn from that and throw it again and throw it again. And I think that the digital stuff reduces that barrier to entry, or it makes that starting line easier to cross. You can get running because there's just a different cost, it seems. I mean, there is a cost time, energy, and sometimes you know there is a monetary costpect technology, but it feels different because it's not like printing something or organizing a big in person event. It's like, oh, if it didn't work, we'll just take it down or do it again later. Granted, the internet does intend to keep everything forever, so there's that side of it. But I think I feel like once you set foot into doing stuff in these online spaces, you're for most people. Unless you're like, you know, a twelve year old who just grew up as jen Z or gen Alfa or whatever they're going to be next. We we've all had some sense of this is something new. This isn't the way I was taught, This isn't the ministry that I grew up with as a kid. I'm now trying a thing that I've never experienced before. So once you try it, it kind of opens up the ability to try to innovate, to experiment, to to to fail fast. You can learn from it and then try again. Uh So, so yeah, I hope that people explore that in these digital spaces, and then I hope that design thinking approach impacts how we do all the work in our spaces, not just the digital ones as well. Mhm um. Generation wise, I kind of the geriatric generation X And I'm old enough to remember maybe about fifteen years ago when my space and kind of social media was starting, that there was actually kind of a movement or or kind of a movement within the church in mainline churches that was an interest in social media. But it seems like at that point it was more kind of like, well, there's this interesting thing. We should of course have a website, and maybe we'll try Facebook. But it never felt like it took it caught on. It was kind of like it was a fat and then I think maybe by the mid teens that kind of died out. And of course now the pandemic is kind of forced in some ways, some um change. Do you think that that's going to be bringing out more of a permanent change than what happened fifteen years ago, which was kind of it was new and let's just try to try out this shiny thing. But you know this is this is still real church, and will um you know, that's kind of nice to try. I mean, there will always be people who say that, well, it's not real church unless I'm sitting in the pew holding hymnal, reading the King James Bible. Just like there are people who say it's not real music unless I can hear the scratches on the vinyl. I mean, I'll probably be the old guy who's saying it's not a real book unless I can actually turn the pages. Although I do enjoy my kindle because it lets me read in the dark while I'm nursing my seven month old m so. But but I think a big difference is going to be the way, like you were describing, when when these online platforms first emerged in so many ways and it had a cultural tipping point. Uh, they still were used by certain demographics for certain purposes. They didn't quite come into the level where we all used, like I think of it the way that Skype used to be a verb, I'll skype you. We don't say that anymore, Like when was the last time someone used Skype as a verse? Sorry? Microsoft, I know you bought them and you had this whole dream for it all. Now we say zoom, I mean, but the reality is pre we wouldn't have said zoom. I mean, there were a handful of us who used it and knew what it was for various purposes, but the average congregant would have had no idea zoom that's the sound a car makes. So I think the biggest difference for sticking point is the way it's just saturated itself into the wider culture, and especially the church culture, which can be a very hard culture to change. But once you make a change, they're gonna stick with that change. And I think just practically, I've had so many people at Riverside say, oh, yeah, I never want to come to the church for a church council meeting. Ever again, they should all be done on zoom, which is just a reality of letting people be in their homes rather than leave their family drive back drive there. Uh so there's just a convenience people found. I think the fear prior to all this would have been, oh but it's not as good, it's not as real, it's not as meaningful, it's not as effective, and it's like, wait a minute, it is and in some ways maybe even more so. I've had congregance at Riverside, say these years during the pandemic, and we had like over a year where we had no in person services at all, it was online only. People said during that time they felt more connected to the congregate...

...ship then they have in decades. And I think one reason is because we were doing so many, you know, after church virtual coffee hours on Zoom, lots of small groups on Zoom. And I think one unique thing on Zoom is it does tooth things simultaneously. You get an implicit and unconscious glimpse into the person's life behind them unless they do a virtual background, which also tells you something about them, but you get to kind of see their lived experience in space in a way that you don't when you come in whatever personification you're bringing to church that day and your outfit or whatever. But then you also have the name that's kind of embedded on screen, so you always got to connect names and faces, and it was just reiterating who we are as a community, and those things were just built into the platform. Unconsciously. We just dove into that water and immersed ourselves in it and then came out and said, oh, this was pretty cool. So I think it's those kinds of experiences, the ways that church folk had meaningful experiences in these digital spaces now leads them to say, this is the new normal. This is not It just can't go away. If this goes away, you want to bring it back because this has been meaningful not to mention the advantages to how they understand how it broadens the reach of what we're doing as a church. It creates greater access for those who didn't have the ability to enter in person. So it has so many wins that no one wants to see it go away. That would be the biggest loss, not not just the digital minister. Yea, yeah, I think it. It's has you know, one of the things that UM I have experienced, We've done Bible study on zoom and one of our members has invited a friend of hers from back home UM in Detroit. So you know, years ago we would not have had you know, we would have done it all in person. Everyone would have been from nearby. And now we have done a Bible study that included someone that's seven hundred miles away. UM. So in some ways it really opens up UM the circle in a way that it wouldn't have before. And then how do you how do you intentionally exclude that person? How do you say we're going to do a Bible study and we're going to make it inaccessible to our friend in Detroit. We're we're just gonna make it impol unless they get on a plane and just come here for this one of that's just not practical. So I think it's not to say that everything needs to be online, that everything needs to be hybrid. I think there is still a space for in person only things. To me, the definition of a hybrid church is not one that makes everything hybrid. Like you don't just have to smash everything to be able to be simultaneously in person and online, but you do it intentionally. So there are some things that have that overlap of an experience, and there are some that are just online, and there are some that are just in person. And that's okay. It's creating a diversity of entry points for someone to participate and have those meaningful connections with the community. Now I know that you have a YouTube channel on how to do digital church. Um, how did what was the genesis of that? And how has it been received? How people? Um? Have you have you heard from people of what they've how helpful it hasn't been for people and all of that. Yeah. Yeah, So that that whole project started probably in many ways the week after the pandemic put all of us into lockdown. I think March fifteen to March twentie was when one of those first Sundays where churches. Ever, when Riversides first Sunday online I think was March, I believe. Um So, in addition to my work at Riverside, I work with an organization called Convergence. I'm the director of online Innovation helping churches at large do this stuff. So I get to play in that space of not just doing it at Riverside, but then helping other churches think about these things. So it's probably from that lane that resources like the YouTube channel kind of emerged. But it started as as a webinar, Like the week after the pandemic and everything down, I was like, I'm gonna put together a webinar. I'm gonna call some friends who do digital ministry and just get us all on a call together and have people watch it and we'll talk about how to handle digital ministry in this reality about people came to the webinar that I put that I posted with like a two weeks notice, so like, oh, I guess this is the thing people want help. But um So, that led to me hosting weekly zoom calls, just like public open group coaching. Sometimes I'd interview someone who's done doing stuff in digital ministry. So I did all that um and then I had a baby and so that kind of put pause on all of that kind of stuff in my life. And then after our firstborn was a little more you know, sleeping normally, and so I had a little bit of sleep and I was like, I want to do some new stuff again. Let make a YouTube channel. That'd be fun. So I started the YouTube channel and then it kind of went on pause when baby number two came. And now he's kind of sleeping through the night, so the videos are back. So now that was the genesis, was seeing this need that so many churches had just largely the webinar came. Oh, this is the origin of the webinar. I forgot. I was getting a lot of pastors just texting and calling and asking me questions about this stuff because they hadn't done it. They knew i'd do this. And I talked to my friends who did this work and they said, yeah, I'm getting all the same questions. Let's just...

...do a thing altogether so we can answer all the questions. And so it kept coming from people just had questions, and they start at the beginning to be very basic technical questions. What camera do I use how do I live stream? What is this thing? And then they moved towards more adaptive cultural shifts and how do how does this impact what it means to be church? So I just kept tinkering and trying to make all the best resources I could. I've led courses and cohorts, and the YouTube channel for me, is just a fun way to keep doing it for free, to give that stuff away because I don't. I want to, as much as possible eliminate any paywall to the resources that the church needs to do her job in the world in these moments. So yeah, I gotta, I gotta, I gotta film the next video right after this call, I think, so I was gonna I was wondering about that. So you'll see you'll see, well this is a podcast. They can't see me, but you can see me Dennis. They'll see my blue shirt in my little brown vest. When you see that video, you knew I just talked to Dennis. So yeah, you know, I think one of the things that I have UM really enjoyed from the channel, and I am someone that watches a lot of different people on how they do digital ministry um, is that I feel like it's a little bit more specific towards my own context, um, and in context being mainline Protestant congregations. UM, there are a lots and there are a lot of resources that are um more evangelical, and that that's not bad. I don't want to not dissing it, but it doesn't always fit the the context. So I think it's been really good to have something that I think, finally it's a little bit more kind of my own where I'm coming from, that I can kind of relate to well, that that means a lot, and that is exactly the hope. I mean, that's that's just me swiming in my water too, and I'm in the same I mean, I I've spent time in those kind of broader, progressive even gelical spaces. The church and Grand Rapids that I served up for a decade was you know, a big progressive, evangelical mega church, and so I know that world, I know that language. But I've found myself planted in this you know, mainline Protestant world, and I'm like, I think there's there's a good history here, there's good future here, but we need sometimes we need a bit of a push to learn how to do some of these things that are that are part of our ecosystem in the world now called you know, digital online internet stuff, and it's nice. It's refreshing to see more and more mainland churches you know, diving in and swimming. It's it's fantastic, largely due to so many other leaders like yourself and others who have been helping bring others along with that. And uh yeah, it's it's a lot of fun to keep making resources for our specific brand and breed of Christianity. So one of the things I think one of those videos that you have is kind of talking about how you do hybrid church and UM having you know, we're still doing live streaming, and I think it's always for me important to realize how do you try to include the people who are might be watching UM. I also have to battle that the do we still need to do this? We're smaller congregations, so then people wonder does it break the the intimacy of that and and I understand that, but you also I also know that there are people who for a lot of reasons, we have members who can't make it UM in person. Also people who for whatever reason just have not they watch, but they're just have not come physically, so this is their way of still communicating with us. And it's I think the question, and I think you you are you deal with it, and I guess my question is is for everyone else is how do you try to do worship that is inclusive of the people who aren't physically present there but are present um but just in a very different way. I think the most important and necessary first step in doing that is to know who the people are who aren't in the room. And this was Riverside's position in en We knew there were people joining us via lives and we've been live streaming for a decade. It's not like we started that, but we didn't know who they were, Like, oh, maybe this member who moved away, maybe maybe they're Like we didn't. I couldn't tell you the name of Michael Thomas and Diana Jean and Alan Kratts, like I can now. We just didn't know they were. They were this ethereal mysterious group of congregates. Uh. And once you start knowing who they are, then you start realizing, oh, these are these are our families, is our community, These aren't just nameless people. These are actual humans that we know and love, and you have a sense of who they are, how many they are, so you can start actually designing the service appropriately. When when the if a church just throws up a camera to live stream to have it on the internet and then looks at the YouTube stats a week later says, oh, we got seven views. I wonder who these seven people are. Well, that's not horrible, but you could be much more intentional about that too.

That's like, if you invite people into the physical space, are you ever going to introduce yourself and shake their hand or bump their elbow. Yes, you're gonna be intentional about setting up a structure where you get to know the people who are in your space. So I think we need to be just as intentional about setting up structures to get to know the people who are in our digital spaces, because that then informs how we design and craft everything. I think for the church that just has a couple of people popping in online, uh, you can still have spaces for a digital ministry, but maybe it doesn't need to be this like, Okay, we have half our congregation online half in person. We have to do with this this this, It's like no, No, we have one percent online. So we're gonna remember them, acknowledge them, and we're gonna make this available because it's a need. But it's different than when suddenly say, your online congregation makes up six of your worshiping congregation. What do you do now? And you only can think about that when you actually know, well, are we tracking whose, where and what? What is the population that's gathering? Like I'm I'm a stickler for our Sunday Morning attendance, not because I think it's a marker of church health or growth. It's one of many markers. But I've been tracking it meticulously during the pandemic because I want to see what's our new normal going to be. What is going to be the kind of the standard we're going to be operating with at riverside for in person attendance and online attendance. And then once we have that new baseline, we can start thinking about how we design and lead the service appropriately, like for example, this coming Sunday's World Community Sunday. We're recording this just before October. I had us make some shifts to our language around communion because we've been putting as like the last sentence of the communion liturgy and for those of you worshiping online, you can use your elements that you have at home. It's like, oh, oh, thank you. Online congregation got one little throwaway line, so we shifted it where we actually start with our online congregation for those of you worshiping online, and and we we don't assume the norm is being in the room, but we kind of give some equity to the different experiences. Uh. And that's a little shift, but to me, it's a big indication of just how we recognize who the congregation is. So back to the question what did churches do? You've got to know who the people are because you can't know who you're designing a service for if you don't know who the people are. Imagine leading a service in your physical space and then you discover two months later everyone speaks a different language than you. What have you been doing for two months? The step one is getting to know who those people are that you are serving in that moment, so you can craft and design the thing for those individuals who are already showing up. Step two is asking well, who else do we want to reach? Who else are we trying to include and participate with? And that might be where even if you don't have a huge segment who is currently active in worshiping online, you might think, but we hope to reach these people and expand in this space. So you do prioritize it, and you do lean into it, but you always build in the structures to get to know who those people are to keep the connection, because church is not just some Netflix show that you binge on your couch. It's a community and a connection that we all share together. So I'm getting excited. I mean, I need to make a video about this. This is fun stuff. Yeah. And then I think the other kind of correlated to that is and how do you use some of the social media two kind of bring people in and how to effectively use it. I think UM for a lot of churches it has been basically the an online version of UM kind of a well, kind of like a billboard but also you know, poster board, here's our our events and all of that. UM. But I think one of the challenges is how do you use social media in some ways to really tell a story, to connect with people UM and to do that and and different and doing the different social media you're gonna be doing it in different ways. But um, I guess what what tips would you have to help people kind of more effectively use social media because a lot of churches have it. They but we may not be all using it to it's it's fullest extent, and I will I will claim to not be using it to its fullest extent all the time either, just because the reality of human capacity steps in and you just can't do all the things, which is why the first thing I always think is, don't do all the things, Like, don't try to be on every social platform just because you can, or because someone else is. They might have a different staffing structure, or energy or just interest or whatever. I often think similar, where are my people? What platforms are they on? If your congregants are all on Facebook but you're all in on Twitter, well you're not really reaching your current congregants. But you might say, but this is where I think there's a certain conversation that I want to be a part of. Okay, that's good. Really just be intentional. It has to be an intentional purpose behind what you're doing. Don't just do it because you feel like you have to do it. That's just spinning the tires and going nowhere. Uh, I think you know, be be very...

...specific about why you're using certain platforms. Like at Riverside, most of our congregants are not on Twitter, that's just our demographic, but they are on Facebook. So Facebook serves for our congregants as in some ways an effective bulletin board billboard because it lets people know when events are coming up, that kind of a thing. We know they're checking that platform. But then we try to be intentional about using it in an engaging dialogical way, not just a one set of conversation. But for us, Twitter is more what's happening in the larger cultural world around us, and how can a church like Riverside have a voice and an opinion on those things? So they serve drastically different purposes. And then we we dabbled in TikTok as the pandemic started, and we're like, oh, let's just play with this vertical short form stuff. And we're like, oh, we're reaching a whole new group of people who have never even heard of us. This is an entirely new territory of human beings for us to engage and encounter. And so we're still figuring out what to do with that group of people. So it goes back to the experimentation. You have to be willing to experiment. You can't be stuck in to being a certain way, and I think you have to be okay to not do all the things. Just because the church next door has every social media platform and they have blue check marks on all their accounts. You don't have to pick the one that I would say serves your congregant the best and you feel the most energized around because then it's going to be useful and be be sustained because you'll actually enjoy doing it. Chances are for a lot of people that's Instagram. Instagram tends to be just more fun because it's visual, it's enjoyable. Although Instagram is going through a bit of a midlife crisis itself right now. But that's a whole of the conversation. Well, I think that's actually talking about TikTok is what has your experience been on TikTok, because I think that's something that I'm starting to dabble with. But this is, again, I think where the generational divide comes in because I think it's it's very much a young medium. Um that's very much suited to a younger audience that I think likes things that are more visual and actually I think shorter um um. That you know, for me personally, what's easier to understand things like Facebook and Instagram, But for younger generations it's TikTok and um. What has your experience been um as you say, as a geriatric millennial as opposed to kind of to deal with it as opposed to someone who's younger, who it just feels like that's just they're in that medium anyway. Yeah, well that that is part of the awareness of recognizing this is just now the new starting place for a new generation where once upon a time when I was in college when Facebook, I just graduated college, when Facebook was available to college students, I was like, oh, what is this thing my old rummate wants me to sign up for? But that used to be the thing that young people were on, and then you know, their parents got on it, so they all left went to Instagram, and now parents are on Instagram where they just grow up and so the next generation does the next thing. So it's just being aware of that do you want to be where who are you trying to engage and who are you trying to share whatever your message is with uh and if that's new emerging younger generations in these different spaces, you've got to be aware of just what platforms, like where are they hanging out? You know if if you're like, oh I want to this is the coffee shop all the kids are at, and I'm going to this one down the street, I gotta go to the one where they are if I want to actually be incarnationally present with them. So part of it is that. And and for me it was very pragmatic. It was like, Okay, YouTube shorts is about to come out, so I could make the same vertical short form video and publish it on YouTube shorts, Instagram reels and TikTok. That seems like it's worth my time to experiment with. Let's try a year and play with this and see what happens. Uh. So we did, and TikTok was the one for us that went whoop, got a big spike because of a couple of videos and like, oh, this is worth playing with more, I guess um. So I'm still figuring that out too. I think though what I have seen on TikTok um I have a good friend whom She's currently a youth pastor at a church just outside of Detroit, And when the Panama was kind of first starting um, she was having some zoom calls with her teenagers in her church and one of them said something that was very much theologically misaligned with with the Presbyterian Church they're a part of, and she's like, where did you hear that? Oh? I was on this TikTok video I watched. So she realized there was a kind of far right conservative evangelical voice on TikTok that her students were absorbing, and she's like, well, maybe I should make a different kind of approach. So she started making videos about you know, welcoming LGBTQ people and and anti racism and various things. And now she has like three people following her on TikTok, more than just her youth group, and it's like, oh, there is a need for this, and there's a growing community of progressive faith leaders who are creating content on TikTok. So that's been what's been most fun from me on TikTok is getting to know other, uh, really interesting creative faith leaders who are dabbling and trying and experimenting So it's been fulfilling personally just to have like, Oh, I have friends who are trying stuff in this space too, and I...

...can learn from them and that and it serves a whole lot of people in really meaningful ways. My friend Bethany the same Bethany again, she says, people have what do we What do people do in those like two minute breaks in their day, whether you're you know, if you're standing in line for the groceries, you're waiting for whatever to be your pickup order, um, your whatever it is that you pull out your phone and you're doing this. So I can we create meaningful, faith, formative, justice driven experiences that can slide into those second moments when people are doing this? Can we be the thing that they see? It's like, oh, that's such a great approach, Like we're just filling a spot where something's going to fill it, and why not make it something about love and justice? I love it. Mm hmm. So where do you think that, especially for mainline churches, things are headed in the future. I mean, I think we, as you said, the the pandemic really kind of was a crossing of the rubicon. I don't We're not going back to what we did pre Um, where do you see that going? And I think also one question that I always have because I passed her a small congregation, is how does it all work for small congregations. I I think I like to look at the history of like Sunday School and youth ministry. I think it's probably gonna feel similar for good and for bad, because once upon a time, Sunday School didn't exist, and then a dude in England said, oh, I have there's these children in my neighborhood who aren't receiving good education. So we're going to have a school on Sundays where we teach them how to read and write. We'll call it Sunday School. You know. It was quite a while later that it actually turned into more the religion religion religious education we know today. Um, But it started as a non existent thing, became a thing met a specific need, and then continue to evolve into the world of flannel graphs and whatever Sunday School is today. If I don't do flannel graph anymore, they should. And then youth ministry similarly, you know, think it was like nineteen sixties or so when I was like young, there was like post World War two is when youth ministry is really started popping up because young men were coming back from the war and wanted to do something in their churches and so like, oh, we'll help the young people, and so that led to like young Life and these paratrt organizations, and now youth ministry is a thing you can study in college. Uh. And I think digital ministry is gonna be similar in that where we're seeing it kind of exists in a in a wider way now. Um, once upon a time it didn't exist. Now it seems like it's everywhere. And what's it going to become now? The benefit is I think it's going to become the new normal. Just like it's hard to find a church that doesn't have some understanding of Sunday School or youth ministry, even if they don't have kids in their church. If you're all sixty year old grandparents or whatever, you still recognize the need for nursery for children's education to be welcoming to families. In that way, I think digital ministry will do that too, so people will have the awareness of its as it's that's the essential nature it plays. But I think the potential downfall could be what's happened to youth ministry and even Sunday School where we see certain churches doing it a certain way and we think that's how everyone should do it. Oh, I need to be a youth ministry like that, or I have to do all the cool stuff like they're doing. And if I don't, then mind's not good enough for minds like oh, I don't have three kids coming there for mind sucks, or we don't have the great videos, or like no, no, no, no, no, that that that's horrible in youth ministry. The other downfall is when, like I alluded to earlier, when everyone just thinks it's the youth pastor's job to take care of the teenagers and everyone else gets to just check out and go someplace else. That's also bad. So digital ministry can't be this steeple envy comparison experience that happens in youth ministries. Nor can it be this you know, just live by charisty and drop it off to the digital ministry and I have nothing to do with it. And it has to be an integrated experience for the whole congregation. Has to be contextual to what your needs are, just like youth ministry should be. And I think you know, youth ministry curriculum is a great resource, but it's used worst when you take it off the shelf and just use it as is. It's used best when you integrate it into your context. Saying for digital ministry resources and it is, you have to integrate them into your context. You can't just be like cookie cutter copy paste. Well, this work, maybe, but probably not. You've gotta do the difficult ethnographic work to know who are we, what do we need, where are we going, and how can I best serve this context. So I think the future of digital ministry is gonna look like that. It'll it'll hopefully be varied in its expression, just as much as our congregations are varied. And my fear is that will be it will become this monolithic, replicated thing, and we got to avoid that. We gotta can't just be Digital ministry means TikTok and YouTube and Instagram like no, no, no no. Digital ministry means how. It can't even just mean live streaming your worship service like you No. It means you're digital. It means you're aware of this space that people are in and how are you eating them contextually in that particular way,...

...which is what the Church has always been doing, meeting contextual needs to the people around us. It just now happens that that around us is much farther than it was before. So the same work is necessary to know who they are and what they need, and the same work is necessary to be present with them in whatever way we can. You know, you brought up something earlier that I kind of wanted you to expound upon. That is incarnational presence Um. How would how would you define that? And what does that mean in digital ministry? Yeah? I mean, obviously, the word incarnational literally means in the flesh, so there's this, like, you know, aspect to it of your physical body. But let's be honest, that word was was used and originated in a time when that's all they knew. I think it speaks less to physicality and it speaks more to presence. Uh. To be incarnational is to be present with someone in the and all the ways I know how to be present with them. I mean, come on, when Paul was writing letters to church, is that was the best way he could be present with them, and so he did whatever he could. So I think if we are not showing up in these digital spaces when we know that our people are there, we are intentionally avoiding that incarnational call. I I have had a varied relationship with Facebook because it's Facebook, so most of us have thoughts about it. But like way back ten fifteen years ago, I switched over from a personal page to our personal profile to a public page. I was making content like I'm just gonna publish my stuff through here so people can see it, my mom can see it, whatever. And then I was started working at a church in New York and someone mentioned, oh, thank you so much to a congregant, thank you so much for praying for me. It meant so much. And I was like, where where did you hear about this? Like, oh, she posted it on her Facebook page. Oh I didn't see that because I have left the world of Facebook. So I re entered the world of Facebook specifically because I realized people are there and they're showing up in offering things they need in their life. And if I am just choosing to plug my ears and ignore that, what kind of incarnational presence is that? So for me, if the people are there, I had better show up and be there as well. I mean I also learned that from The Little Mermaid. I want to be where the people are. It's the same concept. You've got to show up where the people are. That's what the job I think of being human, but especially of being a pastor, compels us to do so. Kind Of coming to the end of this, I, UM, if a person that's say, is a minister or someone leader in a congregation is interested in kind of getting some tips and moving ahead on digital ministry, Um, where should they go? What? How? How could they contact you? Oh? I'm I'm fairly easy to get a hold of. You can probably just type in Jim Keats into Google and you'll find me either that or you'll get my dad, but you'll probably pretty quickly figure out the difference between us. He might like to hear from you too, He's but yeah, you mentioned my YouTube channel. I think that's YouTube dot com slash Digital Minister is where you can go to find that. UM. I do work with Convergence uh so. Convergence us dot org is the website for that organization, and specifically Convergence Collab dot org is where we have all sorts of online resources, including a handful of things about digital ministry. And then my my other favorite people to plug it's a group called dig Evangelism. It's these two women, Michelle and Sammy, who are phenomenal. They are doing so many incredible resources. So I just point people to them most of the time because they are sprinting in this area of actually helping faith leaders do this stuff. I sometimes get limited because I want to help faith leaders and then I also have to do it myself in my church, so like I gotta doable. But but Sammy and Michelle are just like all in on making resources to help faith leaders. So dig evangelism dot org, I think is their website, and they're on all the socials and they're phenomenal on TikTok, so that they are my favorite place to send people in to learn from myself. Um. That's that's my current suff And there's good books, you know, like this is a book called Meta Church by Dave Adamson, which by years more evangelical, but it's great resources. Jason Moore recently wrote a book called Both and about hybrid church life stuff, which is phenomenal. Um, So there's some good resources popping up. Heidi Campbell, as a professor at the University of Texas. I think I don't know where she teaches, but she's literally, I think the smartest human being on the planet when it comes to thinking about religion and digital media. So read everything. I have heard newest book coming in the mail, I think tomorrow, so read everything from her. But it's it's good stuff. Yeah. I actually did just see your video on did You Evangelism? So they they were fascinating to kind of here their their story. So I definitely will try to find out to learn a little bit more about them and then listen to this podcast because you you bring in some great guests. You know, we are talking about all sorts of range of what it means to be a faith leader in the world we live in today. So we need we need more...

...digital ministry things like this, So I'm grateful that this exists. Yeah, I agree, and I think, you know, podcasting is one of the things that I like to do. It's that's probably speaking to my journalism background, um, is that I love doing all this type of media and it's I think it it has its has voice and and a medium that's kind of important. So I agree, absolutely absolutely, I love it. Well, thank you so much. Jim. This was really a great time and I hope that this will be helpful for congregations as they are UM kind of discovering and venturing out into the world of digital ministry. I hope so too. Thank you all right, Well, thanks a lot. I'm glad you have the chance to listen to this conversation I had with Jim. I'm hoping to have him back on sometime in the very near future we can talk a little bit more about digital ministry. I think that this is an important UM new kind of venture for especially mainline Protestants UM and how we can share the good news in a different way. And so UM, just stay tuned. UM. Just a reminder of a few things, UM if you and it would be nice if you could leave a donation, and you can do that by going to um are website at church and main dot org. UM. Your donations helped to cover some of the costs. It has to make sure that great content like this continues to be available to you. UM. And then also just a reminder for people who don't know, I've been doing a electionary podcasts and it's a very simple thing. I call it lectionary Q. The que stands for questions, and all that I do basically is look at a text and ask some questions. And there are kind of questions. I think that to help people be prompted to kind of think a little bit more about what the text might be saying. UM. So it's not a not me pontificating for twenty minutes UM. Some of the the the insights that for the Texas just me asking questions. And I've also added, at least on a test basis, a narrative lectionary version of this UM. I'm kind of doing it partially because there are just not a whole lot of resources out there for the narrative election and a lot of a lot of people do use it. UM. So UM. If you are interested in UM, taking UH, in hearing the podcast, downloading it, listening to it UM, you can find it at lectionary q dot sub stack dot com and there you'll find UM those episodes and UM I hope that you will also consider to subscribe. So that is it for this episode, episode one fourteen of Church and Maine. I am Dennis Sanders, your host. Take care of everyone, god speed, and I will see you very soon.

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