How Tech Education Can Help Your Congregation
The other day, I got an e-mail from some friends who are fellow Christians. The e-mail was one of those chain letters asking me to sign a petition to encourage Bush to reinstate the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. I responded with informative links to TruthorFiction.com and another site. I explained that I really hated to see those who share my faith get taken in by such e-mail scams, and suggested that, perhaps, the church could start an educational program to help members understand the dangers of e-mail scams. I have been very vocal about the need for religious organizations to take advantage of computer technology in general as a ministry tool. Educating congregations about computers and the Internet is one very important aspect of "tech minisry". Today, I would like to give churches, synagogues, mosques, and wats a little something to chew on where technology and ministry are concerned.
Religious people seem to be especially susceptible to e-mail chain letters and other scams that exploit religious sentiments. The "uplifting" prayers, images, and "true" stories get passed around to everyone in our address books in the click of a button. But did you know that many of these e-mails are scams, spam, and possibly even contain viruses? Religious ministries can do something to help reduce the amount of spam that gets sent around, and even help reduce the number of computer virus incidents among their congregations. Since church members often e-mail each other with this spam, it's all the more reason to protect your flock. So, what can a church do to help? I am so glad you asked!
While I cannot speak for the communication methods of other religious groups, most churches use printed bulletins and newsletters to communicate to the congregation. Why not include a few of the pertinent security vulnerabilities in the announcements section of the Worship bulletin or in the newsletter? For organizations with an e-mail distribution list, this is an ideal opportunity to help your congregation. E-mail is better because you can include the links to CERT and other security watch sites. Additionally, you can create a faith and technology newsletter that includes security highlights and educational articles about e-mail scams and how to avoid them. Perhaps, after a time, your congregation will become more aware of computer security issues, and many members may sign up for secuirty bulletins themselves.
Of course, it takes the ministry's leaders to encourage the congregation to become more tech-savvy. Thus, initially, your ministry's leadership will need to draw the congregation's attention to the new information about e-mail and computer security issues. Even after the first month or two, technology and security concerns need to be brought to the attention of the congregation on a regular basis to highlight the importance of the subject. Reminders that "complacency kills" are relevant to more than one's spiritual security. Church leaders should consider asking their members about their computer security measures, and responding to those chain letters received from fellow members with an informative reply that will help the member understand the dangers of Internet e-mail.
Another way ministries can help their congregations is to start a computer interest (or user) group within the ministry. A computer interest group would be no different than the numerous ministries most churches organize to reach singles, divorced parents, and senior adults. Such groups can minister to the congregation by helping members solve technology problems. These groups can also help members of the congregation learn how to use technology to reach out to others - without resorting to spam and other harrassing approaches. I recently wrote about the Web Empowered Church, which is precisely the kind of tool ministries can use to minister in and beyond the congregation. A technology ministry group like this offers members the ability to learn from other computer users in the group, and then find ways to pass that knowledge along to the rest of the congregation.
Of course, libre software can be used in tech ministries in a huge way. Ministries can encourage members of the congregation who might be using an illegal copy of MS Office to exchange it for OpenOffice.org, thus cutting down on copyright infringement among people of faith. They can likewise serve as an initial support group, while pointing users of the new libre applications to the appropriate resources for more advanced technical guidance. The OpenCD and other projects include libre applications for Windows. Live GNU/Linux CDs could be passed out as alternatives to illegitimate copies of Windows. Infringing copyrights is surely a moral issue among people of all (or at least most) faiths. Meanwhile, people can share their faith with the recipients, or at least establish a basis for doing so later.
These are just examples, of course. I am certain that you can expand on these ideas. Yet, many ministries overlook the importance of ministering through technology to help their congregations. Doing so would certainly keep ministries relevant in the age of technology. It would help reduce the amount and/or severity of spam and computer attacks. It would help reduce the amount of copyright infringement that goes on. So tech ministries can help our larger society in a tremendous way by taking a few small steps. If your ministry - regardless of faith - already offers a "tech ministry", I'd love to hear more about it. If you plan to approach your ministry leaders about such a ministry, let me know how it goes.
Don Parris is an LXer editor, an ordained Baptist minister, and an active member of The Freely Project. When he is not driving his wife and daughter crazy with tales of the high-tech, or getting walked by his dog, he spends his 'spare' time looking for churches to tell about GNU/Linux.
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