Using the Web to Nurture the Spirit
General Assembly 2007 Event 3055
Presenters: Chris Walton, editor of UU World, Tom Hallock, Vice-President for Beacon Press, Deborah Weiner, Director of Electronic Communication, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)
"On the day of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, I happened to be in email communication with Bob Hurst of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church in Oklahoma City. Many messages of support from around the country came in to Bob's church via my new email account at the UUA. This was even featured in a story on Dateline on NBC with Jane Pauley. This incident showed us for the first time how ministry and spirituality could be combined with technology."
Chris Walton, editor of the UU World, highlighted the many changes the web has brought: the way we get news, the way we do politics, the way family and friends communicate around the world (via YouTube, for example), the way we do business, and the way religion is experienced.
The Long Tail
Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired Magazine, is responsible for the concept of"The Long Tail." The Web has changed the way markets work. When you go to buy a video at Blockbuster, they only have the popular titles because they can't afford to carry every obscure video. But at online stores like NetFlix, Amazon, and iTunes, someone is buying everything in their inventory, even the obscure ones. For online retailers, as much as 20 percent of their income is derived from things that no local store could ever justify carrying. This is called"The Long Tail."
UUs are part of the"Long Tail" in religious popularity. We are the small minority that can use the media very effectively. We are operating more in the margins, and that is why the Web is a valuable tool to us.
Chris Walton pointed out that many viewers of the online version of UUWorld do not get the paper version. Many of the articles are relevant not just to already-committed UUs, but to many non-UUs as well. Some congregations are putting videos of their church life on YouTube; one has 13,000 hits. He added that the"Belief-o-Matic" quizzes have actually brought some people to UU-ism.
Deb Weiner added that you never know who might get that special spark from your messages, which is why your congregation needs to have a really good website. It's important to remember who you are trying to reach. Workshop participants saw a demonstration of the new UUA website, UUA.org, which gets 3,000 hits a day.
On UUworld.org, the web presence of UU World, every page is designed to help get people oriented quickly. The sections are:
- Spirit and inspiration (old reflection section)
- Life (people, family, how liberal religion is lived)
- News (the print magazine can't cover that as well; doing this online has allowed UUWorld.org to cover more news about congregations—you can click on a link and get an email update from Chris every Monday morning)
- Blogs by Doug Muder and Meg Barnhouse (only on the web, not in the print version)
Other examples of UU inspiration on the web include:
- "Best of UU": This is one UU's outreach program on the web; she updates it twice a week
- Wellspring: This is inspiration and guidance for a spiritual journey from First UU of Rochester, NY, one church's contributions
- UUA WorshipWeb: Worship resources
Several online congregations can be found on the web:
- Church of the Larger Fellowship: Increasingly its presence is online.
- Church of the Younger Fellowship: For young adults 18 to 35.
- First UU Church of Second Life: Exists in the virtual reality"Second Life" game (registration is required). There are two virtual services, inside the video game: on Thursday night and Saturday morning.
Ideas and discussion resources can also be found online:
- Beacon Press: Discussion Guides for UU communities are on the revamped website, as are a number of email lists, several for UUs, with notices of books and discussions by UU authors.
- Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography
- The Harvard Square Library: also features biographies of notable American Unitarians.
Activist resources online include:
Books of interest to UUs can be found at:
Audio resources online include:
- UUpLink: UU Radio online broadcast from Canton, Ohio
- Guide to UU congregational sermon podcasts
- Transylvanian Unitarian Radio
There are many UU-related blogs; UUpdates will help you find the greatest number of these.
UU communities online include:
- Facebook: Some promotional material about churches gets posted here.
- FUUSE: popular with young adults
Examples of Do-It-Yourself UU Evangelism include:
- FAQ's about Unitarian Universalism: This is not an official UU site but it has links to all sorts of resources promoting UUism.
- How to Save the Planet
In the question and answer period, someone asked,"Where can I go to get help for a first-time congregational website?" The following resources were suggested:
- Alban Institute has a great publication "Getting the Word Out" which is useful for helping shape congregational communication strategies to take advantage of the"long tail" effect.
- "Don't Make Me Think" a great web design and communication resource.
- The"Websters" list, one of many UUA-hosted email lists is very helpful for people thinking about web design for their congregations and those seeking advice from peers.
- Prairie Star District had a project to develop some simple templates; they are available for download with instructions.
- Anna Belle Leiserson in Nashville has a blog related to church websites.
Another participant asked,"Should we be concerned about putting sermons on the Web?" The presenters suggested that Seekers on the Web want to know what the religious experience at your church would be like. Ministers are urged to be in contact with other ministers about the dangers and values of putting sermons on the Web.
Reported by Allan Stern, edited by Jone Johnson Lewis