For the past year, I’ve traveled among Friends to talk about using the internet to help our meetings communicate with newcomers, with seekers, and with other members and attenders. At this past year’s Yearly Meeting Sessions I served as a “technology elder” helping folks get connected and answering questions about outreach and basic technology. What a gift to spend time hearing the stories of our meetings and Friends’ faithful gathering in so many ways! As I go forward into the new year and look forward to more travel among Friends, I’m reflecting on the things I have found most helpful to share. Here are some of them.
- Technology can be simple. Technology is a tool just like any other, and you need the right tool for the right job. If you need a clear website with instructions—how to find your meetinghouse, what time to show up and where to write/call for more information—that is a very good start. Pictures of a few folks at meeting, a simple explanation for newcomers about what worship is, and you are doing outreach! Don’t wait to start until you have a high skill level when folks need to find you.
- Technology can be a connector. Are there folks in your community who might want to check out Quakers? If they are digital natives (those who have grown up with digital tools and their use), they are looking online for you. Put yourself in their spaces.
- Technology can be a disconnector. Wait, did I just say the opposite? Why yes, I did! A question I hear in many meetings (if they are brave enough to ask) is “How will we communicate with our members who do not use social media, or email, or the internet?” The same way you do right now. Do you mail out a newsletter each month that folks love to read and hang on the fridge? Great! Keep sending it to those Friends. Add a digital copy online and as an email attachment. Now you are reaching multiple folks. Do you know which Friends in your meeting need printed materials? Or large print? Or in-person announcements and phone calls, and other ways of staying connected?
- Being adept at technology is just one of the many gifts we see among Friends in our meetings. Do you treasure the Friends who are gifted with children, or vocal ministry, or hospitality? What about the “techie”? In my own meeting, my gifts are nurtured by the meeting saying “yes” to our digital experiments and their trusting me to take the lead on them (with the guidance of a support committee). Who are these Friends in your meeting, or your quarterly meeting? Might you encourage them to find support and liberate their gifts for the good of your community?
- Technology can be overwhelming. When Friends ask me for help (often with using their phone to access the internet, setting up an email account or a Google group) they have often been embarrassed and reluctant to ask. They have gotten the idea that in this world where seemingly everyone wanders around clicking and tweeting and posting these tools are all easy to use. For some they are—but not for me! I’ve simply made more mistakes and have learned a few things. The same folks who are discouraged by knowing so little about “technology” are often master knitters or writers, or raise children and grow their own food and are successful in business. Those tasks (to me) seem much more challenging than managing a Twitter account! Encourage each other to take risks. Those with less experience with technology, but with much experience in succeeding (and failing) with other tools have much to teach me about perseverance.
- Technology can allow us to “let our lives speak” in multiple ways to varied audiences. Video, audio, email are all ways of sharing and enhancing the printed and spoken word. In our tradition, we believe that ministry can come from anyone, not just a select and chosen few. Can it also come through any media as well as any person? Are we missing messages meant for us that are delivered through technology channels that only some of us can access?
- Last year, I was grateful to be supported in this travel by a Yearly Meeting Legacy grant. This year, I continue this work supported by the Obadiah Brown Benevolent Fund. Might your meeting want to engage in these conversations? Let’s connect—digitally or in person, but always in that which is Eternal.
Kathleen Wooten shares resources for meetings and blogs about her travels at Quakerkathleen.org. Please contact her at [email protected] if you would like to invite her to your meeting and would like to learn more!