Posted on : Monday February 1, 2010

Dear Counselor:
I get lots of e-mail communication now from my church and even forwarded e-mails from my pastor. How do you handle the situation of e-mail communication? Sometimes I would like to hear a voice.
–Needing a Voice

Dear Needing a Voice:

You raise an important question that brings up the subject of what some are now calling the “Digital Divide.” In the digital divide, there are “digital natives” who are comfortable in doing all of their communication by e-mail, text-messages, social networks and the like. They have grown up with computers and cell phones and their primary form of communication is digital. “Digital immigrants” are on the other side of the digital divide. They grew up with telephones and written forms of communication and are trying to learn this new digital language, but it is like their second language, not their first. It sounds like you would be a digital immigrant who is learning digital communication as a second language. I am also in that category.

Younger pastors and newer church plants communicate almost entirely by digital means today. There are many advantages to the digital form of communication such as the following: it is cost effective; it is “green;” it is fast; it allows for “on-line” discussions and updates; it is a way of reaching new people in social networks.

There are also some potential liabilities of digital communication such as the following: it is a new and powerful way to send gossip; there is a great chance for miscommunication on “hot topics;” people often fail to pause before they hit the “send” button and either send something they wish they had not sent, or send something to the wrong person; there is the impersonal forwarding of meaningless material to everyone in one’s mailbox; there is a greater difficulty of communicating closely and intimately (spoken as a digital immigrant you must remember!).

It is important for churches to take time to discuss what they would consider proper etiquette with church digital communication (what some would call “netiquette”). Digital natives and digital immigrants need to discuss and agree upon church policy. And, since 92 percent of human communication is non-verbal through voice tone, body-language, eye-contact, etc., I would recommend that whether one is a digital native or immigrant to save a special place for personal contact and face-to-face communication.
–Tom Rodgerson

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