Digital content is becoming more important to hybrid ministry, especially with waning attendance and participation in livestream worship and events. As the world continues to emerge from the pandemic, digital ministry will become increasingly asynchronous, where digital content anchors conversations and communities. We will see fewer attending events, and more reading stories, watching videos, and discussing ideas.
As we observe this shift, the content we share becomes a new form of Christian witness for a digital age, a way to engage and welcome the neighbor.
At first glance, the demands of digital content may seem to be too much for church leaders already struggling to keep up with worship services, staff meetings, council meetings, weddings, funerals, and youth groups. It is certainly true that church leaders do not have time to create enough content to do digital ministry well. There simply aren't enough hours in the week.
So today's church leader must figure out how to balance content creation with curation, or the act of re-packaging and re-distributing content.
We take up the work of curation not just because it saves us time, but because the church already builds considerable original content each week: sermons, children's messages, prayers, bulletins, announcements, and more. Plus, the broader web is filled with thoughtful (and sometimes not-so-thoughtful) faith-based content. The task of the digital minister in 2023 and beyond will be that of a theologically-trained librarian, selecting and surfacing resources for discussion in their community.
Step one: Create or curate?
High-quality curation begins with the decision that it's more useful to repackage something existing than to create something anew.
Generally, creating new content is more useful in unique circumstances, or when you're seeking to circulate novel perspectives from within the ministry. In most other circumstances, curation will be just as impactful.
You should create new content when:
You should curate existing content when:
You want to lift up the stories and perspectives in your own community
You want to share expert perspectives from highly-regarded thinkers
Your community is facing a unique challenge or opportunity (ie, a special event, or a transition in staff leadership)
Community is facing a challenge or opportunity shared by many others (ie, a global pandemic)
You want to broadly share an idea that is original or brand new to your community (ie, a work of art or a new piece of music written by a parishioner)
You want to broadly share an idea already circulating within your community: from a sermon, from a discussion group, etc.
Applying this logic, curation ought to be more common than creation in most Christian communities.
Churches tend to use similar source material (doctrines and scripture). Most churches face similar challenges (such as pandemics and declining attendance). And all churches have ideas that are shared via preaching and formation.
Once you have decided to curate an idea, the next step is to determine whether to curate internally or externally.
Step two: Internal vs external curation
To curate something internally is to repackage what your community has already created, reigniting its usefulness by posting to social media, including in a newsletter, or publishing in a blog or podcast.
Internal curation sources
Publish in a podcast feed
Instagram Reel video
Prayers of the people
Social media post
To curate external content is to share a resource created outside of your community. External curation is the act of embedding quality resources within your ministry's digital platforms, like a newsletter or blog.
External curation sources
Short video (ie, from The Bible Project) explaining context behind weekly scripture passage
Embed the video in weekly newsletter
Podcast episode exploring a question of what it means to be the life of faith (ie, an episode of Another Name for Everything with Richard Rohr)
Post to social media channels and encourage comments on a discussion question
Idea shared via Tweet or other social post
Re-tweet or re-post, with a 1-2 sentence description of how it applies (or doesn't apply) in your community
External curation requires some filtering on the part of the digital minister. Before re-sharing an external idea, think about the author's original objective. Was it to inspire a conversation? Attract eyeballs to their profile? Boost attendance for their worship services? You'll also want to make sure that the author is a real (and reputable) thinker. Relevant Magazine made headlines in 2021 when they reported that four out of the five most shared Christian Facebook pages were run not by ministers but by foreign troll farms. As librarians evaluate the reliability, validity, and accuracy of a resource, the digital minister evaluates its integrity.
Then, consider the author's theological commitments, both those that are explicit in the content and those that are implied from the author's institutional affiliation. The thoughtful curator sources information from a broad spectrum of denominational commitments, but is able to filter, contextualize, and editorialize to align with the needs of a specific ministry context.
Step three: Crowdsourcing as curation
Finally, we lose something if the process of creating and curating content becomes a staff or pastor-driven task. Digital content curators should act as crowd-sourcers, collecting stories and soundbites to share across the community. Digital ministry can only be the work of the people if we draw in more perspectives than rostered leaders, paid staff, and professional Christian content creators.
This is why blogs and podcasts are so important to digital ministry.
These digital sources are perfect for adding written or recorded reflections from parishioners and community members alike. Whether in response to a specific discussion question, or as a reflection to a text or liturgical season, crowdsourced soundbites give your parishioners a voice.
More importantly, they provide the means with which to articulate God's action in their lived experiences. Digital ministry is at its apex not when it leads to content consumption, but co-creation. We do digital ministry effectively not when we invite someone to watch something, but when the content we create together helps someone to reflect at how God is at work in their world.
Content curation resources:
Ryan Panzer is the author of "The Holy and the Hybrid: Navigating the Church's Digital Reformation," now available wherever books are sold.