As part of the plan that created the new Río Texas Annual Conference, our annual conference committed to ensuring that all of our local churches have the required tools and infrastructure to stay connected to the conference and their mission field. The unification plan called for all churches to eventually have the internet connection and computer equipment to participate in webinars, take advantage of video conferencing and maintain a robust website.
Phase one of this project has been to gather data about the current reality. We sent out a survey via email and letter. Out of 380 churches, we have received 174 responses so far. We are determined to get data from 100% of churches. Our next phase will include calling the remaining churches.
Since we already have a lot of data, I thought I would share what we have learned so far. I must admit that this data is a little skewed. Because the majority of the responses so far have come in via an online form, it is likely that churches without computers and internet access are underrepresented. Also, very small churches usually have little to no staff, meaning that they may not have had a chance to respond by mail. So, knowing that the data is incomplete, let us take a look at what we are seeing.
Does Your Church Have a Website?
Out of 174 responses, 131 churches report having a website. That doesn’t sound too bad. However, if your read it another way, around 25% of the churches that responded do not have a website. If this trend were to hold through the completion of the survey, that would mean that a quarter of the churches in the Rio Texas Annual Conference are invisible to people who look for a church using the web.
Does Your Church Have a Computer?
20 of the responding churches reported not having a computer at the church. This question will require a little follow-up. To ensure a maximum number of responses, I limited the number of questions on the survey. It is possible that some of these churches have a pastor who has a computer used for church business. However, I do know from some initial conversations that there are some churches that have no access at all to a computer. That has some serious implications for these churches’ ability to take advantage of tools such as membership management, financial management, website maintenance, social media engagement, access to downloadable tools and reports, etc.
Does Your Church Have Internet Access?
22 of the churches reporting have no access to the internet. This tracks closely with the number of churches without computers. It is again unclear if pastors of these churches have internet at home. In very small churches with part-time pastors and no additional staff, it may be more practical for a pastor to have access at home than in the church office but this will require some follow-up.
PC or Mac?
Rio Texas, like many church organizations, is overwhelmingly PC based.
Internet Connection and Speed
In the chart, you can see the various ways that churches connect to the internet. What is more telling in the speed at which they connect. In theory, those churches connected at over 1.5 Mbps would have the ability to take part in webinars and video conferencing. However, that is only in theory. 1.5 Mbps is enough speed if their internet provider can consistently provide that promised speed. I am guessing that many of those report “Phone Company Broadband” are on copper digital subscriber lines. Especially in rural areas, that type of connection is notorious for consistently delivering lower than promised speeds. It is possible that many of these churches would not be able to participate in live video without a high degree of frustration.
We are going to continue to gather data. I am hoping to have information from 100% of churches by the end of the year. The next phase will include some follow-up conversations with churches who do not currently have adequate infrastructure. In the short term, we hope to partner with some organizations to make sure they have the computer, software, and training they need to thrive in the digital age. From there, we are going to investigate ways to address the bandwidth issues some of these churches face. Many of them are in rural areas with limited provider choices. Fortunately, technology continues to improve, and more companies are willing to serve areas with small subscriber bases. Working alongside communities and churches to bring more reliable broadband to rural areas would be a gift to the church as well as the community.
Are you part of a Rio Texas Church that hasn’t taken the survey? Why not share your information today? If you are not sure if someone has already answered for your church, feel free to take the survey anyway. We can merge the duplicates later.