When I started writing this blog, at first I couldn't understand why there wasn't already a Christian publication that had real news about churches in my area. I thought it would be great to have one place where all the local believers could get the news about what was happening in the local bodies. Then I started writing this and I understood why. The truth about other people is interesting, but no one wants to read about themselves written by someone else that they can't control.
Critical, objective coverage is for someone else. Many churches have Websites that are pretty much promotional pieces. The front page usually has a welcome message and then there are links to the programs and vision statement of the church. They will also post a doctrinal statement was well letting people know what kind of Christian church they are, and the stream of belief that they are out of. There is contact information and sometimes an email address, but no feedback area or interaction from the congregation itself unless it is a positive testimonial like "This church changed my life."
Churches depend on the congregants for support, there is no general church fund to draw from, and competition is fierce. Recently, I saw a man that I hadn't seen at church for a while. "Where have you been?" I asked. "We are going to First Baptist now because they have such a great children's program." Although I was disappointed by his move, I was not surprised, because I too am aware that they have a big church with lots of programs. Now our church is building a new addition on to the Sunday school.
When a group of people does not have a free press system, then the people rely on word-of-mouth. I experienced this when I lived in China. Even if the Chinese loose Google, their network of gossip there is still impressive. One day, I was walking past an empty apartment near the college I was teaching at and wondered out loud who might come to inhabit it. My student who was walking with me piped up, "I heard from my friend who goes to school in Beijing that there is a German couple moving out here, perhaps it will be them." Sure enough, in a week or so a German couple moved in.
This gossip network was fast to be sure, but it was not always accurate. My students knew that I traveled to a nearby city frequently and they had heard that I even had a boyfriend there. This information was only half-true. I did travel to that city, but my supposed boyfriend was just the coworker of my friend whom I visited. My friend was also a white, female teacher and because the students saw so few foreigners, they often got us confused. I even had some of her students try to give me homework when I walked across their campus.
What is my point in all of this? That if the churches do not encourage a real exchange of information, that information will still be passed around and the news is likely to be lots of conjecture mixed in with third- and fourth-hand accounts. With the proliferation of blogs, and networking sites, I am curious to see how this will change. Rick Warren has been in the media a lot recently because his letters to his congregants at Saddleback are posted online. Now instead of hearing about it indirectly from people, we can see it all played out online.