FCC focused on outreach in the digital age

Please see this article reported by wickedlocal.com:


In a fractured media environment rife with distractions, it can be difficult for any organization to get its message out, and religious institutions are no different. The First Congregational Church in Melrose recently moved to expand its reach by redesigning its website, fccmelrose.org, bolstering its presence on social media, and creating a whole new volunteer position.

“People have been doing elements of it,” said Deacon of Community Relations Tom Foth, who has been leading those efforts since shortly after moving to Melrose from Connecticut two years ago. In his old congregation, he said, “It was kind of spread across several people. There was someone working on the website, that was me, there was someone interacting with the press.”

When Foth assumed his newly created position in spring of this year, he did so with a clear mission in mind.

“It’s about making the community more aware of what we’re about, making this available to the community,” Foth said. “It’s not about putting more people in the pews. It’s not a marketing position. We hope more people come, but we hope they come because of the things we offer people.”

Foth said the experience he and his wife had upon joining the congregation made him want to spread the same spirit of community, inclusiveness, and empowerment to others.

“It’s about making the experience that my wife and I had, and many other people have had, available to more people,” he said. “The journey that we’ve had here has been exceptional, but not exceptional for this church.”

Rev. Dominic Taranowski said reaching out beyond regular churchgoers is essential.

“Churches run the risk of always being internally focused,” he said. “We run the programs for the people who are here. There’s a danger to that, because the church should be reaching out to the community.”

Taranowski views the church as a place where people can work through issues collectively, rather than being told how to see the world.

“My hope is that church is not just one more thing on your agenda, but it’s the place you come that gives context and meaning to the rest of the stuff,” he said. “We’re about, what do you think? Bring your questions, bring your doubts, bring your journey. Because no one has all the answers.”

In a world that often seems to be in turmoil, a place of calm is needed, Taranowski added.

“There’s so much negativity in the world today, and I think the church is the place that needs to be the antidote to that, the counterbalance,” he said. “There’s more good news than bad news, we can forget that. We need to realize that we’re part of the good news.”

Presenting that message to young people is an important part of the new position.

“One of the things millennials are on the hunt for is meaning,” said Taranowski. “Not just millennials, but everyone. Why am I here, why do things happen the way they happen? There’s no real place to unpack that.”

Foth said highlighting concrete ways the church helps those in need appeals to young people as well. Among other initiatives, the church supports several food pantries and soup kitchens, as well as taking part in the Refuge Immigration Ministry.

“This is a congregation that’s very concerned with justice in all forms,” he said. “They’re seeking out experience, collective experience. They’re more activist. All those things are here in this church.”

Besides increasing the church’s online outreach, Foth also hopes to become more visible in the community, for instance by holding Bible study classes in coffee shops and other public places in the near future.

Education for young people is a priority for the church. Officials try to teach what kids want to learn, reaching out with tools like Google Docs to gather suggestions for topics.

“We try to engage the teachers, we try to engage the students,” said Taranowski. “What do you want to learn in your faith journey? Rather than, here’s a catechism.”

The church will pursue its new initiative regardless of visible effects.

“It’s the faithful thing to do,” said Taranowski. “Whether the result is measurable or not is not as important.”

Not to use all the available means of reaching out to the community would be falling short of the full potential of the church, Foth added.

“It’s a stewardship thing,” he said. “These are the tools that are out there. There’s no question in my mind that if Jesus were around today, he’d be tweeting and Facebooking and all that.”