Monday, May 14, 2007

The Care and Feeding of Parish Luddites

How far are we supposed to extend ourselves to accomdate folks who choose not to adopt new technologies?

We have a handful of folks in our congregation who "don't do e-mail". I'm not talking about folks who can't do e-mail due to age, infirmity, or financial straights, I'm talking about active, intelligent folks with sufficient financial resources who simply don't like having "an electronic tether" as one of them puts it. The problem comes up when one of these folks is part of a group at church, (Session, Deacons, Bible Study, Committee, etc.), in which everyone but that person prefers to communicate by e-mail.

Case in point: One of our Luddites is on Committee Z. She has informed the committee chair and the committee as a whole that whenever an electronic communication is sent pertaining to the work of this committee, someone needs to call her with the info, or send a hard copy of the message if it isn't particularly time -sensitive. The chair remembers to do this about half the time. The other committee members rarely remember to do this at all. Therefore, she is often left out of the loop with regards to changes in meeting dates, background material for committee business, or quick polls regarding minor decisions that need to get made between meetings.

After church yesterday, she told me she is going to quit the committee since the rest of the group "obviously" doesn't value her input since they consistently forget to include her.

Am I way off base to think this is her problem and not ours? If you choose to opt out of a form of communication that the vast majority of folks have adopted, don't you need to take the responsibility for the natural consequences of that choice?

What do you think?


Songbird said...

I understand your frustration, certainly.
I have a friend who says his church does literally everything via e-mail. Does this mean that no one who is older or poorer can join and participate? Or that only the technologically adept can?
When my age group of back edge of baby boomers gets to be 65, we'll all be carrying our laptops around, but until then, I guess we have to find a way to accommodate those who are not able to join us, whatever their reasons.
Could the chair of the group add the church office to the e-mail group, with instructions to send a paper copy to the Luddite committee member each time? That wouldn't have worked in my previous setting, where we had no office other than me, but maybe in cases where we have staff, this is a good task to delegate to the office.

PPB said...

I don't think she should quit. I think she should be chair. And then see how much fun it is to communicate by paper and phone.

Sorry. If she were elderly or poor,I'd be down with it. Heck I'd be inviting her into the church office to use gmail. But opting out of something that is available to you? Irritating. I have students who tell me to "text" them everything as they're so totally "over" email. Um, sorry.

thechurchgeek said...

hmmmm....I kind of agree, let her go.

If she can't be bothered by e-mail then I say she's being obstinate, not a team player, and she shouldn't be bothered by any church business at all.

As a solo pastor with a part time secretary, I'm pretty insistent on the fact that I can't waste my time by having to call everyone every time we change a meeting schedule, or work on a document together, or I need to get input on something in between meeting times. It's just not practical.

If an elder doesn't have e-mail they really need to get with the program and with the rest of the world.

Mark Smith said...

I've been asked to co-chair a new task force at my church. We've written into the charter of the task force that while the group will meet approximately monthly, much of the team's interaction will be via e-mail or some other electronic method. We're requiring Internet access for the team.

We have a member of the Environmental Stewardship committee (aka Green Team) who does not have e-mail. We have to PRINT everything and MAIL it to her. That is much harder on the environment than even having someone print the materials locally.

Songbird - the technology adoption rate for the Depression generation (the one before the Boomers) is significantly higher than for Boomers. It dips for Boomers, and then climbs again for GenX and even higher for the younger folks.

I say that the Luddite should leave the committee. It's not like she has to leave the church or experience it online. There should be an expectation that we'll make church committee work as smooth as possible (ok, stop laughing and get up off the floor).

Teri said...

You know, I have discovered something interesting this spring as I have conducted a lot of communication with my confirmation class and their parents via email. There's just ONE member of the class without email or parental email. out of 20. But of the 20 youth, I would guess that only 10 of them check it with any regularity, EVEN THOUGH part of the class requirements involve getting a weekly email from me with things to think about and updates to the homework assignment. It's bizarre.

For those who choose not to have email (or who have it and choose not to check it) I have very little sympathy. For those who cannot afford it, that's different. Though here the libraries (numerous and conveniently located for almost everyone including the less-well-off AND with ridiculously long hours) have free internet, and gmail and yahoo are free. Just saying.

Serena said...

I say, tell her you're sorry she feels she needs to quit, but understand that this is probably not the best place for her to serve, since email is the method of communication this committee uses.

Then, be sure all leadership teams have job descriptions that include details of how communications will be handled (meetings called, minutes distributed, etc.) When people say "yes" to serving on that team, they are saying yes to helping the team function smoothly.

PPB said...

I guess the other option would be to put it on the committee--ask them if one of them wants to "adopt" her and constantly call her to hold her hand. I'm sort of nasty today, arean't I? I think I need naptime.

Quotidian Grace said...

Since this is a case where the Luddite is a Luddite by personal preference rather than for reasons of economy or disability, I say it's her problem and she either should get with the program or find something else to do at church.

I've chaired several committees where one member didn't have email due because of age and income. I never minded printing my emails and mailing them to her or calling her.

But I had no time for the ones on the committee who gave me an email address and rarely checked it.

Anonymous said...

They say that church is a family. If that's *really* the case, then you and the committee have to accomadate her. (Just like families have to accomadate stupid little sisters, or crazy Uncle Jim).

Commenters here seem to think that it would be "different" if non-email-lady was too old or too poor to afford intenet access. I do not understand how that would be different; it would still present the same challenges for the committee.

The committee should make up a dummy email address - one that is guantenteed to bounce - as the email for this person. When the bounced email comes back, whoever sent the email will remember to print it out and or call.

If I were non-email-lady, I'd quit too. I'd be a little upset and hurt about being excluded (and the adolensent assumption that I *ought* to have email because everyone else is doing it).

Annie said...

In the olden days we were upset with people who didn't read the materials that had been mailed to them before the meeting. Then there were those irritating committee members who didn't listen to their voice mail. Now it's the stick-in-the-muds who don't/won't have email. Next stop: a website where everything will be posted and the committee members should check on a regular basis to save the trouble of both typing and then mailing everything - then we'll have the sloths who don't even bother to check more than once a week. A little Christian charity, please! (And heaven forbid we should be asked to text message!)

ellbee said...

One of the gals on my committee is a non-e person. The best part is that she's Pastor Jefe's wife! He's forever on email and IM, but she just won't touch it. It'd be nice if he could/would remember to relay info, but that doesn't happen.

We just make sure at each meeting that someone adopts her for a catch-up call. Same for e-conversations. Luckily, she's good-natured enough to understand when we forget.

I think that if the committee really does make the effort to meet her half-way, then she needs to be willing to extend some grace as well. The key is meeting in the middle (spoken like the Libra that I am).

I like Songbird's idea for having someone in the office doing a print/mail. Of course, at 41 cents per...

Presbyterian Gal said...

I was on committees at church before I was able to check e-mail regularly. Though I called myself more of a troglodyte than a Luddite.

Anyway, I was a bit grumpy about what felt like a lack of consideration. But after thinking about it, I realized that it was a majority thing. It's a two way thing here. I want to serve. These are the tools at hand. The church needs more help. Like the old song, 'you gotta give a little, get a little......'

Now pardon me while I light the gas lamps and take my last trek to the outhouse before turning in.

Shawn said...

I'm not as geeky as the next person - I'm twenty times more techno-geeky. That being said, I say cut her some slack.

Email is good for distributing the occasional document, but relying too much on email is problematic.

Email conversations do not provide equal voice to every person. The people who check their email most often are the ones who get their voices heard the most.

If a decision is sent out to people by email to make or consider, the people who read it first and respond set the tone of the conversation. Often multiple exchanges can happen in just a couple hours between us frequent email checkers. A decision can informally be made by the tone and direction of the email conversation.

Then if someone checks their email later than everyone else they feel uncomfortable adding their voice because so much conversation has already happened without them.

I see two other issues at play here:

1) We are a church not a business. Efficiency isn't our highest goal. We want people on committees not just because of what they will do for us but also because we want them to be part of the church in a meaningful and active way. The message this sends is that if you are not useful enough we don't want you.

2) Many folks have said we can work with someone who doesn't do email because of an inability but not with someone who chooses not to use it. If you make this distinction, the people who can't use email for whatever reason will still get the vibe that their participation isn't as valued.

Jesus left the 99 to go after the 1. Efficient, no. Caring, yes.

Christine said...

It is the committee chairperson's responsibility to communicate information to all members, no matter what the medium. The chairperson you describe is being derelict in his or her duties; the problem is most definitely not the committee member's.

Shawn said...

"Sorry. If she were elderly or poor,I'd be down with it. Heck I'd be inviting her into the church office to use gmail. But opting out of something that is available to you? Irritating. I have students who tell me to "text" them everything as they're so totally "over" email. Um, sorry."

She's wrong for not moving to email, but you are right for not moving to texting? Welcome to both sides of the generation gap.

Rev Kim said...

I'm sure this has already crossed your mind, but dipping a timid toe into systems theory, the part of the story that I'm wondering about is her "obviously the group doesn't value me" statement. What's underneath this? Is there a way to redirect this so that she realizes this is about her and not the committee? Is this a "distance and pursue" manuever? Is she quitting the committee to see if you or the other committee members will come after her, and thereby determining (or not, in her eyes) her value?

Whatever the case, I'm not sure there is a right way or a wrong way to address this, or any way to make everyone happy. Having one such person in my congregation, I guess my approach would be to affirm her gifts, help her to see that it's not a personal slight when the committee forgets to inform her about a meeting change, etc., say that I'm sorry that she feels she can no longer continue in this committee, but where else does she feel called to use her gifts? I might also talk to the committee members and see if there is anyone who would be willing to perform the "ministry" of calling her when there is a change.

One of my theology profs used to quote a Calvin line (which I have yet to find) which supposedly goes something like, "where no offense is meant none should be taken."

I've taken these approaches with my person. I'm not sure it does much, because ultimately people choose the way they are going to feel about such things. But I think it helps to establish the boundary of when it's about the person, and when it's about the congregation.

Probably not much help.

Stushie said...

Been there, done that, still printing the copies...

It's all about peace and unity, folks - we're supposed to include everyone, even when it is a real pain. Her lifestyle choice isn't going against any theology, is it?

Print the stuff out - after all , the Reformation was about getting church information into the hands of the people, not a select few.

reverendmother said...

Put the onus on the committee member--have *her* establish a standing date/time to call the committee chair and be brought up to speed on what she's missed. It is her responsibility, just as it is the other committee members' responsibility to check their e-mail regularly.

I think the concerns that "this is a church; we need to be accommodating" are a little overstated. This is a *committee* of the church, with certain norms and best practices that it has established for itself, and for good reasons. She is asking the committee to work outside its own norms, and when they do this the best they can, which is to say, imperfectly (informing her half the time), she gets frustrated and wants to quit, rather than taking some responsibility herself to find out the latest and greatest.

I agree with the systems question and wonder what this is *really* about for her, but also know plenty of people who are only happy when everyone is bending over backwards for them. Yes, we are called to be charitable and hospitable to folks; that does not mean that we dismantle an entire system of communication to accommodate a willful un-participant. Such is the push and pull of community.

Serena said...

right on, reverend mother!

Quotidian Grace said...

Thank you, RM. Beautifully stated as usual!