WHEN PEOPLE GO to our familiar web address — www.episcopalchurch.org — they will encounter a new look. More than that, they will experience a new system, called a "content management system," which should make it much easier to access resources.
Seekers and visitors have their own way into the site, as do church leaders and those who just want to know about the life and work of the church. There's also a convenient church finder. But that is not the whole story.
The Episcopal Church's web presence is part of a comprehensive communication strategy that recognizes the fundamental change that's occuring in our lives. It used to be that most communication was a "push" model — information or products were pushed out to consumers who received whatever was offered. Television and sermons work this way.
But the web has turned things upside down. Increasingly, people expect a "pull" model. That is to say, consumers decide what they want or need and then, using the power of the web, browse scores of sites, deciding almost instantaneously whether a product or service or price suits them. The web allows near-instant interaction among colleagues, friends — and even, I suppose, enemies. As anyone who works with the press knows, there are no secrets any more, just a diminishing lag time between an event or "private" conversation and its full publication on the screen of anyone who's interested.
All this is changing the way people think about anything they care about. For the church — for our church — there is, of course, the ever-present possibility for mischief, and we must live with that. But there also is great potential to adopt these new patterns of thinking and behavior for our common good.
When our website is even more fully matured — and it is a process — Episcopalians will be able to use its swift power to access all manner of resources and information and to discover I-hadno- idea-that-was-there material.
Importantly, we will be able to connect easily with Episcopalians across the nation and the world for ideas, insights, advice and experience. Collaboration rooms will let groups such as committees, commissions, agencies and Access to resources made easier System moves from 'push' to 'pull' communication model boards meet "virtually" when face-toface meetings are impractical. And yes, the web will allow matters of theological and ecclesiastical debate full airing as we seek to be faithful to the one God who, after all, began all this with the Word.
Will there still be a place for other forms of communication — newspapers, books and video, for example? Of course, and for a long time to come. But even now, those next generations we need to reach — and indeed everyone who uses the Internet regularly — are developing a new way of thinking about the way we act as consumers, the way we use resources and, above all, the way we communicate.
As this process evolves, the Episcopal Church must not be found to be running after people trying to get them to slow up or trying to catch up, but must be matching them stride for stride, making available the good news of the gospel at broadband speed.
Perhaps that's a lot to ask of a website, but that's what we've set out to do. I have the feeling people will let us know how we're doing.