Program helps Alabama Baptist churches get technology boost

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Tom Sibley, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, Florence, said his church knew it needed to use the internet for ministry.

“The playing field is equal on the internet, whether you’re a small church or a big church and we knew we needed to be using that,” said Sibley, whose church runs between 50 and 80 in attendance on Sundays.

So they started broadcasting on Facebook, but “we didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” he said.

Then he found out about the Technology in Ministry (TIM) program — a joint partnership between the Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) at Samford University and The Alabama Baptist (TAB) that offers consulting and a $2,500 grant to churches that could use a technology boost.

Sibley said he applied immediately and began walking through the TIM program process. “We bought the equipment that they recommended and it worked out great,” he said.

They even had some funds left over to put toward replacing their analog soundboard with a digital one.

“For our shut ins or someone who misses church, they’re able to watch us live and this gives them a much better experience. Plus we have reached several folks who don’t go to church,” Sibley said. “The TIM program is a ministry that everyone ought to take advantage of. The most help to us was getting Facebook right.”

Michael Wilson, CCR director, said that kind of ministry boost is exactly what grants like Liberty’s are for.

The grants, offered through CCR by the Lilly Endowment, go to help congregations enhance their church’s technology in whatever way they might need.

That might mean buying equipment like Sibley’s church did. Or it might mean buying software or hiring an intern.

“The idea is that those grants would help to provide resources — a broad range of things from strategic consulting to networking to the purchase of equipment,” Wilson said.

Three group meetings

To be a part of the TIM program, pastors attend three group meetings. The first is an initial workshop in which they learn about the resources available. This one is usually conducted through their local Baptist association. Then they have two more meetings with a small group of peers in their area to swap ideas.

Along the way they also talk with a CCR consultant who can help them identify ways they can enhance their church’s ministry through technology. And staff from TAB can help them address any needs they may have for social media ministry or a website.

Then they receive the grant to use in the way they’ve deemed best to meet their technology needs.

More than $100,000 was distributed to 38 churches and seven associations between November 2017 and October 2018.

It’s a great working partnership, Wilson said. The Lilly Endowment provides funds for the grants. Samford provides the administrative costs for CCR to manage and award those grants. And TAB helps get churches connected with the people who can help them with what they need.

“Any church can be a member of a TIM group and be eligible for the grant, but we are particularly interested in helping smaller congregations — churches with limited financial capacity for ministry opportunities,” Wilson said. And while Alabama Baptist churches have been the primary recipients during this first year of TIM, the funding and training is available to churches of all denominations.

If for some reason a church doesn’t need or want to go through the TIM program and apply for the grant, it can still have access to TAB’s Digital Services — the component that helps them assess their online presence and build a Facebook page if needed. TAB’s Digital Services staff also can assist in building a basic website for a small fee or provide suggestions for developing a website through other options.

“We can help them enhance what they’re doing already or get set up on social media and make the decision about whether they want to have a website,” said Jennifer Davis Rash, TAB’s editor-elect. “If they decide they do want a website, we help them find a way.”

All the grants have been awarded for 2018, but at the beginning of 2019, a new set will be available.

For more information or to find out how to apply, contact Haley Piersol at The Alabama Baptist at 205-870-4720, ext. 118, or