Searching for the digital savior

SALT LAKE CITY — God represents the biggest topic at the 78th General Convention, but Google is raising lots of questions as well.
Such as: “If Jesus Googled himself, what would he find?”google-485611_1280.jpg
The Rev. Jake Dell posed that query on Wednesday morning. He is the Episcopal Church’s manager of digital marketing. And he spoke as the key witness before the General Convention’s Committee on Evangelism and Communications, on which I serve and which the Rev. Dennis Blauser, also of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, co-chairs.
Dell was explaining details of the committee’s main resolution — a $3 million project that would test a digital communications initiative for the church over the next three years. One component would improve the Episcopal Church’s search-engine optimization ranking, or SEO, so that Google users who search for religious topics would be directed toward Episcopal resources. The Rev. Adam Trambley, rector of St. John’s Sharon, is part of a group, Episcopal Resurrection, that drafted the resolution.
A favorable SEO for the Episcopal Church is all but absent now, which led Dell to ask the question about Jesus and Google. At the moment, Dell said, if Jesus Googled himself, he would find almost nothing related to how the Episcopal Church relates to him.
One of the religious denominations that best uses social media and that has boosted its SEO, Dell said, is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is, of course, synonymous with Utah and Salt Lake City.
In 2008, Dell said, a Google search for “Mormons” would yield “overwhelmingly negative articles,” such as those about “Mormon underwear.” The Mormons launched a digital initiative, Dell said, and by 2010 “the LDS had turned things around completely” on the Internet. A Google search for “Mormons” now directs users to positive articles about the faith in particular and its theology in general.
The Mormons have improved their image and broadened their reach.
Episcopalians have the potential to achieve the same results.
The Evangelism and Communications Committee will refine the $3 million proposal this week — it also includes strategies for social media — and General Convention will vote on the resolution. Passage would help bring the Episcopal Church further into the 21st century and aid evangelism over the Internet.
Passage of the resolution would also recognize a reality: That God is most powerful, but that Google is powerful, too.
 Ed Palattella, a deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, is a reporter and editor for the Erie Times-News.

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