05 December 2010
Social Networking and the Future Church
Seven Key Characteristics of Social Networks
Last month my national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), experienced a kind of convulsion, laying off 18% of its national staff due to decreased mission support from congregations and synods. This is a huge event in the life of our church and part of a larger trend in decreased mission support and budget cuts.
With smaller churchwide and synod structures, my guess is that we will become increasingly reliant on smaller, informal, grassroots networks for learning, sharing, communication and coordination. Much of this is already happening in the social media world. Here are seven important the characteristics of these social media networks - networks that the church can use and learn from.
The church is changing and no one quite knows what the future will look like.· There is little expectation that the answers will emerge from a church bureaucracy.· To quote Seth Godin in Tribes, “In an era of grassroots change, the top of the pyramid is too far away from the action is to make much of a difference.· It takes too long and it lacks impact.· The top isn’t the top anymore because the streets are where the action is.”· Innovation is happening on the ground and being shared through social networks.
Not Necessarily Geographical
Most of the ways the church is currently organized are geographical, which makes sense in many ways, but not others.· More important than geography, I believe, are shared context, style, and mission.· Churches from around the country with similar challenges and aspirations are connecting online and learning from each other.
Virtual and Personal
Many of these connections and conversations are only possible because of social media.· These connections invite ongoing engagement and may lead to meeting in person when possible.
One note here:· I would much rather follow a person than an institution.· I’d rather follow your communication director on Twitter than subscribe to your press releases.· I’d rather be friends with a pastor on Facebook than get the church’s weekly email (although I do both). ·In social media, personal connections, not institutional connections, are the driving force.
Some great conversations about the way Christianity and church are changing are happening right out in public on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.· They are open to everyone and welcome your participation.· You can eavesdrop and then engage.· For example, I recently discovered #outlawpreachers, a great rolling conversation on Twitter.·
People are freely sharing ideas and experiences in the form of pictures, video, blogs, sermons, emails, status updates, tweets, and making materials available online.· People are generous with giving advice and encouragement. ·St. Lydia's Dinner Church in Manhattan is a wonderful ministry, and they freely share their ideas, reflections, aabout what it means to be a community gathered around Christ's Table.
These networks are self-selecting.· There is no formal obligation.· Participation and commitment come from a sense of responsibility to the community and the ideas they share.
People belong to many different, overlapping networks, which transcend geography, interests, practice, and denomination.
In this environment, one relatively low-cost contribution the ELCA and its synods can make is to nurture these networks, connect individuals and networks to one another, provide some technological capacity (with hosting, designing or training), tell the stories of local ministries, and create places online for people to connect.