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Last week, I spoke very briefly about the Church 2.0 resource group that I will be a part of at General Assembly. And, I promised that this week I would have more information for you on what to expect in that group. Since, I don’t like to disappoint, I thought I would hit the highlights of what my presentation is going to be about in a few short paragraphs. So, here goes.
Church 2.0 3.0 4.0 — The End of Church As We Know It
Throughout the church, there is a wide variety of experience, comfort level, acceptance of, and use of social media. Some of us dove head first into the unknown waters years ago, some are just now getting their feet wet, and some won’t go anywhere near the pool. While our levels of use and knowledge may differ greatly, what seems to be a unifying theme about social media and the church is the desire to understand, not only how to use these tools, but why these tools are important. In the Church 2.0 resource group, I want to explore more than just how your church might use Facebook or Twitter. Instead, I want to look at how these new technologies are changing the church in hopes that our understanding will help us to use the tools more effectively.
What is “2.0″
The “2.0″ label is something that is thrown around a lot lately. It has come to mean, for some, anything that is new. However, at its core, it means the second generation of something. In terms of the internet, Web 1.0 was the first generation of the internet while Web 2.0 is the second generation. Where as Web 1.0 was characterized by static, stand-alone websites that provided one way information, Web 2.0 is characterized by user-generated content, real-time discussion and sharing, and other social features. Social Media is at the heart of Web 2.0. When you think of blogs, social networks, podcasts, etc., you are thinking of Web 2.0. Web 2.0, quite simply put, describes the technological shift away from institutional control over the channels of communication toward the democratization of those channels.
Why “Church 4.0″?
So how does this social media stuff relate to church? On the surface, it is obvious that these new social tools such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., provide churches with new opportunities to reach people. However, under the surface, at the core of what is happening, the church is actually being changed by these technologies.
To understand what is going on and where we are, historically, in relation to this change, we need to look at the way that technology has changed the church in the past. If we adopt the 1.0 and 2.0 naming convention when we talk about church and technology, we would most certainly have to call the pre-Reformation church “Church 1.0.” Without getting too bogged down in church history, this period was a lot like the early internet. While people had been sharing information before the internet, Web 1.0 gave them an efficient structure through which to receive information. Didn’t the pre-Reformation church do a similar thing? The church didn’t invent Christianity. What Church 1.0 did was provide an efficient structure for people to receive their religion. This all changed with a little technological innovation called the printing press.
The printing press ushered in what normally we would refer to as the Reformation but, for the sake of this discussion, should call “Church 2.0.” This second generation of church gave people a more direct way of participating in their own faith. Through this technological advance, anyone who could learn to read could own and read the Bible for themselves. While, certainly, the Bible had already been in church, the increased access to the Bible that the printing press offered fundamentally changed how people interacted with and what they expected from church. To put it in perspective, the invention of the printing press was to the church as the advent of blogs was to the internet.
The printing press wasn’t the only technological invention that fundamentally changed the church as we know it. While the shift from Church 1.0 to Church 2.0 changed the way people engaged their faith, the invention that brought about Church 3.0 gave the people a tool that, for better or worse, gave them the power to “selectively congregate.” That invention was the automobile. As car culture rose to dominance in America and everyone moved to the suburbs, suddenly, church goers were no longer tied down geographically to a church. If the neighborhood church wasn’t suitable to them, they could then load up the family and drive 15 or 20 miles to a church that was more to their liking. It’s not hard to understand how this changed church. Suddenly, churches found themselves competing for members with other churches that weren’t even in their town much less their neighborhood. This new car culture church also meant the introduction of concepts like “church shopping” to the faith life. While many have decried the negative effects these changes have had, it is hard to argue that car culture put more power into the hands of the people when it came to church. I guess we could say that the rise of car culture was to church as the rise of social networks was to the internet. Both technologies allowed people to be more selective about with who and where they congregated.
So, Church 3.0…that’s where we are at, right? Yes. And no. It is true that car culture still dominates our church. For example, to my knowledge, there is only one or two families in my church that still live in the same neighborhood as the church. Some of the members of my church drive as much as 25 miles every Sunday. When it comes the the internet, you could make a similar case that Web 2.0 is still going strong, as well. However, there are technological changes that are, right now, pulling Web 2.0 technologies into the world of Web 3.0.
I believe that this Web 3.0 will be fundamental in bringing about Church 4.0. It is hard to argue that Web 2.0 has already had an effect on church. More and more, churches are creating Facebook pages and encouraging their members to “Tweet” about the services. These things must be having an effect, otherwise, why else would you be reading this right now? With the rise of GPS enabled smart-phones and location-based social web applications, Web 3.0 technology is finally beginning to shift back toward bringing people together. The idea that the people on the internet are squirreled away alone in some dark room behind a computer screen all day and night is becoming farther and farther from the truth. We are among you. More and more, we are you.
When I think about how these technologies that are already being used to deepen people’s engagement with their faith — things like social networks, Facebook groups, and Twitter — will combine with location-based information, I can’t help but think that this will shift the church from Church 3.0 to Church 4.0. So,what, exactly, will Church 4.0 look like? I don’t know. I think it will, like the social media that is driving it, be less about structure and programming and more about user-generated content. I also think it will have a greater emphasis on geography and community rather than statements of faith and style.
What do you think? Will Church 4.0 have the same effect on the institutional church as Web 2.0 has had on the newspaper industry? Will churches be able to give up control and allow themselves to be reshaped by these truly social technologies?
If you are at the General Assembly, please come to the Church 2.0 resource group. There we will be able to dialogue about what changes the church is facing in the present and the future. We will also discuss how these changes might inform a church that is looking to get more involved with social media. We will also have a bit of fun as well.
Will Boyd is owner of 3 Story Church, a church web and social media firm that is focused on helping churches tell their stories. He has worked with Sojourners Magazine, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Goddard College, the Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt, and others. Will also recently finished a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard College that focused on the role of new media and social technologies in the world of sustainable marketing. Will lives in Seattle with his wife, a Disciples pastor.