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Online dating concept. Hand & Wine Glass Through Laptop ScreenI just achieved the milestone of collecting 500 followers on Twitter. Not really sure what this means, but I’m certainly impressed with myself. Apparently either this many people are interested in seeing my daily collection of random quotations, observations, and links to someone else’s hard work and good thinking, or I have attracted a herd of Multi-Level Marketing scammers. Either way, I was just a tad puffed up at my new-found “popularity”.

I know getting more and more connections is important because people offer me “sure-fire” ways to accomplish it. I regularly receive offers to share the “secret” of how to achieve follower levels in the forty thousand-plus range. I also regularly receive requests to follow someone else to help them reach some arbitrary number of people following their every electronic musing on some networking site.  Apparently this will make them happy.

After all, Ashton Kutcher and Ellen DeGeneris have more Twitter followers than the combined populations of several countries (Ireland, Panama, and Norway, if you’re interested) (source: “Socionomics” blog). If piling up numbers is good enough for them, isn’t it good enough for me?

Facebook.com has a similar thing going with numbers of “friends”, enhanced by the ease of connecting on this gigantic social networking site. Little effort is involved in racking up a respectable list of 200 or more friends.

Even the primay business networking site, LinkedIn.com, supposedly more serious and results oriented, includes a great number of folks that proudly proclaim their status as “LIONs” (Linked In Open Networkers) with thousands of links to other people. They achieve this by accepting any invitations to connect from anyone who asks. I have linked to a number of LIONs and had no meaningful contact with them after connecting, which left me feeling a little like highMPj04331250000[1] school, when I thought I had a friendship with one of the cool kids, only to find out differently in a very hurtful way. While some LIONs actively “work” their large networks, many apparently are just engaging in a game for bragging rights.

So, when does the idea of “enough is enough” kick in here?

I have enough trouble just keeping up with everyone in my nuclear family, which includes my wife and brother, four children, three lovely spouses, and five spectacularly perfect grandchildren, let alone all my online connections.

Well, according to a study by Robin Dunbar, a maximum number for effective relationships does exist and that number is 150.

Mentioned in The Tipping Point , this concept has been applied to military units, employee group sizes, and even church congregations. Maybe this is why so many Disciples congregations of my acquaintance seem to hover around this number.

Tobias Escher expands on this fascinating theory, stating that “. . . to put it simply: Your brain can just deal with about 150 meaningful relationships.” Meaningful relationships are those with people who you trust, can go to in times of distress, and who occupy a specific position in our social network. So we can have those other relationships, but there does appear to be an upper limit on those which really count.

This whole discussion brings up some interesting questions about our use of social media.

Why am I doing this? Am I connecting with others online for bragging rights or am I interested in more meaningful connections?

Do I really need accounts and profiles on all these networking sites or is it time to focus?  Is the time I spend on The Intersection more valuable than other sites (the answer is “yes” to this question:).

CB048713Have I identified my true Circle of Influence? Not those I can sell something to, but those who I would contact if I needed help. Many people are struggling with employment issues these days. How many of those 500 followers on Twitter would I feel comfortable sending an IM that I need some gigs to make the rent next month?

Am I spending enough time nurturing those relationships that really matter, both online and face-to-face, or am I just lost in a blur of online living?  I may be able to handle more than 150, but when do the numbers get in the way of what I am trying to do?

After all, Jesus only had 12 primary connections and look at what he was able to do.

. . . . Just some things to consider as we all develop our social networking strategies on this crisp and beautiful fall day here in the heartland.

John

John E. Smith lives in Maryland Heights, Missouri and is a member of Webster Groves Christian Church.   He  blogs at both A Matter of Strategy and  The Strategic Learner.  You can follow his  tweets as @Stratlearner on Twitter.

The Buddy System,” an article in the Oct. 2009 issue of Wired looks at “the infectious power of social networks.” In the middle of recent H1N1 outbreaks, that’s an ominous-sounding phrase, but what the article’s author, Jonah Lehrer, shares instead is the theory that the people in our social networks may have more influence on us than we realize — especially on things like happiness.

albumBack in 2003, researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler began an extensive review of the Framingham Heart Study – but they weren’t looking at vital statistics and cholesterol numbers. Instead, they looked at subjects’ social networks.

Graphically mapping out these networks, they looked at certain characteristics (such as obesity) and behaviors (like quitting smoking) over time. What they discovered is that changes occurred in clusters. For example, as smoking rates dropped between 1971 and 2001, the network patterns showed that people were far more likely to quit if those linked to them had quit.  Quitting didn’t happen evenly or randomly across the network.

And Christakis and Fowler found that while the greatest influence was exerted by friends, there was significant influence among friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends.

While the Framingham data was based on traditional social networks, Christakis and Fowler applied the same thinking to Facebook. They discovered that, while people still maintain about the same number of really close friendships as before, the extended networks of acquaintances still exert influence. Last month, they published their findings in Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How they Shape Our Lives.

This is fascinating, but it raises ethical questions too. So we discover that one of the ways to pursue and assure our own happiness is to be connected to positive, happy people. What if we gravitate toward them and away from those who are depressed, ailing, poor, unattractive, introverted, and socially undesirable, and less tech-savvy?  Should we de-friend (or ignore) those grouchy people who complain too much? And as those who are less desirable become more socially isolated and disaffected (and in theory, less happy), then what?

Scott Stosssel, in his NY Times review of Christakis and Fowler’s book, does an excellent job of getting at those questions toward the end of his (mostly positive) review. If you don’t want to read the whole review, you can skip to the last few paragraphs.

What do you think?

Photo: Shahram Sharif (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Shahram Sharif (Creative Commons license)

If you’ve ever passed someone on the street and said “hello,” but the other person didn’t acknowledge your greeting, you’ve experienced something called disconfirmation. According to Julia T. Wood, in Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, we “confirm” someone with both non-verbal (a nod, a smile) and verbal (a return greeting, or even a friendly grunt) communication. “We disconfirm others at a fundamental level when we don’t acknowledge their existence,” Wood writes.

Most of us have a tolerance, perhaps even an acceptance, of a certain level of disconfirmation in life. We probably don’t give that passing stranger another thought. On the other end of the spectrum, the church member or family member who repeatedly snubs us with the silent treatment might cause us greater angst.

Each advance in communication has brought with it the potential for all of us to be the recipients of more disconfirmation, as well as to add to it. The unreturned phone call … the email that went unacknowledged … and now, the requests to connect and be “Friends” and follow someone back. There are more ways to connect, but there are also more ways to miss each other and to miss opportunities to confirm and affirm each other.

Furthermore, as followers of Christ, who went out of his way to “confirm” those who were disconfirmed by many, I believe there’s a faith dimension to the issue.

Some, like social media expert Chris Brogan, treat social media as legitimate items on the “To Do” list, and schedule them in daily or weekly. I like this idea, because I’m the kind of person who needs structure, methods, and tools to get things done. Still, I’m not as good at managing my communications as I’d like to be, and if I’ve disconfirmed you, I apologize.

What do you think? How do you keep up with social media? And are Christians called to attend to the problem of disconfirmation, at least in our own lives, if not in the world?

trust agents If you are anywhere near Orange County, California tonight you should make every attempt to go hear Chris Brogan speak at Disciples-related Chapman University. Chris is well known in the world of social media and blogging. I read his blog every morning, because I appreciate his short, actionable posts and his analogies. The comments are always a good read too. If you’re interested in going to hear him, you can get a ticket through EventBrite. P.S. It’s FREE!

Chris and Julien Smith just released a book called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. I’m about halfway through – it’s interesting. I’m reading it with an eye toward what DisciplesWorld might learn and employ, but also with the Church, churches, and Christians in mind.

Anyone out there going? If so, come back and post your thoughts after the presentation. I’ll be watching the comment stream on Twitter (type #broganoc into the Search box to see Tweets from the event.)

Last week, I wrote about Starbucks’ Green Apron Book and asked whether the 5 Principles that Starbucks’ employees are trained to follow might guide the church in its efforts to establish and maintain a presence on social networking platforms. That post prompted some great discussion, not only about social media (in fact, mostly NOT about social media) but about broader topics such as the art of creating experiences, whether other comparisons between Starbucks and the church are valid, and even whether or not they have good coffee. I agree, the jury’s out on that last one, but I’d also argue that people aren’t paying $4 for coffee (a product) – they’re paying for coffee PLUS the experience (or at least, in the case of drive-thru customers, the emotional connection with the brand).

Photo: Randy OHC (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Randy OHC (Creative Commons license)

But it was Jerry’s comment that sparked today’s post: “Let me know when you figure out how to celebrate the Eucharist on the social media.”

There are the mechanics of ‘figuring it out,’ but what I think Jerry was getting at are the bigger questions and issues. Before we launch into a big discussion or debate, what I’d like for you (reader) to help me do is identify the important questions. Let’s start there. Then I think we’ll have a better discussion.

One place to look for the questions is online. Some churches are already celebrating Communion there – evangelicals in multi-site mega-churches experimenting with online church and Communion, yes; but also Methodists and Anglicans, and probably some Presbyterians. Maybe even Disciples!

In reading around  (see the list at the end of this post), here are some of the issues and questions that come up. Some of these don’t apply to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but they’re worth knowing about. These are specifically about Communion, not the broader topic of online church.

  • The need for participation to happen in the context of a physical community (I’m deliberately staying away from using the word ‘real’ here) such as a Sunday morning worship service in a church.
  • The amount of need for control over who can participate (members of that particular church or denomination only? any baptized believer? anyone?)
  • The role of the clergy or celebrants with regard to the sacraments (Do celebrants have to consecrate the elemants? Online, is BYObread-and-juice ok? What about a ‘virtual’ sacrament, like in Second Life?)
  • What is Communion all about in the first place? Is it a ‘love feast’? A memorial? Is Christ present, and if so, how? Is it a means of receiving grace and forgiveness?

Some practical considerations:

  • People who can’t get to church (i.e. homebound, institutionalized, incarcerated, those with disabilities, etc)
  • What happens when public health concerns or natural disasters force people to stay home? My experience with online Communion was with a Disciples congregation dispersed across several states in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Might participating in online church (and Communion) lead someone who otherwise would not go to church to eventually connect with a local congregation? Or does it keep people from coming to a brick-and-mortar church by aiming to replace it?
  • What about those whom the church has hurt? Or those from whom the church has distanced itself?

Theological considerations (beyond those surrounding Communion):

  • In most of the discussions I’ve seen, the predominant theological question seems to be “What is church?”
  • A less-discussed theological topic is “Where is God in this?”

Help me out here….what other questions should be in the mix?

I hope you’ll follow some of these links and read what others have written, and then come back and add your questions:

Rev. Thomas Madron’s site (click on the PDF link to read his paper in favor on online Communion…written from a Methodist perspective but still fairly relevant for Disciples)

Lifechurch.tv – a multi-site evangelical church that also offers an online worship experience, with Communion.

Newsweek’s Belief Watch: “Click in Remembrance of Me?

This post by John Saddington on Church Crunch, about Online Church, which includes several helpful links.

An interesting discussion in ChurchCrunch’s Forums

Photo: darkensiva (Creative Commons license)

Photo: darkensiva (Creative Commons license)

There have been several humorous comparisons between church and Starbucks. If you haven’t seen the YouTube video, “What if the Starbucks Marketed Like the Church?” come back to this link after reading this post and check it out.

Now let’s turn it around. What if the church behaved more like Starbucks? What I’m suggesting has nothing to do with coffee…and everything to do with something called The Green Apron Book.

The Green Apron Book is a booklet that Starbucks gives its baristas. My stepdaughter worked at Starbucks for a while, and passed along the booklet. It outlines Starbucks mission: “To provide an uplifting experience that enriches people’s daily lives,” along with 5 Principles for doing exactly that:

1. Be Welcoming: Offer everyone a sense of belonging
2. Be Genuine: Connect, discover, respond
3. Be Knowledgeable: Love what you do. Share it with others.
4. Be Considerate: Take care of yourself, each other, and the environment.
5. Be Involved: In the store, in the company, and in the community.

Others, like Jeff Myers of the Slumdog Disciple blog, have already picked up on the notion that The Green Apron Book might have something to teach us about the experience we create for people (whether we claim that aspect of ‘church’ or ignore it). Darrin at the Hands and Feet 2.0 blog wrote a series of posts. Both Darrin and Jeff also mention the book, The Starbucks Experience by Joseph A. Michelli (McGraw Hill, 2006) for a more in-depth look at the 5 principles. But if you don’t want to go into that much depth, Jeff says The Green Apron Book is yours for the asking at Starbucks.

Here’s what I’d like to add. These 5 principles are a good guideline for Christians and churches when it comes to social media. Think about it. As Will Boyd of 3StoryChurch has pointed out in past posts like this one, there’s a lot more you can do on Twitter, Facebook, and other networks than just promote your programs, classes, sermons, and worship services.

We live in a world with abundant information. What people seem to be looking for are authentic, positive experiences. If your presence online and in the realm of social media is about creating that for them, even in small ways, they’ll be more likely to come to your website to see what else you have to offer.

And of course, follow through is important. If someone who connected with you or your church via social media shows up on Sunday morning, they should expect an in-person experience that matches the online presence. [For more on that, click the link to the YouTube video at the beginning of this post].

So how about it? Would you take a copy of The Green Apron Book to your next church board meeting, elder’s meeting, or small group discussion?

generationsI get a lot of questions about how churches can use social media.  Almost 100% of the time, the person basically wants to be taught a new technique that will help them use a tool like Facebook to attract new people to their church.  Generally, I bristle a bit at the idea that social media’s usefulness for churches is all about attraction.  Thus, I tend to not give out many how-to’s.  Instead, I try to focus on getting churches to re-engage with their story and help them use things like social media to tell that story.  However, I have a simple idea that I want to share in hopes that some church will give it a try and let me know how it goes.

If your church is like most churches, you probably have a significant number of people that barely use email and will most likely never use anything like Facebook.  Does that mean that those folks have no role in social media for your church?  I don’t think so.  They will just need a little help.  “Where will that help come from,” you ask?  I’d be willing to bet that your church is also very likely to have a social-media-engaged population that is right under your nose.  Maybe it is the youth group or some young adults?  Whoever it is, I’m certain their are at least a few people in your congregation that are using things like Facebook.  Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to get those folks together.

I’m certainly not suggesting that the youth group teach the elders how to blog or set up a Facebook profile.  That will go nowhere quick.  However, what if, on a couple of Sundays, a time was set up for story-sharing and faith-listening.  What if the young people were given an assignment to ask some of the older folks in the congregation about meaningful moments in their faith life?  Those youth or young adults would then be responsible for sharing what they learned on the church’s Facebook page or blog.  The older folks could, in return, listen to the faith stories of the younger folks and provide their reflections of what they learned to someone who could post them to the social media space as well.  With just a Sunday or two’s worth of work, enough stories could be gathered that the church could post one a week for a few months.

Sure, this idea is not completely fleshed out, but maybe that’s okay?  What I like about it is that it encourages different generations to really listen and engage with each other’s faith stories.  I also love the fact that, by sharing them on sites like Facebook or the church’s website, it invites the world to participate in that “faith listening”.  To me there is no more powerful way to introduce your church to the world than through the stories of your faith.  How much better is it when you can also more deeply introduce yourselves to each other?

Could your church do something like this?  What ideas does this post give you about ways to engage multiple generations through social media?  Am I way off?


will_squareWill 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.

Photo: StarMama (Creative Commons license)

Photo: StarMama (Creative Commons license)

I’m not known for being an optimist. In person, I can be a little sarcastic, ironic, and cynical — and the people who know me also know that’s part of who I am. They “get” me — at least I hope they do.

But in the realm of social media, I’m discovering, sarcasm sometimes doesn’t play as well. No one can see the arched eyebrow,or the quizzical look, or hear the inflection of irony in your voice. There’s no context – just your comment standing out there, all by its lonesome. Sometimes, it still works, but sometimes, it doesn’t.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to suddenly craft a whole new persona for Facebook and Twitter — one where your updates are nothing but “Chicken Soup” platitudes. As I wrote a couple of months ago, it’s important to be yourself on social media. But being yourself doesn’t mean typing the first remark or response that comes to mind.

One good bit of advice that I’ve seen floating around is to balance the negative or critical with at least 10 times more positive remarks, tweets, and updates. Social media can build up, support, encourage — but it can easily tear down, crush, and undermine. I don’t have any ready-made criteria for deciding to post something or not (if you do, please share it). Just stop, think — and if you change your mind, you can delete it.

Sometimes, just like in the ‘real world,’ an apology is in order too.

What do you think? How can we make social media a positive space? When is critique, irony, or negativity okay?

———-

rbw square Rebecca Bowman Woods is news and website editor of DisciplesWorld.
You can follow her on Twitter.

fbchurchAs many of you may know, I had the great privilege of presenting at the Church 2.0 resource group at the 2009 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  It was a great time, and I hope those that were able to attend got something out of it.  I do realize however, that there were some folks that attended who left a bit disappointed.  While I spent my time discussing how the changes happening in social media are changing the church, some people simply wanted to know how to use Facebook.  Unfortunately, in a setting like the General Assembly resource groups where everyone has a different experience level and different needs, those types of how-to discussions are nearly impossible to have.  On the other hand, the how-to’s of social media tools are certainly important.

Just yesterday, my wife brought home a back issue of The Christian Century which had a great article that begins to bridge the gap between our discussion at the General Assembly of how social media is changing church and how churches can use tools like Facebook.  In “The church on Facebook“, Lenora Rand does a great job at showing how, rather than being an advertising tool designed to draw new people into the church building, these social media tools are allowing churches to live their mission in new ways.  I won’t recap Rand’s article here, though I do suggest reading it.  What I will do is provide 3 simple ways (not techniques or strategies) for how churches might think about “being church” on social media tools like Facebook.

1. Evangelism

A church’s Facebook page can be a great evangelism tool.  Quite simply, everything that happens at the church should also be posted on the church’s Facebook page.  However, just like evangelism doesn’t end with the minister, Facebook evangelism doesn’t end with the church’s Facebook page.

fbshare2Every Facebook page, group, and event has a button that allows that information to be shared.  Those members of your church who are already using Facebook already have lots of friends that aren’t members of your church.  By simply getting church members to use that share button to share the events and happenings of the church with their friends, Facebook truly becomes social media.  As I discussed in the Chruch 2.0 resource group at General Assembly, it is the sharing that makes these websites social.  Having a Facebook page is good for a church.  Having a Facebook page where the church members share the information and content with their friends is evangelism.

2. Outreach

In any communication, listening is usually way more important than speaking.  I think the same thing can be said of church outreach.  If we as churches want to be relevant, we need to become better listeners.  Social media tools like Facebook can be great hearing aids for our churches.  When your church begins to use Facebook, concentrate more on what you as a church can learn about people, both inside of and outside of your church, than on how to attract people to come to your church.  Ask questions and listen to the answers.  As Rand’s article illustrates, find out who your church can be praying for.  You might be surprised how much more powerful it is to engage people in community rather than broadcast information AT them.

Of course, just like with evangelism, while this kind of outreach can be done through your church’s Facebook page, it is often best done through the members of your church who are already on Facebook.  A church with a Facebook page can be engaging.  A church whose members are actively engaging others is a church that is truly reaching out — whether on Facebook or not.

3. Worship

If you think that worship can only happen between 11:00 am and Noon in your church sanctuary, then Facebook and social media may not be roads your church is ready to go down.  However, if you are willing to get creative, social media tools like Facebook can provide great opportunities for your church to “be church” in radically new ways.

What if your church held an online Bible study by creating a Facebook group?  Church members could invite their friends to participate whenever it was convenient.  Some folks might not ever walk into a church building simply because they are invited, but they might just be willing to stop by a Facebook group when they have a minute and check out what their friend has been telling them about.

Consider providing short devotionals on your church’s Facebook page.  How cool would it be if different members of your church posted a short weekly or daily devotional to Facebook based on that upcoming Sunday’s lectionary text?

Be creative and try new things.  You never know what might be the thing that will provide a space for worship to someone inside or outside of your church.  After all, isn’t that what church is all about?

I completely understand the desire we all have to find a simple tool that will make the job of attracting people to our churches easier.  However, social media is not that tool….and that really shouldn’t be our goal.  The real work is not getting more bodies into our pews on Sunday morning.  The real work is connecting with God and God’s children in real and meaningful ways, and  that work of forming relationships with each other and with God is no different or easier than it has ever been.  Social media tools like Facebook don’t do the work for us, but they do give us new spaces in which to do our work.   They give us new spaces to “be church.”


will_squareWill 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.

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(-) 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 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.
Why “Church 3.0”?
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 <strong>being changed</strong> 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.”

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.

printing_pressThe 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.

es_in_elwood_1_eThe 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_squareWill 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 SocietyGoddard 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.


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