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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?

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?

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.


Church 2.0Whoa…General Assembly is just around the corner!  I know everyone is excited to see old friends and colleagues that they haven’t seen in some time.  And, as usual, there a ton of great resource groups and learning opportunities to be had.  I hope I’ll get to see and meet a lot of you at the Church 2.0 resource group that I’m leading along with Wanda Bryant Willis and Rebecca Woods.  I’m really excited to have the opportunity to discuss what is happening in the world of social media and churches and why it is important.

I need your help, though.  Maybe it’s because General Assembly is less than two weeks away and I’m still working on my part of the presentation, or maybe it’s because the true spirit of church 2.0 is one of collaboration and engagement, but I’m asking you what you want to learn about in the Church 2.0 resource group?  What puzzles you about this new social media thing?  What churches do you know of that are using social media well?  Why do you think these communications trends are so important to the church?  Are they just fads?

Leave some comments below and let me know what your take on social media and churches is.  Remember, no matter what anyone tells you, there are no experts in this subject.  That is one of the beautiful things about it…we are all learning together.  Next Monday, I’ll be back here to talk a bit more about what to expect in the Church 2.0 resource group.  Until then, I look forward to hearing what you have to say and learning about what you want to get out of the resource group.

Will BoydWill Boyd is a social media and new media producer and consultant. His company, Will Boyd Media Solutions, specializes in helping faith groups and non-profits navigate the world of social media, podcasting, and technology to tell their stories to the world. 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.

I just spent a week in Grand Rapids at the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. I had the opportunity to write for the UCC’s news team and was asked to cover some interesting topics and activities: Rep. John Conyers’ visit to Synod to talk about health care reform, youth mission projects in the community, interviews with several youth who participated in the UCC’s Sacred Conversations on Race, resolutions on the global food crisis and the Accra Confession, and immigration reform.

How should Twitter be used during meetings and conventions? Photo: aflcio2008 (Creative Commons license)

How should Twitter be used during meetings and conventions? Photo: aflcio2008 (Creative Commons license)

I also observed how people were using Twitter during the convention, and how the UCC news staff participated and included Twitter in convention coverage.

Using Twitter during conventions isn’t new. People who are attending will often agree on a hashtag (a word or a combination of letters and numbers preceded by #) to include in meeting-related tweets. This makes their posts easy to find using Twitter’s search feature (type in #gs27 to see all UCC Synod-related tweets). Some Twitter applications allow more sophisticated tracking of hashtags, and alert you when someone Tweets using the hashtag — UC News director Gregg Brekke uses twhirl, and his laptop would beep and display every #gs27 tweet as soon as it appeared on Twitter.

Gregg and the UCC’s communications staff did their own Tweeting from the @gdbrekke and @unitedchurch accounts. They also gave others’ Twitter efforts a boost by retweeting interesting tweets. And Gregg included several Twitter users’ comments in the UCC’s daily, 4-page convention newspaper, in the “Overheard” section.

Having just bought a new Blackberry and equipped it with Twitterberry, I came to General Synod ready to Tweet myself (@rebeccawoods). Previously, whenever I went to an event, the sheer difficulty of tweeting from my old mobile phone limited me to a few Tweets per day.  Posting anything from a non-qwerty keyboard was a pain, and I couldn’t see if anyone replied to me, sent me a direct message, or retweeted anything I’d posted until I got back to a computer with internet access. It almost wasn’t worth the trouble.

This time, having upgraded, I had to contemplate new questions about using Twitter during an event:

How much to Tweet? Normally, I post 2-6 times a day. This is what those who follow me are accustomed to.  I might be able to get away with a slightly higher volume during the convention, but not much.  I’ve unfollowed folks who post too much, and to me, more than 10 times a day (15 if you’re really interesting) is too much.

What to Tweet? Few people following me are from the UCC, and many don’t know anything about it. So I began by letting people know what I was doing: going to cover the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. I think I included a link to the UCC’s Synod site, in case someone wanted to check it out (I hope I included a link — if not, that was a missed opportunity).  I also tried to tweet about things that might be of interest to others: getting to meet Conyers and journalist Ray Suarez, links to articles, etc. Not too much insider stuff, although some of it was unavoidable.

What not to Tweet? There were some great speeches and sermons, but I only posted one line from one speech. I probably could have done more. Often, in my opinion, those don’t translate well.  There’s just something about being there. Same with worship. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tweeting during worship, per se, it’s just a question of whether you immerse yourself in doing it, or take a step back and tweet about it. It also connects with others who are there, experiencing it with you…but not so much with those who are on the outside. I also chose not to tweet during discussions or interviews, or to pass along the myriad comments I overheard in bars and restaurants. The most fascinating part, to me, was reading what people posted during business sessions and particularly, discussion of resolutions. A protest broke out after one vote, and I was in the newsroom watching the proceedings on closed circuit TV. The cameras, of course, didn’t show the action. But people in the convention hall were tweeting about it!

What are your experiences with Twitter and conventions or meetings? Do you have any rules or advice?

Here are a few links:

From Chris Brogan, social media expert extraordinaire, 27 Things to do Before a Conference. [Some of these might seem like overkill for a meeting like General Synod or the Disciples’ upcoming General Assembly]

From Mari Smith, Ten Ways to Tweet from Live Events [scroll down past the stuff that is related to the Social Media Summit

To see how a conference becomes a year-round community, log on to Twitter [if you have an account] and search #sxsw.

Like many pastors I’ve taken up blogging.   I expect that each of us blogs for different reasons – I read enough of these blogs to get sense of how different we are in our use of the blogs.  But, each of us blogs because we have something to say to a broader audience – an audience that is likely broader than our immediate congregation.  On any given day I get between 150 to 250 hits.  That’s not huge, but it’s respectable, and it is a number far beyond the number I reach in my own congregation (especially when you take a weekly cumulative number).

Rebecca asked me to write this post in part because I blog so frequently.  My practice is to blog daily, except when I’m simply unable to get to a computer with internet access!  Part of my reasoning for blogging daily might have something to do with vanity.  I want to attract readers.  With that in mind, early on I had read a blog post by Scot McKnight, author of the Jesus Creed blog, which said that if you want to attract and keep a readership, you have to blog daily.  I took up the challenge, and have tried to keep up the pace ever since – and my readership has grown as a result.

As to why I blog –  I must confess up front that one of the attractions of blogging is that it allows me to publish whatever I want to publish, whenever I want to publish it.  I am my own editor.  Now,  I enjoy writing, so this is not drudgery.  Before I took up blogging I had to depend on the good graces of publishers and journal editors – and I have been able to put out a fairly large number of published pieces, including three books and numerous articles and reviews for both general and academic journals – to get my thoughts in print.  Although I have a fairly large corpus of published works, and I even edit a journal (Sharing the Practice), that has never seemed to be enough for me.  So, now I can write what I want, when I want, with few if any filters (the only real filter is me – I’m ever cognizant of the fact that I have a family and I’m a pastor).

In my personal blog – Ponderings on a Faith Journey –  I write upon a wide spectrum of issues, but always with my faith in mind (except those occasions when I talk sports).  Even my political posts usually have a faith component.  I also have sermon blog, on which I post my sermons each week entitled Words of Welcome.

The question is – how do I keep this in balance with my daily work as a pastor and my commitments to family?  That is a difficult question to answer, except to say I do my best to keep things balanced.  Much of what I write are reflections on theology and the daily news.  Sometimes I pick up political/social/cultural issues – usually after reading the news online.  I might pick up a point to comment on.  Sometimes it’s the comments made by my visitors that propels a series of blog posts.  I tend not to engage in too many conversations in the comments section, but instead, offer up a new post to further the conversation.  Blogging has also given me impetus to finish the books I read – especially the ones sent to me by publishers – so that I can offer reviews.  As you can see there is an untold amount of information to dig through, reflect upon, and comment upon.  There are times, when I have to really dig deep to come up with something, but that usually has more to do with where I’m at that day than it does with regard to my sources of information.

One of the things that a blogging pastor has to be aware of is the “employer.”  Rebecca,  in inviting me to offer this post, commented that I often pick up controversial issues.  That is true.  I’ve endorsed a candidate for President – noting carefully that I did so as private citizen and not as a pastor.  I’ve dealt with gay marriage, the death penalty, war, and even abortion.  If you’re a church member and you have access to the blog you likely know what I think about such issues.  Now, I have the advantage that the search committee – or at least some members of the search committee – had been reading my blog even as we were in the interview process.  They knew in advance that I took up controversial issues, that I was somewhat to the left on certain issues, and that I wasn’t afraid to express them on the blog.   When I was presented to the congregation, it was noted that I was a blogger.  So, even if you don’t agree with my positions, you know I do this.  That gives me a certain amount of freedom.  But, at the same time I try not to abuse that freedom.  My suggestion to prospective blogging pastors is simply to check it out with your leadership.  Let them know what you’re up to.  If they have concerns about what you write, then heed their warnings.

Not every pastor needs to have a blog, though having ways of utilizing the new media is important.  But if you’re going to do this, and do it right, you have to enjoy writing.  I write, because it’s part of who I am, and I’m thankful that I have this outlet to express my thoughts.  Hopefully over the course of time, I’ve become a better writer and more adept at sharing my thoughts clearly and as concisely as I’m able!   I will let my readers decide if this is true.

Preacher Bob 4-5-2009Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church of Troy, MI, husband of Cheryl, and father of Brett.  He is also editor of Sharing the Practice  (Academy of Parish Clergy) and a regular contributor to the Christian Century blogTheolog.

Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace are working their way into our churches and the connections and communications that are made possible by social media changes how pastors and congregations relate and communicate.  Ministries that once relied on pen and paper (or at least the newsletter) for communication can move at the speed of the internet.  Relationships that might naturally ebb away after a pastor moves, can now be kept up in perpetuity in cyber space.  Thanks to social media, you and your eighth grade boys cabin can remain friends for life.

Friends on FacebookHow is this new connectivity changing the way pastors and congregations relate to each other?

1.  Removes the robe.  The cloak of professionalism that keeps pastors and congregants in relationships that traditionally orbit around the functions of a church building, gets shrugged off the shoulders.  The robe is a symbol that separates the sacred from the profane, the worldly from the holy and when a minister steps into the robe she steps into holy time — out of this world and into the realm of God.  However, even without the robe, some people think that the mystique of the holy still clings to their clothing and we expect to be able to glance at them, even sitting behind their desk, and see a little glistening.  Ministers are hardly people who got tired, irritated, or disappointed.  Let alone depressed, or fall in love.

In social media space, however; pastors and congregants become human to each other.  Each social media tool asks participants to answer simple questions like, “What are you doing?”  or “What is on your mind?”  If we are honest in answering these questions, then we also reveal the gamut of our humanness to each other.  Rather than keeping to the sterile politeness that files off anything that might be remotely real, we become participants in a common humanity.  We are not a pastor and a congregant, but people who clean the bathrooms because the relatives are coming, and who need coffee at 3 in the afternoon to stay awake for the next meeting.  Rather than defined by the definitions of our supposed roles, we are defined by who we are, what we do, and what we care about.

2.  Makes it easier to stay connected.  Quite simply, this is what social media was designed for — on-line tools that let humans do what humans do best — build relationships and make connections.  Churches might have invented the concept that meaningful relationships happen best in community, but we now have a tool at our fingertips that lets those relationships flourish outside of the church facility.  No longer limited to geography, social media makes it possible to create groups, on pages like Facebook, develop your own social media sites using technology like Ning and Joomla.

Although a church usually sees itself as one community, it is usually communities within a community.  There are naturally formed groups, like the youth group, and some officially designated groups, like the board or the “50 Year Members” club.  Think about your church as a series of overlapping communities, each with their own need to communicate, organize, and connect.  Social media tools makes it possible to create ways for groups within the church to stay connected.

Because of social media tools, the connectivity between a group and the church is no longer a one-way street.  Whereas communication traffic once started with the church and radiated outwards, using social media, it’s a three-way street with public transit.  Using the tools provided through social media, churches can keep up with the group, the group can keep up with each other, and the pastor can continue a relationship with both their congregation and the group, all while people from the world (depending on the social media site) hop on and off and get interested in what is going on.

Here are some of the methods I’m aware of how social media has been used in congregations:

Keep up with the graduating class as they go off to college.

Create a discussion page for youth in pastors classes about faith and their upcoming baptism.

Create groups for people who have some relationship to the church, but may not be regular worshipers.  (This could be your regional minister, colleagues, or the once a month attendees — but all have a vested interest in what is going on.)

Create your churches own social media site — where congregants can create their own profile, start forums, post events to a calendar, and notify each other of anything of interest.

Advertise special events and invite others to attend the “event” in virtual space, even if they can’t be there in person.

However, social media is changing how pastors and congregants can stay connected even after a pastor is no longer serving a church.  The protective measures we have implemented to help define boundaries: such as pastors not joining the churches they have just left or retired from — become blurred in social media where pastors and congregants can remain connected and continue a relationship even when the pastor is no longer in the same geographic location. Or, when congregants move away, they can still maintain a relationship with their pastor. Social media tools may mean that someone still has a connection to a minister through life’s transitions.

3. Changes the timing of the release of information.  A pastor posts they are working on a deficit budget and anyone who keeps up with them through social media has four additional days to stew on this piece of information before its announced to the whole congregation at the next meeting.  Or, a pastor posts that someone just came by for some pastoral care, and what might be a general statement about the reality of ministry, becomes insider information for a parishioner familiar enough with the context to fill in other details — like who might have just stopped by.  One of the hazards of social media is that it makes all conversations for everybody, and the nuances that are permitted through other manners of communication that take into account different audiences, is diminished or erased all together.

It also means, however; that events that might take a week to be released through more traditional methods of communication like the newsletter or announcements on a Sunday morning, can be shared, advertised, and invited, as soon as they are planned.  Members of a congregation who are connected through social media can create events and invite each other without the pastor needing to get involved.  And, through tools like “invite others to this event” feature on Facebook, anyone can do easy evangelism.

Pastoral Responses:  Funerals, Counseling, and Releasing Control

The flexibility of social media may send pastors or congregational leaders who like to keep their finger on  the pulse of planning into hysterics, or it may become a tool of liberation — depending on the leadership style of the individual.  However, social media tools do provide quick ways to keep in communication with those willing to use it.  A quick, “how are you doing, missed seeing you today,” no longer requires a stamp.  Or a “wow, your kids has sure grown, loved seeing the picture of you all down in Florida,” can be quick ways of continuing a pastoral relationship.

It can also be a vehicle for responding to pastoral needs, like being able to be present in moments of crisis or care that might be otherwise unavailable without the on-line relationship.  Personally speaking, I had a friend die unexpectedly, and unable to attend the funeral, I created an on-line group for “friends of” my friend to remember him.  For weeks, friends used the page to post pictures of him, comment to each other, advertise directions to the funeral, and in other ways support each other through our grief.  It became a kind of virtual grieving wall that transcended geography and brought a community of friends together.  Not a traditional funeral by any means, it was however; clearly a moment of pastoral care made possible through the tools of social media.

Using social media tools, does however, require release of control.  Your congregation may organize without you.  Your pastor may advertise an event before it gets printed in the newsletter.  You will create a page for your youth group and someone will post an unflattering picture of you drooling from underneath your sleeping bag.  But this is part of being human and being with each other in social and meaningful relationships.  And a part of becoming reengaged in community life with each other.

Rev. Janetta Cravens Boyd

Rev. Janetta Cravens Boyd is pastor of University Christian Church in Seattle, WA, and interested in how social media is changing church culture.


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