Dancing Hippie asked me some excellent but difficult questions in the "Digital Natives" post about what a church that moved in a Digital Native direction might look like. Before I start, I want to emphasize that this is not "Chalicechick's Decree of What You Should Do Right This Minute," merely one potential vision for the future.
DH's questions are bolded and set off.
(((But what does a social media integrated congregation mean? What aspects of church life would work in social media?)))
Being a law nerd, the aspects I am most interested in are governance aspects. I've been in a church or two where information seemed to be kept closely guarded and everybody just sort of went along with whatever the board suggested since this meant that they were the only ones who reliably knew what was going on. IMHO, this model is unsustainable in a world where people are used to a more free exchange of information and it isn't a good example of our democratic principles in action.
I don't see why our enhanced abilities to communicate with one another can't take some of the power back away from boards and committees and put it in the hands of the congregation, for example. If anyone who logs in to the member portion of the website can read the information that is given to the board and can vote on things, I think you're going to find a congregation that is more engaged and even makes better decisions.
I attended a congregation for awhile where someone literally told me that new membership ideas were well and good, but Myrtle had been membership chair for X number of years and if she didn't like the new ideas, well, we couldn't go hurting Myrtle's feelings, now could we? (Name changed to protect Myrtle.) I think that's an extreme example, but I think it is really easy for congregations to slip in to patterns like this where new ideas have to get past gatekeepers. If the whole congregation is not just allowed to make suggestions to Myrtle individually and be turned down individually, but allowed to discuss suggestions in a message-board-type area, then when lots of people think something is a good idea, it is more likely to happen, especially if they are allowed to take a vote and make it happen.*
Most of us aren't at our best in lengthy congregational meetings where all communication is verbal. Why not have a week long "meeting" where debates can happen online in a message board format and everybody votes at the end? Or why have the "meeting" once a year at all? Why not address issues as they come up?
TheCSO pointed out that so much of this sounds like an online version of the "town meeting" format that our religious ancestors liked to use. I don't think the early congregationalists had "nominating committees." Are we sure we need them now? Conversely, I don't think anyone would disagree that there are a few areas that might be exceptions. We don't all need to know how much everybody pledges, for example and I have no problem with the church staff being the only ones who know that. HR issues involving staff seem like another good example.
I know a guy with a finance resume that would knock you over who was told he couldn't be nominated to his church's endowment committee because the committee had "too many white males." I will spare you the list of reasons why this is stupid and simply say that if instead of a committee, there were a message board where people could put up ideas and convince other people to vote for the best ones, then he could have participated and likely won people over. The good ideas should be allowed to win, IMHO.
But there are lots of ways that spreading information around can be helpful to the congregation even in places you wouldn't expect. One simple thing my church does already that I think is fabulous is to send out "Joys and Concerns" from the previous week as part of a mass email to the congregation each week. When I am in church and something is announced, unless I whip out my cell phone and note it right then, I'm likely to forget. If you put "Joys and Concerns" in my e-mail box, when I read it I can easily fire off e-mails and facebook messages of congratulation or offering help, send flowers and in other ways reach out to people in a way that can carry the interaction a long way past Sunday morning.
For another example, I know the minister of a very small church that expects her to be in charge of everything. Members of her congregation say all the time "Oh, if you need something, please call" but then she has to call and hear their excuse and then call someone else, etc, etc. My suggestion was that when someone says "call me if you need anything," she should say "can I add you to my e-mail list?"
That way, if she needs an extra sitter for the choir concert or if the secretary is sick and she needs someone to run off and fold the newsletter, she sends out one email to the "Help the minister" list, people who can help respond, and she's done.
Don't know if she has implemented that.
But I think it is a good example of how not every suggestion for using technology has to be a big radical change, though I certainly suggested some big radical changes above.
(((Would a new role for pastors be to follow the tweets of members to get feedback the way a marketing departments follow some tweets?)))
Honestly, I'd say that if your church has a staff membership person, then they should probably have twitter searches already set up so on the rare occasion that someone tweets about the church they at least see it. Wouldn't you want to know what people were saying? I doubt people tweet about churches much, but when they do, would be nice if someone at the church saw that and the way to do it is with automatic searches, not reading every member's twitter feed.
Also, I had a bit of theological snark about a skit my church choir did recently and if I'd had a place to mention it to just the folks from my church, it probably wouldn't have ended up on twitter since I usually don't like to put things on my twitter feed that most of my friends won't understand.
(((I grew up as the son of a pastor and the time I had with my dad was limited enough as it was with him off at meetings and weddings and funerals all the time. How much time would I have had with him if he had to follow fb and twitter all the time in addition to these other traditional roles. Would my current church have to hire a third pastor just to minister to the tweets?))
Katy-the-Wise still does "sermon talkback" at her church. If it works the same way it did at her old church, you have a few minutes to get a cup of coffee, then Katy and interested congregants meet back in the sanctuary for an informal discussion of the sermon. If you have questions about the sermon, if you disagree or if you entirely didn't get it, you can ask the minister and everybody can talk about your question.
Some ministers view this practice as "let's attack the minister time." Some church members (i.e. jerks) try to use it that way. It never really worked with Katy because whatever you were talking about, Katy-the-Wise had thought about it more than you had and could issue an analytical smackdown if one was deserved. I don't just call her that because it sounds cool.**
Her sermon talkbacks ran between half and hour and an hour and I can honestly say that they were more spiritually helpful than anything I have ever done in Unitarian Universalism. I learned SO MUCH and developed SO MUCH spiritually from those conversations. I think back on them all the time and would love to attend a church that still has them because I got so much out of them. Indeed, when someone asks me a hard question on the Chaliceblog, I think of Katy, throw my shoulders back, and start typing. (OK, sometimes I go think about it for awhile. But the throwing shoulders back and typing occurs soon enough.)
Since my impression is that a lot of ministers feel like they are being given the third degree when talkback is done verbally, why not have an online sermon discussion running for a couple of weeks after each sermon? People with varying reactions to the sermon can show up and talk about it and clear up one another's confusions and then the minister can comment as necessary.
Depending on whether the minister wanted to provide more explanation or mostly let people who were on the right track discuss it out amongst themselves, that would take some time, but if the minister had less committee work (see above suggestions) then he/she would have time for that. And I think most ministers would RATHER have theological discussions than do committee work. My goodness, I hope they would.
That said, there are a fair number of ministers already who post their sermons on blogs that allow comments. Though some sermons get responses, Ms. Kitty's in particular seem to get discussion, "online sermon talkbacks" haven't really caught on. But then, we haven't advertised them as such. I think the idea still has potential when introduced to the congregation as a whole.
(((How would any of this make young adults feel there is anything other than RE?)))
By bringing them into decision-making that engages them as adults, by connecting them to other people in the church through discussions of things theological and not that can lead them to find things they have in common with other members, and by making church something you check into for a few minutes once a or twice a day as you're on your laptop in bed or while you're bored at work as opposed to something you do on Sundays then forget about.
(((At our church we have small group ministries aka chalice circles, so I suppose you could have a virtual chalice circle, but that doesn't sound fulfilling to me in the same way as a small group meeting during the week.)))
I certainly don't think we should get rid of in-person interactions like this one. That said, I like online discussions because I often formulate my opinions better in writing and much prefer the "read someone's three paragraphs, think about what they said for awhile as I do something else, write three paragraphs in response" approach to a verbal discussion, at least as far as this sort of thing is concerned. Also, I'm a night law student with a really irregular schedule. I've never seen a small group that was meeting at a time when I was sure I could consistently make it.
Anyway, I think we should have room for both approaches.
Indeed, I think online stuff works best when it is enhancing offline social interaction rather than replacing it. I'd love to see more inter-church online discussions of regular life stuff that could bring people together and help them realize how much they have in common and how much they will have to talk about when they see each other on Sunday.
In a side note, there's an RE class at my church that meets EVERY SPRING that I have wanted to join for THREE YEARS but that has never met on a night that my crazy-scheduled self could make it. If they offered it online, I would sign up in a second. As it is, I likely won't be able to take it until 2012.
(((I'm certainly out of the age group that Wikipedia defines for the natives, but I've also been one of those pioneers who built the technology that the natives live with, so I don't feel like I'm out of the loop, but perhaps I am.))
I was born on third base. You hit the triple. That said, I find this vision of a minimally hierarchical church that is focused on discussion and collaboration invigorating and exciting and very consistent with the way a church run by people who value what we say we value should work and I wanna go. I don't think you're out of the loop, you seem like I smart person to me and if you read this and hate all these possibilities and/or don't think they would work, well I'm just a layperson with no religious training who gave it a shot and goodness knows which one of us is right.
Time may tell, I suppose.
*I'm writing this terrifyingly aware of how lots of UUs often think something is a good idea that Chalicechick considers a bad idea. But I can accept being outvoted. Being unilaterally vetoed by Myrtles is much rougher on me.
** Very early into my UUism career, Katy gave a sermon about the nature of vulgarity, how our notions of it have changed, what it means for us to have vulgar things and what it means to use vulgarity. At sermon talkback, Chalicechick raised her hand and when called on said "Course jocosity catches the crowd."
Katy finished "Shakespeare and I are often low-browed."
I regard that moment as the beginning of a beautiful friendship.