Daily Archives: February 11, 2008

Interruption or invitation?: Social media and congregational worship

I’m considering submitting an abstract for a research paper to a conference on the influence of technology in worship (for more, look here). As I was working on the abstract and waiting to find out whether the due date on the website (January 15) or in a letter (February 15) is accurate, I realized that I need to invite your interaction before submitting this proposal.

You see, I’m thinking about thinking about social media and worship, both of which are intended to be interactive. And I realized an hour ago, that I better ask you all whether this makes sense from a  social media perspective before I commit to writing a paper about it.  So here’s my abstract as it stands now. Is this a set of research and reflection that you would like to reflect more about?


Interruption or invitation?: Social media and congregational worshipSending text messages during a corporate worship service seems irreverent. But what if the texter is actually sending 140 character summaries of the service to 500 people who follow his twitter feed, many of whom have no other connection to worship? For many church leaders, that question is nonsensical; what is a twitter feed?

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argued that the nature of television raised significant challenges for those seeking to use it for religious purposes. Religion was about mystery, television was about entertainment, and the better religious programming was as television, the worse it was at religion.

A new generation of communication technologies have emerged with a new set of values.  With very simple technology requirements and no cost to the producer, these tools are allowing individuals to produce content with greater ease. Working with values of community, interactivity, authenticity and immediacy, these Web 2.0 tools are disrupting thinking about news, entertainment, marketing, and community.

They also have tremendous potential in corporate worship settings:

  • With ustream.tv and other video streaming tools, it is possible to broadcast directly to the internet, and to record the broadcast. As a result, any church with a highspeed internet feed can allow parishioners to watch the service from anywhere in the world.
  • With twitter and other microblogging tools, people report on their current activities in 140 character messages. Some tweeters are reporting on the services they are attending.
  • With flickr and other photosharing tools and youtube and other videosharing tools, individuals can share pictures quickly with their faith community, pictures which can be incorporated into the congregational gatherings very simply.

As helpful as these technologies are, however, there are significant questions for study:

  • How distracting does using the technology become for those sitting around? For example, are non-tech people distracted by the sermon-tweeter?
  • Do people move beyond information into worship? Are you watching ustream for the participation in worshiping or the information gained?
  • Is a broader worship community developed or are we still in a period of novelty?
  • Do we need to figure out even better ways for the people “out there” (not in the physical space) to interact with the people in the physical space?
  • How can we most effectively move these technologies toward being just ways to communicate, rather than being distractions or objects of attention?

As these technologies become part of the lives of people in congregations, it is helpful to explain them, to consider the implications for community and faith, and to help congregations use them most effectively to extend invitations to those who live in the contemporary communicative context.


So what do you think? What can you suggest as additional research questions? Can you help me shape this abstract?