Chris Brogan is helping people figure out how to apply social media tools in particular contexts. I offered to do the church application. Of course, because Chris has been helping me explore the possibilities for the past couple years, he has been mentoring this post.
I’ll start with a couple of principles which I try to remember.
Church buildings are tools. So are social media.
When people think about church, they think location. They go to a building. But the building is a convenience, a place to gather and stay warm and dry. Although we want buildings that are useful, if we get stuck on making them too cool, too amazing, too vast, we use up resources that could go elsewhere. Not just money, but time and attention and energy. When we think about social media, we often get captured by the coolness.
I do. As a result for example, I have a pownce account that I never check, which has left one person thinking I left the internet. When I am at my best, however, I am looking at social media as a set of tools to be used for a variety of specific purposes…and I will choose carefully based on what I want to accomplish.
Church is by definition about community and relationships. So are social media.
If you take what Jesus said about what we know as church with some seriousness, it is a set of vertical and horizontal relationships. It is about the people. And so it is with social media. How are we building relationships? How are we developing connections and using the connections to help people grow?
The curtain is pretty transparent
For some reason, people who are exploring social media for proselytizing seem to think that no one will know what they are trying to do. For example, if you are creating strategies for saving people and you publish those strategies online, the “lost people” who are the “target” of the “assimilation strategies” can read them. And will understand that the appearance of authenticity is just a strategy. Maybe of the borg.
I understand this struggle. It is the struggle of every brand that is trying to create a social media strategy. However, at some level, church isn’t a brand. My solution is to just live and talk and explore as if my Invisible Friend is real. Just like Big Bird did.
What I’ve done:
1. Share work trips with flickr and audio blogging. I was part of a team that went to Gulfport as part of Katrina reconstruction. While we were there, we put pictures on flickr, we audioblogged with hipcast, and just blogged. People back home were able to look and listen and read. Even people who didn’t know what the technology was could follow the links that we emailed around and also put on the church website.
2. Share corporate gatherings with ustream. A year ago we started turning on a video camera and streaming our services. These weren’t services produced for broadcast, with great camera work, stellar audio, and TV timeouts. Quite the opposite. The service existed and we let people at home watch it through an unobtrusive camera. For the first couple months, we just used the mic on the camera. We just took what was happening inside outside. And people watched. A guy whose wife couldn’t get out because of early Alzheimer’s disease. People who are living on the other side of the world. And one day, people who couldn’t safely travel because of the ice. (Though I haven’t tried it, I’m guessing that you could use blog.tv and chat back)
3. Share your heart with blogging. I’ve been writing here for a couple years. My friend Rick sometimes tells people what he will be preaching about to get ideas and suggestions. The key, however, is to wrestle.
4. Share community development with a corporate blog. During Lent this year I was part of creating a small group. 7 people wrote once a week each about a lent-related theme. They talked with each other. They talked with commenters. They ended up having as much interaction as a face-to-face small group might have during its first 6 weeks of meeting. They want to keep going.
5. Share your life with twitter. I can’t ever figure out how to describe twitter. Even calling it microblogging doesn’t help. So I just send people here. Especially when I am traveling. And then they discover that they can find out what I’m doing and where I am. And then they understand.
6. Share your heart with youtube. I’ve created a number of pieces of video to use in services and other places. Some are citizen journalism, showing what people connected to church are doing in the community. Some are thought pieces. (Bonus: that video used audio that was captured by on a digital voicemail service. People could call in, leave a message, and then I was able to edit it in.) Some are, well, odd. But all of them are quickly produced and connect to particular people. The secret is to remember that an apology or a birthday greeting with only one intended audience member can be absolutely huge in impact.
7. Share attention with a note. Yep. You can actually handwrite a note to someone. Of course, if you take a picture with your cameraphone, order a print through walgreens or snapfish or other photo sites, and then glue it to cardstock before you write the note, you can personalize a moment or an event in a way that merges multiple media for maximum impact.
Chris has had a ton of other ideas I haven’t done. One of the best? Have kids interview old people on camera and produce videos together.
Oh, one other thing. I know people that I didn’t know a year ago because of all of these things above. I have cried and laughed with, prayed for, talked to, understood, taught, been taught by these people. There are real people behind these words and screens and cameras. Out here, outside the church building.