Category Archives: community2.0

building relationship in a digital world

inspired by Chris Brogan

On April Fool’s Day, many friends of Chris Brogan were confused. They saw his facebook birthday as April 1 and wondered how it had crept up so quickly. Then some of us remembered the wonderful video done for his birthday last year. That memory helped us see that Chris, unintentionally, had fooled us all.

It also sparked a conversation between a couple of us to figure out what we could do for his birthday. One of the things about Chris is that he has a way of creeping into our conversations. Because he seems to be everywhere in social media, it feels like he is everywhere, period.

For example, last week I walked into our son’s room. He had Chris’s flickr album open. Though Andrew has met Chris, it seemed odd. It turns out that Andrew started at engadget, followed a link to SxSW, and read a couple of guys talking about Chris.

So we thought, Becky McCray and I, what if we invited people to show us where Chris shows up in their lives. What if we invited people to take Chris (at least flat Chris) out of the fishbowl and into real space? We created an account at and sent out the link.

The challenge, of course, is that Chris is looking for himself. So only a part of the Brogan universe knows about this project. Now, at the beginning of his birthday, we’re inviting you to join us. Go here for the directions and then upload your pictures of where Chris shows up in your life. And please let other people know about the project.

This probably won’t be a surprise for Chris. That’s fine. If he wasn’t connected to everyone and everything and everywhere, this project wouldn’t make any sense anyway.

But Chris, the number of us that wouldn’t know each other, that wouldn’t be known at all, that wouldn’t be wasting investing huge amounts of time in social media, is bigger than you know or acknowledge. Some of us think it’s pretty cool. And some of us, the geekier ones of us anyway, think YOU are pretty cool.

Thanks for changing our lives, dear friend. Thanks for changing MY life.


8 ways to use social media in church

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 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.

8.  Be human. Are people at facebook? Friend them. Building networks at Linkedin? Connect. Writing a book on conversation? Sign up. Raising money to fight cancer? Join in.

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.

Where I’ve been – 2007

pathI wanted to look back at 2007. I really did. But somehow, finding the time to look back has been challenging. There were lots of trees and leaves.


Enter Robert Hruzek. Robert does a monthly (or so) writing challenge asking for posts on the theme, “what I learned from…” The “from” varies each month, but the challenge of writing to a theme is a helpful thing. (I’ve written a couple times in this series).

His end of year challenge was, “What I learned from 2007” and the project was to pick one post from each month of the year that represented some significance. I finally settled down to write that post, and Robert has it up here What I learned from 2007. (He did this as a blogapalooza which means that all of the posts are put up on his blog, Middle Zone Musings, with links back to here.

It was a great exercise, realizing how much I’ve written, how much I’ve learned, how much you have meant to me. So head over there and see whether you agree with my choices.

In the process of compiling that list, I realized that I’ve been writing in other places as well.


A couple times this year, Liz Strauss let me guest post on her blog. This has been a privilege and a challenge. One of the things that marks Liz’s blog is that she comments on every comment. Every one. In almost real time.

And Liz gets a lot of comments.

When you write for Liz, you want to keep the conversation going, which means a significant commitment for the day or two following. Having done that twice, I have a deep appreciation for the commitment Liz has for her community. In her blog she talks often about relationship. In her comments, she lives that commitment.

Thanks, Liz for letting me stop by on December 5 (Are you blogging for as many or as much?) and August 15 (Shaping the world in little ways.)


Through Liz this year, I met Joanna Young. She lives in Edinburgh and writes well about writing well. I mean really well.

One of the things she did this year was to try having guest writers. She opened up her sitting room in September and invited three of us to take the lead in conversation about authentic writing. (Robert wrote one, and Emma Bird wrote the other. Growing out of that collaboration, Emma and Joanna are hosting a writing holiday in Italy.)

So thanks, Joanna for letting me stop by September 13 (Sometimes I write hollow.)

Next Wave is an online journal about church and culture. Thanks to editor Bob Hyatt, I was able to write twice for them, once on Twitter (June) and once on the advent blog I wrote (December).

Related Blogs

In addition to writing here at Levite and at these other places, I wrote at two other blogs I created (deliberate disciple and advent2007) at various times this year.

Looking ahead.

There are several projects bouncing in my head, particularly as I begin understanding how social media is going to interact in my new position at Grabill Missionary Church.

In the works already, and unrelated to GMC, is This blog will start running within a week or so. Eight of us are working together to write this, attempting in community to reflect on the lenten season. The challenge is that only some of us know each other face to face. Most of the relationship has developed on-line. We are very excited about the interaction already happening. You’ll enjoy it, too.


I’m thinking that I generated a lot of words in 2007. Thanks to each of you who reads and comments, whether face to face or in the comment section or through email or through a twitter reference or other link. I am grateful for the community that stops by here. I’m grateful for you.

Happy Birthday, Connie Reece

Sometimes we find ourselves doing scary things. One of those things may be standing in the aisle of Hobby Lobby with a feather boa.

What would cause an associate pastor, ready to start working at a new church, to post a picture of such an experience?

Connie Reece.

Connie and I go way back, like 8 months or so. Although Nancy and I lived in Austin in the early 80s, our paths never crossed (however, I did acquire a taste for CFS).

Part of our relationship has been public. Connie was part of an incredible surprise birthday party for me last July. I was able to make her laugh in August. Somewhere in there, I was trying out for a wedding and Connie joined us from Austin, providing Nancy and Hope and I play-by-tweet commentary as the wedding proceeded.

However, there has also been a back channel conversation going on this whole time, emailing interaction on topics of mutual interest. We have been able to encourage each other during some challenging moments.

Sometimes, the more you learn about someone, the more you wish you didn’t know. In Connie’s case, the more I get to know of her heart, the more I want to know.

From what I read from people who know her face-to-face, from business, from second life, from other conversations, I’m guessing that my experience is not unique.

However Connie is.

So, friend, happy birthday. Thanks for encouraging, challenging, inspiring, and giving us the gift of your vulnerability.

UPDATE: It was Joann Fabrics. Sorry.


I wanted to write a wonderful theoretical post about conversation and community.

The train of thinking started with a post by Joanna Young, talking about responding to comments on blogs. It’s a great post, suggesting that if we are going to write, we have to listen to the comments and respond to them because we are the social in social media, because these are conversations that, when continued, grow into relationship.

I commented that I like to email rather than respond on my blog to the comments. Joanna suggested that the former is nice and helpful and friendly, but if we don’t do the latter, we don’t help people to understand that this is a friendly place to be, that the writer of this blog is a listener, a dialoguer, a conversationalist.

It was a very good caution, a very well written, caring reproof.

I am, by nature, a one-on-one person. My counsel is private most often. I don’t like to talk to one person in front of others. In fact, when Nancy and I go out to eat, we are the quiet table. We talk, quietly, but if there are other tables close to ours, our conversation is limited. This is in marked contrast to the tables around us who seem more than ready to share every detail of their lives.

As a result, when I come to social media, I am far more comfortable with the email interaction than with responding to comments. I can speak more directly to heart needs that I sense. I can relate at a different level.

And, as I said, I was going to have this much more closely reasoned.

And then I spent the evening in conversations, with a long-time friend, with family, in the emergency room with someone injured in an accident (not seriously). And I realized that I am built to encourage best in one-on-one conversations. If there are four of us in the room, I’ll defer to those who seem to know better what they are doing. If there are two of us, I’ll defer to the one who seems to know better what they are doing.

We each work best when we work in ways that fit with us best. And at times that will cost us reach, and breadth, and audience. However, when I am most likely to change a life, it happens with personal time where I don’t have to worry about others listening in. I can better ask obnoxious questions. I can more comfortably share my particular struggles.

So yes, Joanna, I will do my best to respond publicly to comments. And I love what you and Liz do with specific direct comments to everyone who comments on your blogs. But I’m thinking that I have to know how my voice best works, and put my energy into that way of speaking.

Or that’s what I think way too late at night.

in the window, alone

I’m on vacation this week. It’s that funny kind of vacation you take because you need to use the time, but the rest of your family isn’t off work and school, and so you stay home and somewhat connected. I actually don’t mind it, and it means that there is time with family and time without family (and maybe I can clean the garage and the office).

Nancy works with teen moms every couple of weeks with some other people from our church, providing a meal and a speaker and some time in community. I came along because it means I get to ride with Nancy. I didn’t, however, want to spend time in my office (while on vacation) so I came over to my ‘hiding place’. It’s a house attached to the church building, and this room has big windows and is light and airy (in spite of 1970’s orange carpeting).

I brought a bowl of chili and sat at the desk eating and reading.

If you have read closely, you have realized that there are large windows and that it is night time. As a result, in this very private place, my eating is on display to the parking lot, the houses in the neighborhood, the people driving by. And I’m eating chili, with melted cheese.

As I wiped my chin for the 8th time, I realized that this is exactly what happens when many of us are involved with social media. We sit in a private place, blocking out the distractions and chaos. We engage in writing, which, while social when we want an audience or a conversation, is still rooted in our own soul, in our own heart. Particularly for the more reflective of us, we are digging into us, in a very private way. And then, as soon as we hit ‘publish’ or ‘update’ or ‘post’–everyone can see. They can see the unrefined thoughts dripping down our chins.  They can hearing the slurping of our impolite attitudes. Many more people than we ever thought can see more of us than we ever desired.

The secret to avoiding mortification is to acknowledge the windows and, though not performing for them, live out in a way that knows that people are watching. After all, it was my choice to not pull down the blinds in the same way that it is my choice to write with my heart on the screen.

Many of us are trying to live in a community way. It’s risky and scary and sometimes quite messy. But I’m not often lonely, sitting in the window, alone.

making me think – about learning.

Andrew (our son) today asked me whether I had watched the KSU students. Somehow he had looked at Chris Brogan’s post about the video which follows. In this video, a group of students in a cultural anthropology class talk about the connection between living and how education is done in classrooms.

Here’s what is hard for me about this video: I understand completely.

I was involved in higher education from 1976 when I started as a student at Wheaton (IL) College until 2000 when I left the University of Saint Francis to start working in a church. Twenty-four years. Six schools, from a 435 student Bible College to the 50,000 students at UT-Austin (actually, that particular move went the other direction, from huge to tiny). Student to Associate Vice President. And throughout that process I had this nagging in the back of my head: does this really matter?

Formal education does help, of course. There are some things that I learned. Mostly I learned ways to think, some of which help. I learned how to help people think. I learned something about relationship. And I learned that making structures relevant and significant is really really hard.

Now, here’s the hard part. I am part of church right now. As I watch this video, which starts with handwriting on the wall of a classroom, I think of handwriting on the wall which happens in the Bible, writing which comes from God telling a king that his kingdom will disappear that night. And I think about writing on the walls of church buildings where people say, “How does this matter?”

People are staying away from church in droves. According to some research, if there are 100 kids in the class in this video, 97 of them find church irrelevant, judgmental, hypocritical. And I don’t always blame them.

Structures tend to alienate people, particularly people who don’t exactly fit into the structure. And these students, who have been taught that they are unique, are finding that academic structure and religious structure don’t fit them because they are unique.

So if learning matters, if God matters, if learning about God and talking with God matter, What do we need to understand about how people are?

Of course, there is an interesting story here. I’m off my RSS feeds for the week, so I would have missed this video. However, Andrew saw it at Chris’s blog. Andrew told me. I listen to my 20-year-old college-student son when he points me to stuff that makes him think. And so my internet friend captured my son’s interest and that connects back to me. Then common thread?


Regardless of the medium, people matter. Educational structures are a pain, but you and I both know the couple of teachers who captured us. Religious structures and excesses make us cringe, but we do on occasion say, “but if that person is what Jesus is like, maybe I might be interested.”

We have generations of people who are incredibly insightful about what isn’t working. Some of them are actually interested in what might work.

So, who’s going to listen to them? And then talk with them?

Are you?


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