Tag Archives: church 2.0

Understanding why Web 2.0 works.

There were ten of us in the room.

I gave the other nine people pieces of paper. Each got one 12″ by 12″ piece of fancy paper, the kind that you see in scrapbooks. Each got several pieces of smaller plain yellow or slightly fancy blue paper, the kind that will stick to other paper.

I asked them to take one of the small pieces of paper and write a few words. I said, “In a few words, write what you think social media is.”

I waited. This is a group that has heard the phrase, most of them. It is also a group that doesn’t understand the phrase. They’ve never, most of them, really talked about it. That’s why I’m here.

Then I said, “Put that on your scrapbook page. Now, give me a few examples of social media.”

Then I said, “Answer this question: Have you ever created a web page?”

Each person had three small pieces of paper on a larger one.

I walked over to the head of the group. “Read your first note.”

He did.

I looked across the circle to the junior member of the group. “What do you think about his definition?”

“Great!”, she said.

“Write that on a little piece of paper and sign it.” She did. I carried it across the room and stuck it on the bottom of his definition.

I looked for a person who I knew understood social media. “What do you think of that definition?”, I said.

“I’d add this,” he said.

“Write it down,” I said. He did. I carried it back and attached it to the first two notes.

While he was writing, however, the junior staff member said, “Can I add to mine?”

“Write on another one,” I said. She did. I stuck it on the end of the list.

I looked at the person next to the guy who got it. “What do you think of his addition?” “It’s good,” she said. “Write it down.” She did.

Then I told them a story. It is a good story.

To help me explain the story, I handed them a color copy of a scrapbook page I had created. It looked sharp, bright, almost professional.

After the story, I picked up the color copy of a page I handed out.

“This is a traditional webpage. It looks great.” I picked up the page with sloppy list of notes stuck on it. “This looks awful compared to mine. But it is yours. You created it. You created the conversation. You can add to the conversation.”

I pointed to a picture on my page.

“If my friend wanted to look at this picture and tell me he likes it, there is no way for him to add to the page. He would just have to use a Sharpie on his computer screen. On the other hand, on your page, you could have a picture and someone could talk about it and someone else could and someone else could.”

A copy of a scrapbook page or a scrapbook page that can involve lots of people. Underneath the technology, creating a conversation makes sense.

The technology isn’t the why, it’s the how.

I think they got it, by the way.


My Monday

God bookMaybe it doesn’t matter, you seeing my schedule. But maybe it does. I’ll run through it and talk about some of the things I talk about.

  • I preached yesterday, something I do every few months. The topic, part of a series on God’s characteristics, was “God is loving.” I’ve been updating our church website and sermon podcast with links to the message. (I also DM’d the link to a friend).
  • A lady from our congregation died Friday night. I won’t be doing the funeral, but talked with the family and pastor about the bulletin and the service (What names should be listed? Do you list relationships for the sake of people who might not know everyone? I know that she was shy, but what about a picture of the dolls that she collected for the front of the bulletin? We’ll record it, don’t worry about that).
  • I’ve talked with a person who teaches at our church about a conference that’s coming up. It’s by video this year to save on travel costs. I want to have several people from our congregation attend to learn how to build relationships within groups more effectively.
  • I wrote a memo on how to refine one of learning tools. I used dark room to help me concentrate.
  • I’ve helped the funeral director move the casket into the building, talked with the person in charge of the funeral lunch tomorrow and met her son, moved some furniture and trophies.
  • I’ve talked with a couple of friends at a distance about why Paul (the apostle) was cranky and how to spell a word.
  • I looked up how much it would cost to send a package to Serbia.
  • I added StickyScreen to my browser at work as part of my focusing process.
  • I’ve used Jing to create a screen capture to put on our website where I also uploaded a video about the community carnival we do every year (and told our facebook fans about it).
  • A couple other things
  • four cups of coffee.

What is interesting to me is the mixture of communication tools and media I am using in the course of my day. I bring my social media conversations about audience into the conversation about what goes into a funeral bulletin. I bring Jing and Facebook into promotion for an intensely local carnival.

Some days my life confuses me and I think about how simple it used to be, back when I only had one conversation at a time. But the truth? I wouldn’t trade now for then. Because of you.

two years

Two years ago I was in Portland.  I was at our denomination’s biennial conference. It is safe to assume that I was one of two people on twitter. The session on how churches could use the Internet focused almost entirely on a broadcast approach, rather than an interactive approach. (Streaming sermons, having pretty websites, advertising). As a digital person, I felt very alone.

That’s not completely true.

I took many friends with me. There was a wonderful online birthday party for me. But I felt like I was on the edge.

Today feels very different. When I searched twitter for “general conference” and “missionary church”, I found some people who I have already started following…and then met in person. Several of us are talking to each other and people from our local communities in real time using facebook.

There are still some challenges.

At an event like this, where voting will happen, you need to identify a “conference bar”, the voting section. When that area was identified, it excluded almost every area close to outlets. When we voted, there was a loud “no” vote from the corner where the outlets are. Everyone chuckled. No one without a laptop understood.

At an event like this, where reports are offered, the only way to respond is by standing up and asking. Someone just joked about putting a report on facebook. It would, however, be very helpful to gather comments in real time using the technology that many of us, many of the people who could be the future of our organization, are using anyway.

Both of those are illustrated in this facebook comment, (said mostly joking):

“I’m wondering if ____ is FB-bitter seeing that the rammed through vote moments ago put him on the front row–apparently a place where he is uncomfortable being on his laptop–I type this from the 2nd row (I want my old seat back.) ____, is the ability to vote really worth losing your FB privileges?”

However, we have made progress in the last two year. And I am grateful.

Just like when we started – a social media reflection

new building GMC in 1917Grabill Missionary Church started more than one hundred years ago.

Here’s how it happened.

In 1898, a bunch of like-minded people were meeting in small groups in fifteen church buildings and school houses, all served by a couple brothers who were preachers, all within a circle about 12 miles across. Some of the places had preaching services, some of them had Sunday school.

Some of the people in these small gatherings came from other churches, responding to a new (for them) understanding of what the Bible taught. Others came from no church at all. There was great excitement about the new things God was doing, and some resistance from those who had learned the old way.

In 1900, the railroad decided to build a town and the spreadout groups started talking about a central location.  In November, 1901, a church building was dedicated. In January, 1902, the first train went by. In February, 1902, the first plat of the town was filed.

At the time, people from the congregation saw each other all the time. They lived within walking distance. They shopped from each other, traded goods, chatted while at the post office or hardware store. They lived local.

Much of the conversation was, I’m guessing, pretty mundane. People talked about weather and sick animals. They mentioned that they needed to get some work done. They mentioned coffee.

This mundane conversation was, however, the fabric of community. You can’t talk about deep spiritual concepts all the time. Sometimes you just talk. And in that chatter grows connection and in that connection can grow faith. Particularly when you watch what happens in a life across time, how a person handles crisis.

Community is formed in communication and communion, interaction and intimacy. The more of both, the deeper the relationships.

In churches, that kind of interaction doesn’t happen easily anymore, at least not for large parts of a congregation. The technology of the car has made it possible to travel further to church, to shop, to eat, to live. A community is less defined by geography.

Churches, at least wise ones, respond by creating additional times of interaction. We create small groups or Sunday school classes where people can share life together. Or that’s what we hope. And sometimes people are aware of what is happening in each other’s lives daily, and sometimes not.

And for a long time, no one has known any better. We’ve known that more communication and communion would be nice, that our sense of community was suffering, but we figured that we were like the rest of American culture, feeling the disconnection that comes from distances.

And then came a new set of communication tools. They are simple enough for almost anyone to use. They are cheap enough for almost anyone to afford (as cheap as a free library card if necessary). We call them social media. We could call them “small town streets”

Just like people were able to chat with each other while heading to the store or waiting at the mill or taking the milk to the creamery, people now can chat while sitting at home. And some of the conversations sound the same, about weather or work or coffee. Or the neighbor’s odd behavior at midnight every night.

At first, only one or two people in a congregation knew about these tools. The first person to talk about Twitter or Facebook or Myspace was viewed as peculiar. When it was explained that this was an Internet thing, all the stories about bad people lurking in chat rooms to injure children were mentioned.

A funny thing has happened, however. More people are becoming aware of these tools. Parents and then grandparents discover new ways to see pictures of the trips that their children or grandchildren are taking. And then conversations like this happen as a small group from a church gets together.

A: “How was that phone call this afternoon?”

B: “It was great. He’s doing well.”

A. had heard about the phone call from looking at B’s facebook status.

To look at social media as a new evangelism tool, just like broadcasting was viewed, misses one of the core values of social media: transparent interaction. Rather than thinking of social media (facebook, twitter, myspace, youtube, blogs, flickr) as a new broadcasting tool, churches are probably wisest to think of it as a way to live life together away from Sunday morning, to live in the community as a community, like churches that make a difference usually do.

There are some cautionary notes, however.

  • We can’t fall into believing that this way is the best way, that people not on Facebook are somehow missing out. In fact, congregations using social media have to be more aware than ever of the need to be redundant, to provide key information in as many forms as possible, to foster communication and communion wherever possible.
  • We have to remember that what is online is a search away. I have chuckled sadly at the times I have read online comments about how to reach people on the Internet, how to convert “lost people.” There has been a complete lack of understanding that those “lost people” can read what is being said about them.
  • Social media is a place where the new is addictive. I spend time bouncing from platform to platform wondering if there is something new, if someone said something that I need to respond to. This fear of missing out (FOMO) is an addiction of sorts. Of course, people probably spent too much time chatting in front of Grabill Hardware, too. But no one ever thought the answer was to tear the porch off.

Technology is not relationship. Jesus did not talk about technologies, he talked about people. However, it the technology allows more frequent interaction, even about the details of life, then maybe we can build the same kind of community that happened in the early days of our congregation.


For more on online/offline as a difference on tools rather than a difference between real life/fake life, see Liz Strauss’s wonderful post Online Culture: is your definition out of date?.

For history on Grabill, Indiana see Grabill.net.

Grabill Missionary Church is on facebook at www.facebook.com/grabillmissionary.

emilio and the box pews

Emilio stared at the pews.. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen pews before. He saw them every Sunday morning. And Monday morning. And most other mornings.

Emilio was an associate pastor. Pews were his business. But these were different. They were box pews, benches with sides, benches with doors.

He was visiting this church for a concert. It always intrigued him to see how other churches did things, how they were built, how they sounded. He always looked at the print materials, looked for clues about how they did what they did. It gave him the opportunity to think about church.

This evening, staring at the box pews, was no different. He knew that these neat, civilized, regular cubicles weren’t how they had started. After the reformation, in the British Isles in particular, people brought in seating, they built boxes, treating them as little personal spaces in the public space of church. It was a way to have privacy, to maintain family space. It didn’t hurt that they blocked out the breezes that blew through the cold buildings. But it didn’t help to break down barriers.

As he stared at them, Emilio pictured the cubicles in his own church, and in many other churches. This time they weren’t around families. They were around generations, around interest groups, around social strata. There were groups that went into their cubicles every Sunday, with walls around them.

Sometimes that was fine. Sometimes it wasn’t.

But the challenge it posed for Emilio tonight was huge. He kept hearing about the importance of communication. He kept hearing people talk about wanting to know what was happening at the church, what great things were going on. He kept hearing people talk about the importance of vision, of knowing what is going on.

His project was to give everyone access to the information they needed to grow, in formats and frequency that helped them feel like they belonged to the community, to the tribe.

And he knew that they were trying. There were weekly bulletins, biweekly mailers, web updates, a facebook group, Sunday school class email prayer chains. There were displays in the hallways, announcements in the services, notes on clipboards in classrooms. There was a limited circulation enewsletter. There were hundreds of pieces of information. And there were people who said they never heard what was going on who, when questioned, acknowledged that they didn’t read the newsletter.

Emilio, self-styled “social media pastor“, knew that there were tremendous opportunities for conversation using new technologies. But he was also aware that a significant number of people in the congregation didn’t want to be part of those technologies. The ages of the congregation spanned a century. The income likely spanned 6 figures. The education ranged nearly as far.

He knew the social media options. He used them. But it wasn’t a social media congregation. It was a people congregation. And his responsibility was not to social media. It was to the people and to God.

As Emilio stared at the box pews, he knew that although the people sat in chairs and pews, they might as well be in cubicles…or silos.

One core message, a hundred applications, a thousand different mailboxes.

What could he do?

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 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.

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.

just wondering

What’s the question that “Good Friday” answers?

I’m thinking about Good Friday services and thinking, a little, about what it would look like to have one here.  The first question that I thought about asking was, “What do you want from a Good Friday service?

The more I thought about it, however, I realized that my opening question matters more. The latter one, about what we want from a service is about us, from an experiential perspective. That’s fine, of course. We are created to have experiences. But I’m curious about the larger conversation. What, in descriptive terms, is the question that Good Friday is a turn in, that this death answers?

Of course, the follow-on question is, “What question do you wish it answered?”

I’m curious about your answers. They will help me think about having a virtual Good Friday service, an exploration of some aspects of that day.

You can leave comments here or you can email me at jnswanson at gmail dot com.

This is a journey into the trees. I’m not sure where the path goes. But I’m interested in your thoughts.