Social Media

My Church Killed Twitter? Personal vs. Institutional Use of Social Media

Is it better for pastors and churches to use social media institutionally or personally?

I set up a Facebook organization page for the youth ministry at my church several months ago, and it has attracted all of eight followers, most of whom are parents. Most of the content the page features is pushed from a Posterous blog I created to autopost content not only to Facebook but also to a Twitter account and a Flickr photo stream, all of which are “official” church youth ministry offerings.

I’m confident nobody uses those.

By contrast, when I use my personal Facebook page or Twitter account to narrate something going on in the youth ministry or the larger church, conversation reliably ensues.

Personally, I’m interested in people: what they think, what they’re doing, what they want to know. I’m much less interested in organizations. Yet pastors and youth leaders have well-advised instincts to make the things they’re involved in about the organization, the larger collective, and not about themselves. This is standard ministerial competence.

Social media are exposing that, at bottom, things that churches are doing are being done by people, and you can put those people on social map. And that’s okay. In fact, it may be a misuse of social media tools to employ them in the service of organizations instead of actual people.

One of the things from last year’s Theology After Google event that has stuck with me is Monica Coleman’s description of how she came to attend her present church. A friend connected her to the pastor through Facebook, and it was her interest in his theology and vision for the church that drew her to participate in the congregation. It was a person (it could just as easily been an elder or another member), not the organization.

So is it okay to scrap the “official” church Facebook page and instead cultivate the church’s relationship with the world through the personal social media presence of its leaders and members?


What Would Google Do

The Apple Church Is Just That Good: What Would Google Do? pt. 4

So I’ve been hearing these rumors about an iPad . . .

Another Apple product launch, another cultural phenomenon. Cupertino’s lovers love it. Their haters hate it. It’s success is indisputable. When was the last time a consumer product captured the cultural imagination like this?

Oh yeah, the iPhone.

Apple is the anti-Google, and their reign over all things networked really has no serious challenger. So why wasn’t this event called, “Theology after Apple?” Why not, “What Would Apple Do?”

In fact, Apple is the only anti-Google Jeff Jarvis could come up with. Not even God, he insists, is “immune from the power and influence of Google.” Evidence? How about open-Source Judaism, inspired by Douglas Rushkoff’s Nothing Sacred (“wasn’t the Talmud the world’s first wiki?”)?

No, only Apple seems to be exempt from the consequences of refusal to collaborate, to design platforms, open up, eschew advertising, and think distributed in the post-Google world. Jarvis ticks off the offenses:

Apple is the opposite of collaborative.

Apple still spends a fortune in advertising.

Apple is the farthest thing from transparent.

Apple abhors openness.

So why, if such Google-intransigence has buried entire industries, does Apple get a pass? Why does the brand still kill its competition? For Jarvis it’s simple: “It’s just that good. It’s vision is strong and its products even better.”

You’ve been to the Apple church, right? Impeccably manicured grounds; stirring worship aided by professional sound and lighting technicians; clear, concise, simple sermons with easy-to-use life application; unequivocally “Biblical” theology; a lifestyle niche small group ministry; slick branded merchandise, from Bibles to bumper stickers; youth recreation facilities to make Leslie Knope green with envy.

The Apple church is just that good. It’s has a clear vision articulated by a revered and unchallenged  executive. Its products are simply excellent.

That’s a straw man of a setup, I know. You’re meant to start pointing out the Apple church’s flaws. But, like Apple, it doesn’t care about its detractors. It’s thriving, and the future is bright. And for those of us trying, from within Emergent or mainline Protestant or Catholic traditions to get our heads around a “Googley” church, the success of Apple church is an unsettling counterpoint.


Douglas Rushkoff, Prophet of Our Era

This one’s been killing me for a few days.

I love me some Douglas Rushkoff. From this documentary to this media primer, and from this comic to this economics text, Rushkoff’s stuff influences my thinking about our culture and the church’s relationship to it as much as anything I read or watch or listen to. It never fails.

Rushkoff addressed the SXSW interactive festival a couple of weeks ago. The above video contains clips from that talk. Watch the thing. Here are some money quotes, though:

“We are attempting to operate our society on obsolete code.”

“If you are not a programmer, you are one of the programmed. It’s that simple.”

“And now we get the computer. Do we get a nation of programmers? No, we get a nation of bloggers. We write in the box that Google gives us.”

“Text gave us Judaism. The printing press gave us protestantism. What does this one [the computer] give us?”

For churches, what does this one give us? That seems to have been the question driving Theology After Google, and it’s the itch I’m scratching while reading What Would Google Do?

As for an answer? I can’t say for certain, but I’m a bit worried.

The early evidence suggests that this one gives churches Facebook pages, populated by comments like, “What should we use this Facebook page for?” This one gives churches online giving. This one gives churches websites that are either miserable because they don’t understand the web and so function as online marquees or stellar because they do understand the web and so can manipulate traffic through Search Engine Optimization.

Program or be programmed: that’s Rushkoff’s maxim. How do churches program? Somebody please tell me. I don’t have any positive answers or illustrations or examples.

Maybe start with the negative questions first: how do churches avoid being programmed by the technology?  How do churches learn the biases of the media the culture is using? How do churches help people (inside the church and out)  understand those  biases as well?

I’ve toyed with the idea of a media literacy unit for the church youth. Rushkoff makes that notion suddenly feel urgent.

What Would Google Do

The Church as Platform: What Would Google Do? pt. 2

I blogged earlier about one of key insights about Google in “What Would Google Do?” by Jeff Jarvis. Google distributes itself all over the place instead of expecting customers to come to it.

Here’s another nugget from the book worth considering: Google is a platform that helps communities do what they want to do.

Example: Google Maps. Google provides a mapping platform that users can build upon and enhance for free on their own sites. That helps Google and it helps Google’s users. Google wants to collaborate and wants to help others thrive. It cares less about what “consumers”are supposed to do with its technology and more about what communities of “users” are actually doing with it.

Is there something here for churches to think about? What do communities use churches as platforms for?

The congregation I serve charters a Boy Scout troop. That’s a community that wants to serve God and Country. Our church helps them do that by giving them a meeting space. But could we also invite the troop to take the lead on a church-sponsored community service?

I frequently am required to chase off skateboarders from the church property for insurance and liability reasons. Yet are these skaters not simply using the church as a platform for what they want to do, which is not just skate but also hang out and connect with one another? To protect ourselves, we have to chase them away; doing so may actually be causing us harm.

Communities aren’t waiting around for permission from churches to do their thing; we ignore the great stuff they’re doing at our peril, because, if Google is right, helping them helps us.


Tony Jones on Theology after Google

Tony Jones has a quick nod to Tripp Fuller and Philip Clayton for their work on Theology after Google, even as he acknowledges some of the events frustrations:

. . . because of that quality, the participants walked away somewhat disappointed.  That’s because this was a demanding group, and because events, by their nature are bound to disappoint.  Someone’s constituency is always underrepresented; someone else’s ego not sufficiently stroked; and someone else is convinced they could have given a superior presentation (which surely they could have).

Tony’s right about this. It’s one of the liabilities of “progressive-ism” and its attendant diversity that several agendas are operating at once.

Conservative evangelical Christianity in the United States has done its work largely by flattening out the message and limiting the participants (and therefore the views).

That’s bad theology and bad church practice.

But it works better to create a movement.


Theology after Google in the LA Times

The LA Times’ Mitchell Landsberg was at last week’s Theology after Google and filed this story in today’s paper.

Here’s the money quote:

At least half the audience multi-tasked on laptops, iPhones and BlackBerrys while listening to speakers. And many contributed comments in the form of Twitter “tweets” that were constantly scrolling up a screen behind the podium. In addition to those in attendance in Claremont, organizers said about 1,300 people watched a streaming video feed of the conference from around the world.

Oh, and this:

The consensus [of the conference]: It’s a whole new world out there. Churches will ignore it at their peril.


Theology after Google

“Theology after Google” was billed as a conversation about leveraging new technologies and networks for transformative ministry, and that’s what it delivered. I have to say the first few hours were disorienting and, frankly, a little chaotic. To some, the chaos betrayed a lack of discipline. But I was having fun. I’ve never been enough of a cool kid to see a TED Talk or participate in a Twitter backchannel, but Theology after Google encouraged (nay, implored!) us to do those things, and it was thoroughly engaging.

Notably, a conversation with Jeff Jarvis via Skype on conference’s second morning left me fascinated. Five minutes into it, I leaned over to my friend and said, “Okay, this event just paid for itself.” I’ve been reading Jarvis for nearly five years, and this was close enough to being a face-to-face conversation that it gave me shivers.

Also, a seminary classmate who now teaches at the University of California Riverside and contributes to Religion Dispatches brought us all to our senses late in the afternoon of the second day. Dr. Jonathan Walton warned us about neglecting face-to-face relationships in our enthusiasm over virtual ones. His wife, he said, has no problem slamming shut his laptop and instructing him to “Tell your 800 Facebook friends that you need to talk to your one wife.” Listening to his talk gave me a surge of pride, as I repeated to anyone who would listen: “I played flag football with that guy!”

I had plenty of critiques of things that were said, and I’m not ready to give Google and Facebook a churchy hi-five quite yet. But neither are lots of people who participated in this event. It’s a conversation–one that I’m happy to be part of.