Twitter Makes The Church Better

This is a descriptive post about the San Gabriel Presbytery vote on Amendment 10-A this past Tuesday, May 10th, a deliberation that was preceded by a matter of mere minutes by the tweeted (and infinitely re-tweeted) announcement of the decisive  10-A vote result from the the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area.

Before out meeting began, I was unofficially charged by the Executive Presbyter to watch for a Twin Cities result, so I spent most of the afternoon checking the #pcusa and #ptca Twitter tags. I celebrated with @mayog that @charlesawiley was with us, addressing our debate and leading our worship. and I broadcast his pearls of wisdom. I trumpeted @revsap’s floor speech to the world. I offered a lighthearted commentary–“scruple is a verb”–and I received in my Twitter flesh the punishment for my sin from @adamwc: “screw scrupling now.”

I wasn’t alone. People all over the room were shamelessly checking their phones. @heysonnie, @trindlea, and @ga_junkie collected and redistributed every update with stunning proficiency.

While moderating the CPM report, my phone buzzed in my pocket. Taking a calculated risk on my perception of the room’s distraction, I checked it:  a tweet from @trindlea in which I’d been mentioned. As in, “@yorocko moderating . . .” I chuckled and scanned the room. @trindlea was hiding in plain sight.

We had the result before our debate began, and although we were prepared to respond if someone should announce the result from the floor during debate, nobody did. We debated for about 45 minutes along all the usual lines of argument, then we used pale green paper slips to vote.

During the dinner break, I used Face Time to call up some of our church’s elders who was unable to attend the meeting. The other commissioners from our church passed the iPad around and updated them about the proceedings.

Also during the dinner break, my colleague had a small audience around her phone, watching a video just posted by the Moderator of the General Assembly about 10-A’s passage.

At the close of worship, we read from an iPad the story from the denomination’s website confirming the success of the amendment before the benediction.

Media connected the church gathered.

Media connected the church separated.

I can unambiguously say that these tools made this exercise better than it would have been otherwise and better than it has been in the past.

My experience yesterday afternoon was a demonstration of the vitality and connection that social media technology can engender in the church. In the face of the doomsday scenarios being advanced already, that experience makes me hopeful and gives me something to point to and say, “Look how we love each other.”


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?


Snapshot Web and CPCC: A Drama in Three Acts

Act I

We’ll call her Erin, a seminary classmate who’s innocuous tweet alerts me to a harmless contest: enter your church to win a free upgrade of its website. Seems harmless. I click the link and enter the data, including the reasons why our church’s website needs help. Move on to something else.

Act II

An email arrives from another seminary classmate. We’ll call him Nick. This one congratulates me and my church for having won the upgrade-your-church-website contest. It’s his contest. For his company. Pushed innocently on Twitter by his friend.

The fog begins to lift; behind that innocuous tweet lay a collaboration between two people, people who know each other quite well, and whom I know less well than they know each other, which is well enough to be intrigued. And a little tickled.


After weeks of inter-church back-and-forth about what to do with our winnings, we decide that the best use is to create an entirely new website for our church’s infant & toddler daycare and preschool facility. We register a new domain and connect our Children’s Center Director to Nick.

The Director employs her soon-to-be daughter-in-law to get the lowdown from Nick and set up the site. And off she goes, snapping photos, shooting video, designing graphics.

Today, the curtain went up on the finished product.

Needless to say, I’m pleased as punch.

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News Flash: Life Still Hard, Despite Facebook

I don’t agree with Umair Haque’s latest post.

Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab who blogs and writes for the Harvard Business Review, says that, just like during the bubble and the sub-prime mortgage bubble, we’re witnessing a social media bubble; people are ignoring the warning signs of a great collapse.

Here’s the money quote:

During the subprime bubble, banks and brokers sold one another bad debt — debt that couldn’t be made good on. Today, “social” media is trading in low-quality connections — linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.

Haque is worried that the prevalence of Facebook “friendships” are cheapening our notions of friendship altogether. If these social network relationships were in any sense real, then social conditions would be improving. They’re not, so . . . they’re not.

Haque’s right that internet connections are not making the world a better place, at least not if you’re looking for poverty, racism, sexism, and the like to be overcome. People still treat other people contemptibly, especially in online forums, and, as danah boyd is chronicling, white flight (for example) is just as pronounced online as off.

But forming new relationships to fix the world is not what social media wants to do. New social technologies like Twitter, Facebook, and even text messaging don’t bring new people together as much as they extend and strengthen existing relationships. Teenagers, for example, use instant messaging, status updates, and texts to “hang out” with their offline, real-life friends, online. They don’t go looking for new friends.

Haque’s concern is misplaced, but it’s not uncommon. People often complain that online relationships are “thin” or “less real” than real face-to-face relationships. Of course they are. But most online social media connections aren’t things in themselves. They’re ways of making existing relationships better.

And, in my view, they do that pretty well.

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.