Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Social Media and the church

A well deserved h/t to Fr David Cloake for this excellent post which can be read on his blog here and I share here for your delectation and delight...


To those of you reading this who, by by the very fact of your presence here, the icons contained in this image will have some meaning. 

Then you have the remaining 98% of Christians, church-goers and other people of faith who will have no inkling about what this is all about. They have heard some of the names on the news, but will have cast them aside in the way that they would anything that held no apparent relevance, or that which had the feeling of fad or voodoo about it. I don't blame them - but we have a situation where an increasing gulf is developing between social-media aware Christians, and those who are not. 

This is a potential considerable problem. The world of social media is expanding at a fast pace. Conferences convened for its discussion and consideration are proliferating, including those for social media where it applies to the Church and her life. Already, it is clear to see that small number of communities who engaged positively and meaningfully with social media and those who have cast it aside with quite understandable suspicion. One only needs to examine a few parish websites and this is clearly evident. Yet, in many ways, this is the beginning. These are the pioneer days, the days of the more considerable gamble, the days when those who dare may well 'win'. 

The industrialised world is increasingly living its life through the electronic device. Of that there is no doubt and it is something that I have said here for some time. The young in particular articulate much of their personality through social media, each holding accounts for such websites that allow them to communicate with just about anyone else with a similar account. Millions of us have mobile phones, many of them being smart phones. Not on the ground in real space does life happen for many, but in the interactions conveyed through the virtual world. In other words, any organisation that seeks relevance in this age must embrace that ages's self-expression

...including the church. 

I think that there are compelling reasons, of a cultural nature, why this should be the case. However, such lofty notions are meaningless without a little application (to pardon the pun). I encourage all members of all parish councils to discuss social media and start to embrace the expression of this age - or be left behind in the bow wave of irrelevance. Consider these things:

Marketing: Every organisation worth its salt markets itself in a marketplace where the customer expects to make an informed choice. No longer do we live in places where you buy bread in the one shop because it is the only shop. Church life is without doubt the same, especially with so many Christians being mobile or able to call upon mobility. Christians increasingly go to the church of their choice, not the one that is there by accident of geography. They will travel to make that choice, often some considerable distances. Churches need a presence that extends beyond the flaking-painted board at the gate to the church up the track three miles from the nearest house. The pew-sheet phenomenon is one that is part of a decline - because you have to go in in the first place to take a pew sheet, and if one of those people fails to return for whatever reason, the spiral is downward. People search the internet to find what they want. They use search engines to do that work, and to be out of that listing is to fail to attract those who wish to be attracted. 

Infection: "We have a Gospel to proclaim", but the people are increasingly living lives elsewhere on Sundays and other days of observation. The Gospel is the glorious product that Christians are proud to offer, the product of God's love that is available to all people. I don't think it gets better than that. The question remains about how we infect the world with our Good News - a world that receives its stimulus through gadgetry. The answer is simple - be part of the electronic stream of stimuli. The world is slowly overcoming its innate suspicion of things relating to the internet and cyber-highways. No longer is a perilous thing and one that may land you the happy recipient of dubious imagery and other unsolicited muck. Now, people can browse the internet in some safety. Our children and young people do - and there is where the virus and opportunity of the Gospel will have most meaning to that age group. 

Story-Telling: Blogging and the like are the current means by which this most often undertaken. We are all compelled by stories. When we hear stories of happy days and dark days, we are able to empathise and enter into the narrative - and is the device that Jesus used in his own ministry. Stories are less often in books, and books more often electronic than physical paper-entities. I judge a parish by the stories it tells of itself, its life and its faith journey. The great gift of the technological age is the ease with which imagery can be captured and used. I can be at a joyful event one moment, and able to tell the global community about it within minutes, with imagery, or even sound and film. I believe that people subscribe to a journey of faith, not just a static crowd of Christians. So often, websites give calendars and rotas, but no reportage of what has happened and yet fewer images. An absence of story in the 'output' of a parish states simply that there is no story to tell. Indeed, where would the church of the twenty-first century be if the early church hadn't jotted down its news and events?

Breaking Free of Buildings: The wider world perceive 'church' to be all that pertains to the building. Church life only happens within those medieval stones in the minds of so many. They have always been wrong, but Christians have never cottoned on to that fact even for themselves. Mr and Mrs Typical-Christian will probably spend one or two hours a week in the building, but will be living breathing Christians for the rest of the time. In the past, the faithful parish magazine touched that part of people's life - a little. Blogging and micro-blogging and all other social-media tell the stories of ordinary Christians in ordinary time outside of the church building. Its priests and ministers are starting to acknowledge this too, for we all know that much more of our ministry happens outside of the physical church building than within it. The immediacy and portability of social-media means that Christians can tell of the considerable bits of faith-life hitherto completely un-witnessed. 

Dialogue: It would be fair to say that in the present age, the church is becoming alarmingly polarised. The evangelicals are fearful and suspicious of the Romanising and incense swinging Anglo-Catholics who are, in turn, fearful and suspicious of the text-free converta-a-holics of the evangelical churches. Understanding has all but died, and so polarisation is happening with greater speed and in fearful ways. Indeed, where understanding fails, bigotry and mis-understanding flourishes. Social media, for all its flaws and idiosyncrasies, overcomes much of the ecclesial divide. It also does much to cross gender-divides which also mar the image of 'God is Love plc'. On the whole, and as one with a fair experience of this, I could not tell you, and would not care to tell you, what the ecclesial expression was of the vast majority of those good people with whom I interact.  We talk, we enjoy dialogue, and rarely do we ever inhabit those places that dog dialogue in the temporal church. I would go so far as to say that social media does more for Christian unity than anything else in this day and age. 

I could go on, but will save some for another day, and spare you a longer post now. This is a pivotal moment in many ways and such is the potency and valency of social-media that I predict that in a decade, we will determine the church communities that lived or died by how they embraced the technology and behaviours of this moment.

1 comment:

social media for churches said...

I think it certainly depends on the leader in charge, so I think it should be the leader in charge who manages it all. People connect with people more than with organizations, so I'd be more touched if a Pastor reached out to me than if a church or impersonal organization reached out to me.