Is Your Church “Social”?

by Jay Deragon on 11/24/2008

I am a member of a church of 8,000 and yet I am not connected to any of them online. Yet online I am connected to thousands of people whom I share, converse and fellowship with daily. Why isn’t the church connected? For today, tomorrow and Wednesday we’ll examine why.

Regardless of your religion the word “church” brings connotations of a place where believers gather to worship, pray, learn and fellowship. The word fellowship means a company of people that shares the same interest or aim. It also means a feeling of friendship, relatedness or connection between people. When I wrote a “Twitter” which asked “How social is your church” a follower responded “I won’t know since I don’t go to church”. The word church created a paradigm of physical religious places where people gather. The fact is whether your agnostic or a believer if you socially participate with friends and connections on the web you are reflecting the activities of a “church” whether you realize it or not. Read on.

Now when we reflect on the definitions of church and fellowship we can easily see that the “social web” is a reflection of a church. People gather, share, inform and converse around common interest and beliefs. People from around the world whom have never met in person create a feeling of friendship, relatedness and connection based on common conversations centric to like minded beliefs and affinities. Let’s consider the activities of the physical church:

  • People gather to hear presentations and learn about faith
  • People gather to participate in small group sessions and exchange views
  • People go to church to fellowship with others, some they know and some they don’t
  • People go to get their needs ministered to by other people of faith
  • People go to hear perspectives that help them make sense of life’s struggles
  • People go to interact with others of common beliefs
  • People give time and money to help individuals as well as the entire “body”
  • People go to church to seek wisdom and guidance
  • People gather and learn from each other
  • People build relationships and aim to serve the needs of the “body”

When we reflect on the purposes and activities of the traditional church we see a mirror of activities that happen every day throughout the social web. Given the extent and continuous stream of social technologies the web offers the means to accomplish the same objectives of any traditional church with one exception. The physical church is limited by time and space. The social web has no limitations on time and space.

What Challenges Do Traditional Church’s Face Today?

Like any institution the ongoing challenges shift with dynamic influences that create new challenges. Today “churches” face economic downturn caused by reduced giving perpetuated by the economic conditions everyone faces. Much of the modern day objectives for church leaders has been centric to growing membership. Historical growth created the need for more space, more volunteers, more diverse physical needs to serve different interest and different ministries aimed at specific demographics. Growth perpetuates the need for more economic support to pay for all the “physical” resources. Many of today’s mega churches are now trying to serve small breakout communities formed in homes or other physical locations.

People’s time and attention have changed and thus serving spiritual needs has shifted to a small group focus and local physical locations. All of these activities are creating increased human and economic cost supported by the shrinking resource and economic pie of the few.

The web has been and continues to be under utilized by church leaders and thus they are missing the opportunities to better serve their members at lower cost and improved functions and features that meet the needs of people where the people are at any given time.

The web has and continues to evolve with explosive social activities and technologies. Social Media has become the means of facilitating millions of conversations daily. Conversations emerge daily about anything and everything that creates attention, attraction, affinity and a growing audience. It is the conversation’s that facilitate the building of relationships (an objective of the traditional church) and create opportunities to serve people needs (another objective of the traditional church). Social media is also exactly what any church has historically provided its members accept it was provided in the physical realm. Every church creates media yet like traditional media the church media has historically been one way with limited interaction and conversations have been limited by “time and space” of the physical world. The global shift is that conversations are the new media and the web has simply become the new publishing and delivery vehicle.

What Could a Church Do That It Hasn’t Done Before?

Church leaders, not unlike secular leaders, follow a pattern and mindset established by past experiences, education and examples. The “Church” message doesn’t necessarily need to change however the method must change if any church intends on fulfilling its mission and in some cases even surviving the challenges ahead. However, change for church leaders can be very difficult because change can represent a threat to what they believe, in terms of their organizations and past methods, and any threat creates fear of the unknown. The unknown is the very basis of many faiths and unknowns become known when people converse and learn together how to make the unknown known. Didn’t someone once say “faith is the substance of things unknown….?”

With all the negative stories about incidents on MySpace and the threat to the youth many “church people” consider social networks and all this technology evil. Bad things can happen anywhere and the objective of any ministry is to reach people with “good news” and hope that can offset the bad things we are all surrounded by on a daily basis. One objective of any church is reaching people. To maximize reach the church needs to change not only the “how to reach” but the where to “reach”. The social web provides the means and the methods to reach people on their terms and in their time not on the churches terms or the churches time. The fact is that churches are social networks and they use social media in the physical realm which has limited reach.

Didn’t someone say “go out and share the good news, reach the world…..”. Well the world is now open for those wishing to reach it.

Next we will discuss the art and science of using social technology and the options available for “churches wishing and daring to make the leap. Stay tuned. Next up, Does Your Church Create Attraction?

What say you?

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Carter F Smith November 24, 2008 at 10:51 am

Very appropriate, especially given the time of year . . . do you think social media gives us more access to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, or the ends of the earth?

John Tindale November 24, 2008 at 7:20 am

Our Church’s youth are very well connected online, and we’re in a “tech area” so many of my church friends are also on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.- but there’s no real concerted effort to create an exclusive online soclai network.
So I guess the challenge would be to determine what kind of social network could be built around our church, and what it would look like. Do we make our own little site, do we encourage the membership to get involved in other networks…

Some very interesting points. Thanks!

Jim November 24, 2008 at 6:28 am

Hmm, well written, I especially liked the section entitled, What Challenges Do Traditional Church’s Face Today? This is a great question for the church in the 21st century. Has the church moved from it’s focus of evangelizing and discipling in order to focus on continuing to moving on the “machine” we call the church? A question to ponder, how does the church get back to it’s example that is found in Acts 2:42-47? How do any of you view the social web as adding of hindering these foundational components of the church?

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