The Open Source Problem: Why is the Church Afraid of Social Media?

GOD DOES NOT
“TWITTER”
TALK TO HIM

So proclaims a church sign we drove past Saturday night. And I thought to myself (and told Shelly), if there is any better way to guarantee you are not relevant to culture, I don’t know what it would be.

I know it was meant to be clever, but most of the time these church signs are too clever by half and this is a perfect example. It was designed to relate something that is quickly becoming a inextricable part of culture to spirituality and to God, but instead it is, I suspect, only going to alienate the very people to whom it was intended to reach out.

First, there’s the cultural issue. Nearly 30 million people use Twitter now, and in January 2010 alone they posted over 1.2 billion tweets. That’s a lot of passionate users, and a user base that is growing very quickly. Nothing like putting their newly entrenched communication choice in quotation marks — it comes across as a bunch of old, out of touch geriatrics talking about the young whippersnappers these days — and then telling them God doesn’t do it.

Yeah, that’ll go over well.

Nevermind the theological aspects present as well – if you want to connect with God, you’ve got to talk to him evidently. Don’t bother writing anything down. Music? No good. Journaling? Won’t work. Being silent while surrounded by the majesty of nature? Nope. And typing? Are you crazy??? God is like a gazillion years old, everyone knows he won’t see or understand anything you type with this newfangled technology!

All of this brings up a question that must be talked about in the Church, I believe: why are we so afraid of social media? (I recognize that is an over-generalization – but it is a valid generalization nonetheless.) Let’s face it. Church websites suck. Tapping into social media energy via Twitter, iTunes, Facebook or a host of other venues is virtually nonexistent.

At the church I used to work for, I tried to push to get us into the social media arena for the purpose of increasing interaction and dialogue amongst our church body. I wanted to start a church blog, or at least a teaching team blog. I wanted people to be able to use Twitter, or at least simple text messaging, in a Sunday morning service to interact with the teachers. I tried setting up a church staff Twitter account.

I was met with skepticism and outright refusal every step of the way.

The biggest issue that came up every time was what I am going to call the Open Source Problem: churches, or at least my previous church (and I think it’s pretty consistent with what I’ve read and heard about other congregations), have serious control issues. Anything that takes control out of our hands is automatically an unfavorable path to forge.

That’s what I heard from many other folks on staff: if we have a blog, are you going to moderate the comments? We can’t just have people posting whatever they want out there! It might confuse other people! If you’re going to let people use Twitter during the service, you’re going to edit what they say, right? Because what if they say something that doesn’t pertain to the service or that is theologically inaccurate?

What if? Fear. Control.

My response every single time: So what?

So what if someone posts something that’s not accurate on a blog or a Twitter screen or in a text message or on a Facebook page? That’s what gets a dialogue started! That’s what sparks a conversation! That’s what begins interaction!

It takes a realization that the Church (capital ‘C’) is not made up of professionals and everybody else. The Church is not experts and people that need to be experted upon. (I just verbed a word… awesome.) The Church is comprised of people who have different perspectives and points of view and pieces of truth that need to be welcomed to join in the discussion. But most church leaders I’ve known are simply unwilling to give up their power, status, and control in order to allow that to happen.

Church leaders tend to see themselves as gatekeepers – making sure only the firm Truth (as they see and understand it, anyhow) gets dispersed to their people. This, I would submit, is an error that is not according to Scripture and needs to be repented of and rectified. It is a position of pride and arrogance. Instead, Church leaders should be facilitators, not gatekeepers. It’s not our job to edit people’s tweets and blog comments. It’s out job to guide a discussion that leads people to greater levels of understanding of God’s heart and his Kingdom.

So this is my encouragement this morning: Go ahead and “TWITTER” – God designed us to live in community, after all – and encourage others to do the same. (You could even tweet a prayer – I guarantee you God will hear it, despite what you might have read on a church sign.) Stop fearing the open source problem and embrace it. Church leaders, you are not and were never intended to be gatekeepers. Let freedom, not control, define your ministry. And then watch the beautiful things that begin happening through the Holy Spirit.

The Open Source Problem: Why is the Church Afraid of Social Media?

GOD DOES NOT
“TWITTER”
TALK TO HIM

So proclaims a church sign we drove past Saturday night. And I thought to myself (and told Shelly), if there is any better way to guarantee you are not relevant to culture, I don’t know what it would be.

I know it was meant to be clever, but most of the time these church signs are too clever by half and this is a perfect example. It was designed to relate something that is quickly becoming a inextricable part of culture to spirituality and to God, but instead it is, I suspect, only going to alienate the very people to whom it was intended to reach out.

First, there’s the cultural issue. Nearly 30 million people use Twitter now, and in January 2010 alone they posted over 1.2 billion tweets. That’s a lot of passionate users, and a user base that is growing very quickly. Nothing like putting their newly entrenched communication choice in quotation marks — it comes across as a bunch of old, out of touch geriatrics talking about the young whippersnappers these days — and then telling them God doesn’t do it.

Yeah, that’ll go over well.

Nevermind the theological aspects present as well – if you want to connect with God, you’ve got to talk to him evidently. Don’t bother writing anything down. Music? No good. Journaling? Won’t work. Being silent while surrounded by the majesty of nature? Nope. And typing? Are you crazy??? God is like a gazillion years old, everyone knows he won’t see or understand anything you type with this newfangled technology!

All of this brings up a question that must be talked about in the Church, I believe: why are we so afraid of social media? (I recognize that is an over-generalization – but it is a valid generalization nonetheless.) Let’s face it. Church websites suck. Tapping into social media energy via Twitter, iTunes, Facebook or a host of other venues is virtually nonexistent.

At the church I used to work for, I tried to push to get us into the social media arena for the purpose of increasing interaction and dialogue amongst our church body. I wanted to start a church blog, or at least a teaching team blog. I wanted people to be able to use Twitter, or at least simple text messaging, in a Sunday morning service to interact with the teachers. I tried setting up a church staff Twitter account.

I was met with skepticism and outright refusal every step of the way.

The biggest issue that came up every time was what I am going to call the Open Source Problem: churches, or at least my previous church (and I think it’s pretty consistent with what I’ve read and heard about other congregations), have serious control issues. Anything that takes control out of our hands is automatically an unfavorable path to forge.

That’s what I heard from many other folks on staff: if we have a blog, are you going to moderate the comments? We can’t just have people posting whatever they want out there! It might confuse other people! If you’re going to let people use Twitter during the service, you’re going to edit what they say, right? Because what if they say something that doesn’t pertain to the service or that is theologically inaccurate?

What if? Fear. Control.

My response every single time: So what?

So what if someone posts something that’s not accurate on a blog or a Twitter screen or in a text message or on a Facebook page? That’s what gets a dialogue started! That’s what sparks a conversation! That’s what begins interaction!

It takes a realization that the Church (capital ‘C’) is not made up of professionals and everybody else. The Church is not experts and people that need to be experted upon. (I just verbed a word… awesome.) The Church is comprised of people who have different perspectives and points of view and pieces of truth that need to be welcomed to join in the discussion. But most church leaders I’ve known are simply unwilling to give up their power, status, and control in order to allow that to happen.

Church leaders tend to see themselves as gatekeepers – making sure only the firm Truth (as they see and understand it, anyhow) gets dispersed to their people. This, I would submit, is an error that is not according to Scripture and needs to be repented of and rectified. It is a position of pride and arrogance. Instead, Church leaders should be facilitators, not gatekeepers. It’s not our job to edit people’s tweets and blog comments. It’s out job to guide a discussion that leads people to greater levels of understanding of God’s heart and his Kingdom.

So this is my encouragement this morning: Go ahead and “TWITTER” – God designed us to live in community, after all – and encourage others to do the same. (You could even tweet a prayer – I guarantee you God will hear it, despite what you might have read on a church sign.) Stop fearing the open source problem and embrace it. Church leaders, you are not and were never intended to be gatekeepers. Let freedom, not control, define your ministry. And then watch the beautiful things that begin happening through the Holy Spirit.

Chrome Passes Safari in Browser Usage

Plenty of football going on today, so what better to write about than… internet browsers?

Seriously, I like talking Web 2.0 stuff, and I like talking cultural trends, so the combination of the two is fun for me even if it is extremely nerdy.

For some reason (probably because people aren’t aware of the alternatives), Microsoft’s absolutely horrible browser Internet Explorer has always been, and still is, the most used browser. But over the past few years their market share has dropped from around 95% to around 62% currently.

The reason? Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and now the latest web browser in the game, Google Chrome.

Last month, Chrome advanced to a 4.6% market share – which may not seem like much, but when the browser came out a year ago it started with less than 1%. More importantly, 4.6% is enough to surpass Safari for the #3 spot in the rankings. Firefox has about 25% of the market but has stalled in the past several quarters, gaining little to no ground.

Chrome is easily my favorite browser, especially now that they’ve come out with extensions for it. If you haven’t gotten it yet, there’s no excuse not to! It’s fast, it’s sleek and simple, it’s secure, and now it’s customizable. Go download it and enjoy the internet the way it was supposed to be!

Chrome Passes Safari in Browser Usage

Plenty of football going on today, so what better to write about than… internet browsers?

Seriously, I like talking Web 2.0 stuff, and I like talking cultural trends, so the combination of the two is fun for me even if it is extremely nerdy.

For some reason (probably because people aren’t aware of the alternatives), Microsoft’s absolutely horrible browser Internet Explorer has always been, and still is, the most used browser. But over the past few years their market share has dropped from around 95% to around 62% currently.

The reason? Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and now the latest web browser in the game, Google Chrome.

Last month, Chrome advanced to a 4.6% market share – which may not seem like much, but when the browser came out a year ago it started with less than 1%. More importantly, 4.6% is enough to surpass Safari for the #3 spot in the rankings. Firefox has about 25% of the market but has stalled in the past several quarters, gaining little to no ground.

Chrome is easily my favorite browser, especially now that they’ve come out with extensions for it. If you haven’t gotten it yet, there’s no excuse not to! It’s fast, it’s sleek and simple, it’s secure, and now it’s customizable. Go download it and enjoy the internet the way it was supposed to be!

Pepsi To Forgo Superbowl Ads

How big of an influence is Web 2.0?

Enough that Pepsi has decided – for the first time in 23 years! – to not air any ads in the Superbowl this February. Instead, their new ad campaign will be targeted to… wait for it… the internet.

ESPN has more details on this move that is sure to send shockwaves through the advertising world:

Pepsi’s Super Bowl streak is over after a 23-year run.

Ads for the drinks won’t appear in next year’s Super Bowl on CBS. Instead, the company plans to shift ad dollars to a new marketing effort that’s mostly online.

The company, which is based in Purchase, N.Y., spent $33 million in advertising… last year during the Super Bowl.

Pepsi had been a major advertiser during the Super Bowl. According to TNS, the company spent $142.8 million on the 10 Super Bowl ads from 1999 to 2008, second only to Anheuser-Busch, which spent $216 million.

Instead, Pepsi is focusing an interactive internet campaign dedicated to creating a “movement” rather than an “event”. How well will it work? Will other companies follow in their footsteps?

Advertising online is certainly less expensive than through traditional media, and now it will be interesting to see if it pays off for Pepsi. Of course, if you took Pepsi and Coke and asked which one would think of doing this, you’d expect it to be Pepsi. Coke is way too risk-averse to ever be this experimental and forward-thinking.

Pepsi To Forgo Superbowl Ads

How big of an influence is Web 2.0?

Enough that Pepsi has decided – for the first time in 23 years! – to not air any ads in the Superbowl this February. Instead, their new ad campaign will be targeted to… wait for it… the internet.

ESPN has more details on this move that is sure to send shockwaves through the advertising world:

Pepsi’s Super Bowl streak is over after a 23-year run.

Ads for the drinks won’t appear in next year’s Super Bowl on CBS. Instead, the company plans to shift ad dollars to a new marketing effort that’s mostly online.

The company, which is based in Purchase, N.Y., spent $33 million in advertising… last year during the Super Bowl.

Pepsi had been a major advertiser during the Super Bowl. According to TNS, the company spent $142.8 million on the 10 Super Bowl ads from 1999 to 2008, second only to Anheuser-Busch, which spent $216 million.

Instead, Pepsi is focusing an interactive internet campaign dedicated to creating a “movement” rather than an “event”. How well will it work? Will other companies follow in their footsteps?

Advertising online is certainly less expensive than through traditional media, and now it will be interesting to see if it pays off for Pepsi. Of course, if you took Pepsi and Coke and asked which one would think of doing this, you’d expect it to be Pepsi. Coke is way too risk-averse to ever be this experimental and forward-thinking.

The Church and Social Media

I tweeted this earlier but wanted to post it here as well – a great article I came across on the church’s relationship to social media and Web 2.0 apps. Here are some highlights:

Interacting online is bad, bad, bad. It is impersonal, and you only do it because you are shallow and like to avoid real life-to-life interaction.

In fact, in the past two months I’ve heard this at least a dozen times from conference speakers and pastors, or I’ve read it in books, magazines or blog posts. It seems to be a belief people are increasingly adopting.

I heard a pastor say, “I’ve been wondering why online communities are so popular. Maybe because it’s a lot harder to put your real arms around someone who smells like beer and vomit and pick them up out of the gutter.”

Then, I heard an author deliver a talk on how technology can trip you up. He told a great story about a time when he had to tell a hospital patient the awful news that they were going to die soon. A few days later he spent time just sitting with the individual as they contemplated their final days. “How could I have done that by email?” he asked the audience. “How effective would my ministry have been to my dying friend through Facebook?”

What? That’s like asking, “How effective would my refrigerator be at grilling a hamburger?” or “What would happen if I used my golf clubs to play tennis?”

But these are straw man arguments made by people who are either afraid of the medium, don’t understand it, have seen people abuse it, or are just ignorant of the value. Whatever the reason, when I hear it I get a little embarrassed for the speaker or writer… I’ve never heard anyone claim that social networking should replace life-on-life relationships. Quite the opposite—the time I spend in online communities enhances my real-life relationships.

Read the whole thing. And remember a quote that Jon tweeted today: nobody ever left a church because it was too relevant.

The Church and Social Media

I tweeted this earlier but wanted to post it here as well – a great article I came across on the church’s relationship to social media and Web 2.0 apps. Here are some highlights:

Interacting online is bad, bad, bad. It is impersonal, and you only do it because you are shallow and like to avoid real life-to-life interaction.

In fact, in the past two months I’ve heard this at least a dozen times from conference speakers and pastors, or I’ve read it in books, magazines or blog posts. It seems to be a belief people are increasingly adopting.

I heard a pastor say, “I’ve been wondering why online communities are so popular. Maybe because it’s a lot harder to put your real arms around someone who smells like beer and vomit and pick them up out of the gutter.”

Then, I heard an author deliver a talk on how technology can trip you up. He told a great story about a time when he had to tell a hospital patient the awful news that they were going to die soon. A few days later he spent time just sitting with the individual as they contemplated their final days. “How could I have done that by email?” he asked the audience. “How effective would my ministry have been to my dying friend through Facebook?”

What? That’s like asking, “How effective would my refrigerator be at grilling a hamburger?” or “What would happen if I used my golf clubs to play tennis?”

But these are straw man arguments made by people who are either afraid of the medium, don’t understand it, have seen people abuse it, or are just ignorant of the value. Whatever the reason, when I hear it I get a little embarrassed for the speaker or writer… I’ve never heard anyone claim that social networking should replace life-on-life relationships. Quite the opposite—the time I spend in online communities enhances my real-life relationships.

Read the whole thing. And remember a quote that Jon tweeted today: nobody ever left a church because it was too relevant.

“Virtual” Community

This is one of the best articles I’ve come across on Web 2.0 and the church’s response. It’s entitled “The Church on Facebook: Why We Need Virtual Community” and you need to go read the entire thing to appreciate it. Here are some excerpts:

Facebook has provided a new way to promote a church and keep members of the congregation informed about events. Hundreds of churches, and small groups within churches, have formed Facebook groups or fan pages for that reason… But social media sites are more than tools for publicizing churches and their events, which can be done with Web sites and e-mail. They may actually present a new way of being the church.

The popularity of social media sites seems to testify to the fact that many people miss what the church used to provide: a place to know others and be known, a place to weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh, a place to bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys—not just once a week or once a month or at Easter and Christmas, but daily. And that is exactly what Facebook is all about: reflection and confession, support and community… Tidbits of honesty, introspection and vulnerability, confessions of hurt, need and sin—you’ll find them all in your news feed on any given day.

Would my friends have ever shared these thoughts in person? Perhaps, if we ever had enough time and found ourselves in the right situation—which we never seem to do. Yet Facebook allows us to remain intimate and honest, to know each other and be known by each other, even if that isn’t happening in the bricks-and-mortar world.

Blogger Leisa Reichelt has named this experience ambient intimacy. “Ambient intimacy,” Reichelt writes, is about “being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.” Not only does this ambient intimacy allow us to hear confessions and make our own, it also helps us become a community of caring and support.

A few months ago on my Facebook status update, I wrote, “Lenora Rand is in a car rescuing her oldest daughter from a bad night.” Within minutes, words of encouragement and sympathy were posted in response from a number of fellow Facebook users. Another friend of mine, Rich, wrote that he had “survived his ‘coffin’ MRI experience.” I used to work closely with Rich but now see him infrequently, so when I read this news I immediately sent him a supportive comment and made a note to myself to give him a call when I got to the office to find out what’s going on in his life that necessitated an MRI. If it weren’t for Facebook, I doubt that I would have known anything about Rich’s MRI. Rich wouldn’t have picked up the phone and called all of us. He probably wouldn’t have sent us an e-mail either; that would have seemed too formal and serious. But he did mention the MRI on his status update, and as a consequence he received an outpouring of support.

Rather than fearing social media sites or using them simply to market church events, perhaps we need to become more like Oreon, who is learning to embrace the church wherever she finds it.

“Virtual” Community

This is one of the best articles I’ve come across on Web 2.0 and the church’s response. It’s entitled “The Church on Facebook: Why We Need Virtual Community” and you need to go read the entire thing to appreciate it. Here are some excerpts:

Facebook has provided a new way to promote a church and keep members of the congregation informed about events. Hundreds of churches, and small groups within churches, have formed Facebook groups or fan pages for that reason… But social media sites are more than tools for publicizing churches and their events, which can be done with Web sites and e-mail. They may actually present a new way of being the church.

The popularity of social media sites seems to testify to the fact that many people miss what the church used to provide: a place to know others and be known, a place to weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh, a place to bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys—not just once a week or once a month or at Easter and Christmas, but daily. And that is exactly what Facebook is all about: reflection and confession, support and community… Tidbits of honesty, introspection and vulnerability, confessions of hurt, need and sin—you’ll find them all in your news feed on any given day.

Would my friends have ever shared these thoughts in person? Perhaps, if we ever had enough time and found ourselves in the right situation—which we never seem to do. Yet Facebook allows us to remain intimate and honest, to know each other and be known by each other, even if that isn’t happening in the bricks-and-mortar world.

Blogger Leisa Reichelt has named this experience ambient intimacy. “Ambient intimacy,” Reichelt writes, is about “being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.” Not only does this ambient intimacy allow us to hear confessions and make our own, it also helps us become a community of caring and support.

A few months ago on my Facebook status update, I wrote, “Lenora Rand is in a car rescuing her oldest daughter from a bad night.” Within minutes, words of encouragement and sympathy were posted in response from a number of fellow Facebook users. Another friend of mine, Rich, wrote that he had “survived his ‘coffin’ MRI experience.” I used to work closely with Rich but now see him infrequently, so when I read this news I immediately sent him a supportive comment and made a note to myself to give him a call when I got to the office to find out what’s going on in his life that necessitated an MRI. If it weren’t for Facebook, I doubt that I would have known anything about Rich’s MRI. Rich wouldn’t have picked up the phone and called all of us. He probably wouldn’t have sent us an e-mail either; that would have seemed too formal and serious. But he did mention the MRI on his status update, and as a consequence he received an outpouring of support.

Rather than fearing social media sites or using them simply to market church events, perhaps we need to become more like Oreon, who is learning to embrace the church wherever she finds it.