Saturday, February 23, 2013

Changing Ecologies in communities of faith

A few years ago a church was expected to have a website in order to be seen as credible.  It could be relatively simple, just a place to post service times, a mission statement, contact information for the staff, etc.  I still believe that a website is absolutely necessary, but I would also boldly suggest that a social media presence is fast becoming a necessity, if it is not already.  The entire world of communication has shifted from a one-sided broadcast model (such as a church sending out a newsletter to the congregation) to a transactional model (congregation members can interact online to share prayer concerns, dialogue about a sermon, etc).  Many congregations are not here yet, but the rest of the world is in this place.  This is just another way of illuminating that our model of church is no longer working.  The Social Media Revolution video dictates that it is no longer a matter of deciding whether or not you are going to participate in social media, but how you will participate.

And this is terrifying to people, primarily those who are not digital natives or naturalized citizens, which unfortunately, comprises a large number of pastors and church attendees.  There are certainly concerns about privacy, which should not be dismissed (well maybe those conspiracy theory-type fears should be thrown out), but most concerns center around the issues of Promise, Tools, and Bargain (what am I going to get out of this, how will it happen, and what is it going to cost me) as discussed by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody.  Misunderstandings arise when expectations of use are not clear, and I think this is tremendously important for navigating the changing ecologies of faith communities.

The answer is not to completely prohibit social media usage, but rather to explore the reasons why you are using it and to be open to evolving needs, rules, etc.  The tide has changed, and here are some things that I have figured out about social media (some from my own mistakes, some from the mistakes of others!).

Amy's Suggestions for Social Media Use in Faith Communities:
1. If you wouldn't want your parishioner, pastor, candidacy committee, professor, congregation, etc to see it, don't post it.  It has been argued that there are specific privacy settings that allow you to post certain things for certain people.  Yes, that is true.  But it is also a ton of work and inevitably you are going to miss something.  It is easiest to control what you post before you post it.

2. Don't post pictures of other people or their children unless you have asked them first.  And even then, reconsider whether or not you should be posting it. This also applies to "checking in" functions on facebook and twitter and other social locating apps as well.  Never assume anything.

3. Make it clear that you speak only for yourself on your personal profiles.  If you also represent an organization on a social media platform, conduct yourself accordingly.

4. Social media allows life and ministry to happen in real time.  Which is great.  But it also has the potential to completely encroach on your non-virtual life.  Think about how you will respond to pastoral care crises that happen in this forum.  A long way of saying, think about your boundaries for self care and sabbath in advance of when an issue arises.

5. Have multiple layers of involvement in social media spaces.  Congregations should have a public page that provides information for visitors about service times, mission, etc, but also a backstage space to foster online community.  Think of it as a coffee hour that occurs 24 hours a day.

6. As Shirky notes, "everyone is a media outlet."  Our actions online as church leaders can have ripple effects that we are unaware of.  You never know who is reading, watching, listening, etc.   This post, by way of example, had a much greater impact than I was aware of until it blew up.  Someone who follows this blog on a RSS feed saw a new post.  This person told a person who attends this church.  Who told a few others.  Who told the pastor.  Who I was interviewing for a research project, and who called me in to her office, and very nearly refused to participate after reading this blog post.  Nothing was untruthful, but it has a different impact as a result of online permanence.  If it was mentioned in passing, it would have been quickly forgotten.  Instead, it was up on the interwebs for further review.

7. Be willing to reevaluate why and how you are doing something, and do not be afraid to change the "terms of use."

8. What happens on social media has a real world impact, particularly on interpersonal relationships.  This is a part of pastoral care and preaching.

9. Crowd-sourcing is both a blessing and a curse.  If you are posting something in social media, you are going to get people's opinions whether you want them or not.  And disabling comments is a cowardly way out.  If you don't want others to share their opinions with you, don't post it in the first place.

10.  Social media should never be a way of "getting in the young people," "growing membership," "reaching our target audience,"etc.  If you are thinking this way, you have missed the point already.  Never, EVER, use social media as a bait and switch for evangelism or a membership drive.  Social media is not a means to an end.  It is an end in and of itself.

11. Never make assumptions about a person based on their online presence.  Assume that each person has a much bigger story and then seek it out.

12. Know that the Holy Spirit works in social media too.  I have a TON of stories about this.  I think I will file that away as a future post.

1 comment:

GMa Rose, PS said...

I wonder if we might simplify rule number one: If you don't want to have to explain it to Jesus, don't post it. Some great thought here. I started blogging back in the LiveJournal (my daughter used it when she was in Japan) and (Shirkey reminded me) Xanga. I love his comment about those blogs on these and MySpace written for a very small audience. We think they are not relevant or say anything important, but they "are not written for ME" they are written for that small group of friends. I think that is the tricky part of being personal in an open source space. Great insights on the pros and cons of social media in congregational life!