When I think back to the year 2000, it feels like a lifetime ago, not just 12 years. So much has changed since then in the world around us. 2000 was before 9/11 and the “War on Terror”; before Al Gore told us the inconvenient truth about global warming; before the global financial crisis affected economies worldwide. Back then, nobody had a smartphone, Wikipedia hadn’t been launched, we didn’t know what “social media” was, and Twitter, YouTube and Facebook didn’t exist.
The way we do church still made sense to me at the beginning of this century. It made perfect sense to sit in rows and listen quietly and passively to an expert on a stage. Why wouldn’t we? That is how knowledge had been passed on for many hundreds of years before. In classrooms, we listened to the teacher. At university, we listened to the lecturer. On television, we listened to the advertisers and that faceless entity we call “the media”. It never occurred to us that there were other ways of learning, or that the people in the rows could be the ones contributing – that just wasn’t the way the world worked. Only the truly passionate and extraordinary citizen would contribute to the conversation – and this usually in the form of protests, or letters to the editor, or writing a book – but you had to be willing to go out on a limb, to commit the social faux pas of speaking out of turn.
Something extraordinary has happened in the past 12 years. Ordinary people have been given a voice, an opportunity to interact and participate – and they’re getting used to it. Like all movements, it started out slowly but then picked up pace, reaching a tipping point where social media stopped being just for computer nerds and young people, and entered the mainstream (analysts believe the “tipping point” happened in 2008-2009, and that an Oprah episode about Twitter was one of the factors that triggered exponential growth and acceptance of the social media phenomenon). Increasingly, people of all ages and backgrounds are learning how to “have their say”. It might be through 140 character tweets, or product reviews posted online, or through blogs and “vlogs” (video blogs) and Facebook status updates – but each of these people are learning that they have an impact. They have a voice. They have permission to contribute, whether they choose to or not. Seth Godin calls this time the “Connection Revolution”, and predicts it will cause as much social change as the “Industrial Revolution” did two centuries ago.
To many people in the church community, a conversation about social media and the church is just a litany of complaints about how shallow and distracted young people are with Facebook and Twitter. Or a call to improve the church’s web page. They don’t see what business analysts and education experts are realizing – that this is a permanent and irreversible shift in the way our society operates, and we’re only just beginning to see the repercussions for institutions worldwide. They are missing the main point. The world is in the process of moving from monologue to dialogue. Free access and participation has never been available to the general public, and it changes the playing field beyond recognition. Once you give a person permission to engage, interact and contribute, you can’t take it back. Ordinary people are causing the downfall of dictatorships, changing government policy and wresting power away from the established heavyweights. For better or for worse, we are living in a new era, and we’d better get our heads around it.
This is a wonderful time for the church to change the formula it has operated from for the past several hundred years, and create an environment for people to connect, to engage, to participate and to empower one another. This isn’t a difficult theological shift for us to make – it’s in our DNA as the body of Christ; it’s embedded into Paul’s teachings for the early church. It does, however, require some strategic changes to the way we meet, the way we learn, and the way we lead.
This post is part 1 of my 12 part blog series – “Tomorrow’s church: a new formula for a new era“. Subscribe now or follow me on Facebook so you don’t miss any posts. I’d love you to interact and discuss the ideas in these posts, and share your experiences. The next post will be called “Participation changes everything”.
If you relate to what you’re reading, please take the time to share it with your network. Thanks!
The following posts in the series are now up;