3 lessons churches can learn from social media.

Social media

If Johannes Gutenburg could have forseen the impact of the printing press when he invented it in 1440, he would have been astounded. The ability to transmit large amounts of information widely and over great distances transformed society, culture, education and institutions. Many historians believe the printing press gave birth to the scientific revolution of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, and has resulted in modern culture and lifestyle we enjoy today.

When scientists began to develop the internet last century, they couldn’t have forseen the revolutionary impact on culture, commerce and communication that is taking place today. The ability to connect and to access information at a global level is changing the world we grew up in. Everything we thought we knew is changing. Business models are crumbling. The way we shop, read, learn and interact has completely shifted – and we’re not going back.

The printing press was the start of “mass media” – for the first time in living history, information could be passed on to a large portion of the population, rather than contained to a small sub-group of society. The internet has given birth to “social media” – for the first time in history, people are able to connect and participate in a two-way interaction, rather than passively receiving a one-way broadcast. Take a quick look at the big success stories of the internet – Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to name a few. The brilliance and attraction of these sites is that they give ordinary people a voice. Anybody can be a somebody. Contribution and participation are encouraged and valued.

People aren’t satisfied anymore with organisations who continue to broadcast at them, without allowing them the opportunity to interact, connect and contribute. If churches want to move away from performing for a passive audience, they can learn a few key lessons from the successful social media giants.

Lesson 1: Let people talk.

People like the sound of their own voice. They pay more attention and learn more from a conversation they have been part of than a monologue they have listened to. Instead of a sermon, set up discussion groups or conversation pairs to explore God’s Word together. Use questions to get them thinking, rather than feeding them the answers. Create learning opportunities which allow them to reflect and grow. Empower God’s people to think for themselves.

Lesson 2: Listen when they talk.

Giving people a voice in church empowers them to use it outside of church. Affirm people when they contribute and speak up – they have something of value to share with God’s family. If you stop speaking and start listening, you allow room for the Holy Spirit to talk through others. Pay close attention to those who appear to be “the least of these” – many times, it is the youngest, or most broken members of the church who have the most profound insights to share.

 Lesson 3: Prioritise connection.

I’m not talking about that “one-way” connection, where the pastor smiles and shares personal stories and the audience members feel connected, even though he doesn’t know their names and probably can’t even see them through the bright stage lights. And I’m not talking about that “shallow” connection that occurs when morning tea is the only interaction time built into the regular meeting time – often in a different area from the sermon and worship and “spiritual stuff”. I’m talking about letting people really connect with each other – through shared experiences, shared stories and laughter. I’m talking about setting up our meeting times to build relationships with each other, not just stare at the back of each other’s heads.

Social media is not just a “fad”. It is a global shift in the way we communicate and interact. It is impacting businesses, governments and establishments worldwide, and it is already changing the way many people do church. It’s time to sit up and pay attention to the underlying message – people want to be heard, they want to contribute, and above all, they want to connect.

Tomorrow’s church: Changing the way we meet, the way we learn, and the way we lead.

hourglass

There are certain points in history when change is inevitable. Certain time periods are associated with broad scale social change, which eventually trickles down into every institution. The Industrial Revolution reshaped society and institutions. There are many signs that we are going through a shift just as significant, which is changing the way we do everything – including how we learn, interact and see ourselves.

The impact of the internet on our society is huge. Nobody has to be a passive consumer anymore. Everyone has the choice to be an active participant. We are never turning back from that. Once ordinary people are given a voice, and an opportunity to express it, they won’t ever give it up. Businesses, media, schools and governments are going to have to deal with this creatively and sensitively – and many already are.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to explore how the church can take advantage of this broader cultural shift to change church culture from within. The societal changes which are such a headache to businesses are a golden opportunity for the church. For the first time in many years, the church is poised to return to a more interactive model of meeting, where all of God’s people are empowered to participate and to minister to one another.

By the time we finish this series together, I hope to have communicated some adaptable strategies that every healthy church can consider to shift the way they meet, the way they learn and the way they lead. Here are some of the topics I will cover;

How to create a connecting culture
  • by rearranging the seating
  • by connecting through stories
  • by sharing food together

How to activate a hands-on learning environment

  • through action and reflection
  • through direct access to God’s Story
  • through one-another prayer
How to develop a liberating leadership
  • one true leader (Jesus), many teachers (each other)
  • facilitation, not performance
  • listening is the new talking
I hope you enjoy journeying through these suggestions with me, and that this triggers new thoughts and ideas for you – please share them with me along the way! Continue reading

A new format for a new era – a blog series to change church culture from within.

church steeple

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to release a 12-part series of blog posts on how to change church culture from within.

I’m going to start by discussing the new era we are entering as a society, and why this has profound implications for the way we meet together as God’s people. I’m then going to outline the three major shifts all healthy churches should embrace to create a connecting culture, a hands-on learning environment, and a liberating leadership. I will follow up with a series of nine adaptable strategies any church can apply to help connect, engage and empower God’s people more effectively. The series will finish with a look at change and the church – and why they can go together (even though they often don’t).

The following posts in the series are now up;

I hope you are able to follow 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 presented here, and share your experiences. 

If you like what you’re reading, please take the time to share it with your network. Thanks!

 

How media shaped the church.

How did church end up becoming so performance-oriented? And is that such a bad thing?

Well, no, it’s not a bad thing at all. The way we collectively worship God reflects a great deal about the time we live in. Of course we bring a great deal of our culture into the way we relate to God and to each other. That’s why church has changed significantly over our lifetimes. My grandmother’s church is a lot different than the church I attended when I was a teenager – and just as well. I would have struggled to grow my faith in a church that wasn’t sensitive to the cultural shifts and communication styles of the time period.

To understand how church became so much about performance in the past few decades, and why it is in the process of shifting away from that today, we need to look at the development of modern media, which impacts on culture, which impacts on how we do church.

First, lets slip right back in time to an age before the printing press was invented. The only printed books were Continue reading

How social media will change the way we do church.

world globalization

Less than 10 years ago, there was no YouTube, no FaceBook, no Skype and no Twitter. The internet was around, but for most of us it was just an extension of our local library – a collection of mostly text-based information we could look up using keywords, but not something that affected our social interactions, our daily lives, and our participation in global conversations.

Since then, the concept that some refer to as “Web 2.0” has changed the way we do virtually everything. The internet allows us to interact and participate locally and globally. We can check in with our friends through social networking sites, make decisions about new purchases based on reviews by real people, guide our own learning on any topic in our own time and our own preferred learning modality, and network with like-minded people in any area of specialisation and interest.

There hasn’t been a culture-shifting communication tool this powerful since the printing press was created by Gutenberg. The capacity to produce multiple copies of written information saw a rise in literacy and a wave of social change sweeping across Europe, as we gradually moved from an oral culture to a literate culture. The ability to pass on information through written text became the basis for our modern culture, with more information available to us than ever before in human history. Categorizing this bulky and ever-expanding array of information became complex, and universities primarily focussed on training up “experts” who know how to navigate their way through the bewildering amount of information, assess its credibility, and interpret it wisely. When I was at University 20 years ago, I spent many hours scouring the 7 storey library to find peer reviewed journal articles and recently published books to use as references in my assignments – there was no such thing as Google Scholar back then!

Our classrooms and churches are still operating from a teaching model where information can only be passed on through one-directional literate text; taught by an “expert” who has been trained in how to access information and interpret it. This used to make sense. In a time when the only way to access information was to get it directly from the “experts”, it made sense to sit in rows and listen to a presentation without interacting with the speaker or the other students. It was an efficient way to learn, because we didn’t have any other viable methods available to us. Unless we became “experts” ourselves (involving years of training), we found it much faster and simpler submitting to someone else’s knowledge and conclusions.

The internet today has changed all of that. We now all have easy access to information in a way we never have had before. More significant is the way we now perceive ourselves and our relationships with others. Given the choice, we would all prefer to be a part of the conversation than merely a passive listener. We would all like to be respected, valued and heard by others. There are now more than 800 million active FaceBook accounts, just 8 years after it began. People want to be seen, want to be known, want to be connected and valued in their own communities. The online culture of “Web 2.0” invites us to an interactive, experiential, multi-directional, multi sensory blend of oral and literate cultures, and moves us beyond the limitations of only learning through books and lectures (which is effective for a small percentage of the population anyway).

Sitting in rows in church doesn’t make sense any more. It used to. I have grown up in the church and love it dearly. I appreciate the many wonderful sermons I have sat through and learned from. But I now believe there is a more powerful way to learn and grow and connect with others, and it can’t happen when we sit silently in rows. My life has been more deeply impacted by the times I have met in circles with other people and we have shared, discussed, debated and connected with each other. I believe that now is a good time for the church to empower their congregations to have a voice and a value, to become active learning communities rather than passive listeners, and to expand their impact beyond the church walls and into the community.