Evolving Worship in the Social Networking Age - Part 2: Limitations & Expectations

So in my last post I talked about a proposal being generated to look at worship, particularly the sermon, in a new way in the light of social networking.  I think it's worth noting that the authors of the three posts I cited are all people who are not full-time solo ministers with the corresponding preaching schedule that such demands, and that Dan Harper, who comes the closest to that role in his role as Associate Minister, is in a large church with presumably some staff, and in Silicon Valley, as well.  What he describes seems less doable in a small country church such as I serve.  So here's what I see as the limitations to the model he proposes:

1.  Podcasting/Live streaming/any audio or video component -- Much as I love the idea of it, I don't have the technology for it.  And should I have the technology, I still don't have the tech support that I personally would need.  I could acquire the know-how to do it all on my own, given the technology, but right now that's beyond me.

2.  Level of feedback/discussion -- right now, when I do post a sermon on my blog, or just on blog posts in general, I'm getting one or two comments, at most, and often times none, from members of my congregation.  I think that some would be interested in the types of discussions Harper suggests, but it'd be hit or miss on participation.  In a small church there just might not be the critical mass to have this kind of discussion going.

3.  Receptivity -- My cell phone has no bars at my church.  Now, I'm on the comparatively lousy Sprint network, and I know some church members have better coverage at my church, but not all of them.  So Twittering during the service is narrowed down from just the people with phones that can tweet to people with phones that can tweet who aren't on roaming.

3.  Accessibility -- I'm guessing about 75% of my church is on e-mail and Facebook, and another 10% are on e-mail but no other social media, but the other 15% (mostly seniors) are not online at all.  (All numbers pure guesses, although I could go person-by-person and get real stats later.)  If the entire nature of a sermon is changed such that it doesn't feel complete without online participation, what does that mean for the 15%?

This brings me to the expectations.  Both Lund & Wells talk about the changing expectations for a sermon.  Wells talks about thinking that if he were to give a 20-minute sermon that people would be fact-checking his data on their smart phones.  I regularly give 15-20 minute sermons (I think my average is more like 15 minutes, really), and have yet to have someone whipping out the phone and telling me my information was wrong.  Sure, I do occasionally get a fact wrong.  But that culture hasn't pervaded the sanctuary yet.  The assumption of both Lund and Wells is that people are wanting something different out of their sermon than the model we've been using for hundreds of years.  I think that they're right for the percentage of the culture that is digital natives, but the question is when has an individual church reached that point?  My church, I'm feeling, is not there yet.  People generally seem to like the longer sermons (to a point), and when the sermons are shorter and there are more other elements in the service, I get more complaints.  So my reality is not matching with what the new media guys are suggesting. Of course, and here's the rub: maybe the people who want something different are not coming, and our adherence to old forms is limiting growth.  Is it?  Quite possibly.

And so, with those limitations & expectations  in mind, next I will address what I think the evolving model could looks like, and what I think is currently possible in a small, low-tech church.


Carl Horman said…
You explained it very right Cynthia.
These thoughts straight from the Heartland inspired me a lot. Thanks.

social media expert
Steve Caldwell said…
Cynthia - assuming that your congregation has a PA system in the sanctuary and you can use an audio patch cable to send the sermon audio to a recording device, you have the capability to podcast your sermons.

Our congregation uses a donated computer that is more than 10 years old to record the worship audio. We use free software (Ubuntu Linux) on this computer to record the audio.


We edit the podcast to contain the sermon portion using Audacity (a free and open-source audio editing program). Audacity runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.


Apple has free instructions on their web site for creating podcasts including how to create and edit podcast RSS feed.


Apple isn't being altruistic here. The more free content that is out there the more iPods Apple can sell. But there is no reason why you can't use their marketing to help with marketing your congregation's podcasts.

If you want more information, please contact me using the email address on my Blogger profile page.
Cynthia Landrum said…
Sounds doable. I just need:
1) A computer at the church,
2) To hook up that computer to a recording device in the sanctuary,
3) Some sort of internet service at the church to download an editing program,
4) Somebody to agree to do the recording,
5) Somebody to agree to do the editing,
6) Somebody to agree to put the podcast up on itunes.

Unfortunately, none of those pieces are in place, simple as they may sound, and the budget isn't either. Wish it was.

I know it would be a pretty easy thing to do, but I'm not investing my personal finances into the pieces the church needs to put together. Once they invest in setting up the system and training the ushers to record digitally (the do sometimes record on tape, which is what we're set up for), then I might be persuaded to personally be the person editing each week and putting on iTunes. I'd rather that be volunteer or staff-led (but that would assume some staff, eh?), too, though, in an ideal world. Seriously, I know it sounds simple, but think in terms of a church 40 years ago with no staff, and you'll understand what my set-up is there.
Steve Caldwell said…

If you already have web hosting with sufficient space and bandwidth to put audio online, you may be closer than you think.

"A computer at the church" -- To hook up that computer to a recording device in the sanctuary"

The only computer that is required to be present at the church is having one in place as a free digital recorder.

Although I could edit the podcast using the church office's administrator's computer, I don't.

I copy the unedited audio to a USB flash "thumb" drive to trasnfer it from the sanctuary recorder computer to my computer where I edit and upload the audio to the church web site.

While it is nice to have internet at the church, there is no requirement to have internet access for recording. You can set the computer up away from the church and make sure it's working and all updates are installed where you have internet access and then move this computer to your sanctuary.

The computer we are using for podcast recording is very ancient -- roughly 2000-vintage with a 800 MHz Pentium III CPR, 256 megabytes of RAM, and 20 gigabytes of hard drive space. A basic Ubuntu install with multimedia extras takes about 1/2 of the hard drive space and a 75 minute unedited worship service is about 65 megabytes in size (recorded as CD-quality mp3 audio).

People get new computers often enough that you may be able to arrange a "free" donated computer that is too slow to run the latest Windows but OK for Linux. We have used free donated computers to record digital audio. The only hardware I had to buy was an audio patch cable to connect the computer's sound input port with the PA system in the sanctuary.

I also bought a USB extension cable so I wouldn't have to reach behind the computer copy files to my thumb drive (this would not be a problem with a newer computer that has USB ports on the front of the computer).

But these hardware costs were minimal and the software costs were free. Even if you don't have internet at the church, you can set up the digital recorder at a site where internet is available and then move the computer to your church.

"Some sort of internet service at the church to download an editing program"

The free editing software (Audacity) does not have to be downloaded at the church. The person who edits the podcast audio can copy the unedited audio to a USB flash drive and take it home for editing there. If you have a modestly tech-savvy volunteer at your church, you can have this person do the editing.

We edit our podcast to be just the sermon for most services due to copyright issues with hymnal readings, hymns, etc.

"Somebody to agree to do the recording"

In my congregation, this isn't me except on rare Sundays where I'm used to run the PA system.

Our volunteers who run the PA system are trained to start the computer's recorder and to save the file when the service is done at the end of the worship service. In addition to starting and stopping the recording computer, they also play the audio CDs for the prelude, postlude, offertory, etc.

"Somebody to agree to do the editing"

I'm the web site person so this falls on me. However, it could be another volunteer.

"Somebody to agree to put the podcast up on itunes."

Once one has set up the RSS feed for the podcast using Apple's instructions, all you have to do is submit the RSS feed to the iTunes store. Apple take care of the rest.

Once they have listed your podcast RSS feed in their store, any updates that you make to the RSS feed file are automatically posted to the iTunes store.

This allows our congregation to leverage off Apple's iTunes/iPod marketing ecosystem.

We provide the RSS feed on our web site for those folks who don't use Apple's iTunes.

Hope this helps ... email me off-list if you want more information.
Cynthia Landrum said…
Yeah, but I still have to have a computer that's doing the digital recording, or some sort of digital recorder attached to my sound system, in order to put the file on flash drive. The rest could be done off-site, I agree, given a willing volunteer. But I still need: 1) a decent digital recorder or computer to serve as such and 2) a willing volunteer. It can be broken into more steps, but those two are minimal. And yes, I probably could also be the volunteer, but still need step one. But hopefully your posts have made it clear to potential volunteers how simple and close we are, if only someone had the drive (sorry, couldn't resist).
Cynthia Landrum said…
I did purchase a cheap digital recorder a couple of years ago, btw, but it was confusing to the volunteers, and it required me to physically take it from the church & then bring it back. Not sure what become of it. And then I had to e-mail or ftp the file to where my father could get ahold of it and edit it for me (since I didn't want to invest in getting the software or the know-how), which had some lag time due to his interest level in completing & other demands on his time, and then one of us would put it up on the web & link to it. But to do this regularly isn't something I see him doing or me doing, right now, without some other lay-volunteer or staff support. Plus finding out where that digital recorder went, or getting a new one, and learning how to use it again & training the usher again. Maybe it's time to drag it out, but I still want a committed volunteer for this project.

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