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.