Saturday, July 9, 2011

Evolving Worship in the Social Networking Age - Part 3: Possibilities & Opportunities

In Part 1 of this series I wrote about a proposal being generated through blog discussion about shorter sermons tied to social media in new ways.  In Part 2 I wrote about some of the limitations as I see it.  The main take-away there is that while some populations of some churches may be ready for this, others are not over the threshold yet.  The problem is that we're on a cusp right now, where some "digital natives" are ready for something different, not everyone is comfortable with the use of it.  As you go up by age/generation, a smaller percentage of people are using social networking. 



So what can we do?  Well, there's still a lot.  I think for now it still means that for many congregations, having a physical space in which one holds worship is still necessary, and the cornerstone of that service is still the sermon.  And, at the same time, the UUA General Assembly changed the definition of congregation such that this is no longer the only way (except for CLF) to be a congregation. The possibilities of what that can look like are endless.  And social media is evolving so quickly that whatever one creates right now has to be dynamic and flexible.  This week, for example, I got on Google+ for the first time.  Will it make other social networks obsolete?  Will it be a big failure?  Only time will tell. 

What I can do, right now, is dependent upon what will be supported by my congregation and has the most ability to be attractive to newcomers, as well.  We don't have a critical mass on Twitter or MySpace, and responding to blog posts is sporadic but increasing.  Facebook conversation, however, is plentiful.  So what is possible is putting out, primarily through blog and Facebook, a conversation starter leading into the worship service that helps shape and inform it, and after the worship service putting out some summary that continues the conversation.  This could be tied into a way to also have this conversation in a physical space before and after, for those wanting the face-to-face connection.  We have no way to record audio or video digitally at the church--when we do, it's with borrowed equipment--so that remains in the future dreams list.  The degree to which social media shapes the worship, then, is the degree to which people participate in these types of forums.

What I think is that for a time, this is going to look like not much happening.  But eventually, it has the power to shape and transform worship.  What it amounts to now is just an opening up and demystifying of the process--less of me going into the office and shutting the door and emerging with a worship service like Athena coming fully-formed out of Zeus' head, and more like writing with a bunch of people chatting around me in a coffee shop and sometimes stopping by the table.  Can I write that way?  Time will tell.  I've gotten lots of practice by having a child popping in constantly -- about ten times while writing this blog post alone.  Having constructive adults popping into the conversation should be a welcome change.

Phil Lund suggested we turn the sermon inside-out.  I'm not doing that yet, but the first step to turning something inside-out is opening it up and showing the center.  That's where I propose starting for now.

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