Wednesday, August 31, 2016

ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Will a Renewed Church Require New Communications?

Martin Luther spurred a miracle of movement building during the Reformation. (The printing press helped.) Just think what he might have done with social media!

I'm excited by a movement for change within the Lutheran denomination in the US. It's called "decolonize Lutheranism" and you can get at taste of it on Twitter at #decolonizelutheranism.

By coincidence -- or not? -- Lutherans (and others) are marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation over the next year.  Along the way we'll be talking a lot about Martin Luther and and all the different ways he played a role in renewing the Church.

Andrew Pettegree, Brand Luther
It's interesting to note that Martin Luther was a person who cared as much about communications as about theology. (Or, you might say, his ideas about communications were inherent in his theology . . . . )  The title of a recent book by Andrew Pettegree says it all: Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe--and Started the Protestant Reformation.

This led me to wonder: Communications is central to renewing the Church. So what does this mean for us today?

First, I think we need to EMBRACE social media. I was struck at a recent presentation on the subject of young adult ministry when the pastor was showing the congregation the Facebook group for the young adult group. She gently reminded her audience, "online community is community." It was a small thing but it was part of the process of getting encouraging all of us to "get with the times."

Food for thought: do we understand our theology differently if we begin to envision our community as much in terms of a social media network as we do in terms of people in the pews?

Second, we need to have a functional understanding (as well as an app-specific one) of why some things "go" on social media. Some people love to use Twitter, some people love to use Facebook . . . but some of the breakthrough insights of social media are application-independent. Like ... visuals drive interaction. Like ... people are accessing this stuff on the go.

By the way: as we learn more and more about how people interact on social media, what does this bring up for us? 

Connecting via Facebook
Third, get ready to meet new people. When we go to where the conversation is taking place -- #BlackLivesMatter, #FreePalestine, #LoveIsLove -- we engage with people we didn't necessarily know before. Our ideas of community are challenged.

Cue the ecclesiologists . . . . 

Fourth, think more and more about how connections between things are formed, and give yourself permission to worry less about the perfectibility of any particular thing. Everything we do is interconnected via the Internet these days. But certain threads in the web are connecting many, many more nodes.

I think if Martin Luther were alive today, he'd be less concerned with assembling the ultimate work on theology than with encouraging an information architecture that might help give connection to an renewed mode of Christian life. (#ImAllAboutThatGrace?)

Finally -- and this we Lutherans can do! -- we need to work at it. Effective social media isn't all intuitive, and it takes time. Serious practitioners need to invest in learning, and churches need to recognize the contributions in time and talent that people (staff as well as volunteers) make to do this work .

How, for instance, would you account for social media work within the context of a congregational budget?

I'm looking forward to see how this new reformation proceeds!

Update February 23, 2017: Deconstruct this . . . !

Pope Francis
"Do not underestimate the value of example, for it is more powerful
than a thousand words, a thousand "likes", retweets or Youtube videos.

Related posts

The ELCA's presiding bishop, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, has set an example: own the white privilege we've experienced in our lives. Will Lutherans step up?

(See "Personal Success Story"? "White Privilege"? or Both?)

As I read the article, I kept hearing echoes of lessons that I have been learning in the last several years as I have worked to communicate online about peace and justice issues. Herewith the top of my hit parade, with reference to stories from the USA Today newsroom . . . .

(See Social Media: If It's Good Enough for USA Today, It's Good Enough for Me )

Eventually, in large part due to Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the United States was converted from a country in which a small number of people thought slavery needed to be ended into a country determined to act to end slavery. This literary work took the movement wide, and it took it deep.

Why is a novel an important tool for creative resistance?

(See Creative Resistance 101: Uncle Tom's Cabin )

What I'm feeling particularly energized about is the potential for the thousands of people who have already signed on as supporters of World Beyond War -- as well as millions more who are expected to do so soon -- to become active participants in spreading this good news.

(See News Worth Spreading: "There IS An Alternative to War!" )

To be sitting in Berkeley and seeing in front of my eyes the spreading of this idea that started in Texas and was nurtured in Philadelphia and got agitated in Chicago felt like a real Pentecost moment.

(See Decolonize Lutheranism -- A Northern California Installment)