Ethical business: Subprime mortgage lenders
A healthy meal: Stadium nachos
Words of wisdom: Twitter
We don’t often associate social networking with good things. The conventional wisdom, as it were, is that Twitter, Facebook and the like are engaging and fun, maybe dangerous, and definitely a big, shallow waste of time.
When it comes to faith, is there any value? Some point to horror stories of illicit behavior simplified by the connections it creates. Others point to its effectiveness as a tool for networking Christians with prayer chains and referrals. But what is really going on here? By now we can acknowledge that social networking is not going away.
Maybe you have resisted all social networking, you consider tweeting a frivolous fad and your Facebook account is dusty. Maybe you post several times a day. In either case, do you understand the power and depth of this new medium—in community building, spiritual formation, and yes, even evangelism?
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About the Author
John Voelz is a tamed rebel, writer, artist, songwriter, painter, musician, aggravator, and pastor. His love of all things creative in tandem with a severe angst towards mediocrity and religiosity has given him a unique platform as a voice in the church—local and worldwide. He is the lead pastor known as The Curator at Westwinds in Jackson, Michigan where he lives with his wife and kids.
Read an Excerpt
Follow You, Follow Me
Why Social Networking is Essential to Ministry
By John Voelz
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 John Fred Frank Voelz III
All rights reserved.
Post: Twitter Church And Cyberconfessionals
I found myself leading a struggling church the day I arrived at Westwinds. After a year of healing, mending wounds, and performing triage, we forged a team leadership model where three of us worked in tandem to lead a church committed to the idea of thinking differently. We rewrote the church values to reflect imagination, permission, authenticity, and community.
As such, we find ourselves trying things that have never been done in church. Many garner national attention. Positively inclined media quickly labeled us "early adopters," "gifted," "movers and shakers," and "mavericks." These labels are flattering but only partly true. We think what makes Westwinds special has more to do with freedom and willingness than with some special dose of gifting. There are people in your community who are looking for freedom to pursue God and willingness on the part of church leadership to venture beyond the norm.
Willing people. Willing leaders. When these two groups of people find each other and freedom and permission are granted, the church's potential is endless.
A Westwinds idea that caught the media's attention was what we called "Twitter Sunday." Conceived in late 2007 and launched in 2008, Twitter Sunday (aka "Twitter Church") was an experiment in weekend church service participation that caught the attention of Time, Fox News, CNN, and a myriad of other local and national media outlets.
The original Twitter Church experiment involved using multiple screens, increasing the bandwidth in our auditorium, inviting people to bring their laptops and smartphones, and providing classes on how to set up and use a Twitter account.
On Twitter Sunday, we encouraged conversation before, during, and after the service. We did not edit the conversation but let it happen in real time. We had five screens with ongoing and overlapping Twitter feeds. It was humorous, messy, insightful, challenging, emotional, worshipful, beautiful, and awkward. Such is the bride.
Posts ranged from silly comments on our attire and jokes about being late to church to deep questions about God and spirituality, prayer requests, struggles, and cries for help.
Since that original experiment we have used Twitter in various ways on the weekend, including having question-and-answer sessions, submitting prayer requests, posting words of affirmation and encouragement, exalting God, and conducting surveys in 140 characters or less.
Another Westwinds Social Networking worship gathering idea— perhaps my favorite—caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal. We called this idea "Cyberconfessionals."
We set up confession booths around the perimeter of the auditorium. Each confessional had a computer and a login screen for a Yahoo! chat group we had created. People were invited to log in as "Confessor 1," "Confessor 2," and so on, based on the number of their booth. The "confessees" who engaged them in conversation were made up of pastors, counselors, and ministry leaders from all around the globe. We recruited them to engage our people in conversation and hear their confessions. It was totally anonymous, although some people volunteered their real names.
All our confessees encouraged our confessors to make follow-up appointments with ministry leaders and counselors if they needed further help. Each of them was able to deliver the message "God forgives. He wants your surrender. He is willing to help. So are we."
The results were beautiful. The people we recruited to hear confessions reported that they were deeply moved and heard incredible stories. They were able to give good advice and offer help. Some confessors sought more help and made appointments with our staff, and one even checked himself into a suicide watch program. Social Networking allowed us to use a platform in a whole new way and incorporate an idea that has been around forever.
Using Social Networking in corporate worship has helped us:
1. Meet new people. Some people hid in the shadows for months (dare I say years?) and didn't feel as though they could participate in corporate worship until Twitter Church.
2. Provide an opportunity for engagement and participation. Some find the whole church experience foreign and don't know where to begin. However, engaging in cyberconversation can be both engaging and a gateway for further participation.
3. Spend more time with people outside of the weekend. The classes we provide beforehand minimize fears about Social Networking, provide valuable skills, and give us an opportunity to meet with a group of folk to talk about the mission of the church and what we hope to accomplish.
4. Get and give real-time feedback. Social Networking screen feeds allow us to respond to questions and comments that people are feeling in the moment. Even when comments are negative, we have an opportunity to respond in love, build bridges, speak the truth, and defuse bombs.
5. Embrace changing technology and culture. We have found that when we reference, talk about, and use technology in our services, we increase our chances of dispelling fears, educating, and demonstrating how Christians engage and enjoy technology and culture.
Not Everyone Thinks This Is a Great Idea
There are things we have done at Westwinds that would make many pastors raise an eyebrow or point a finger. That's fine. For the record, I don't care if another church uses Social Networking in corporate worship or not. I love it; I use it; but I don't have a Twitter mission. It has never been about a Social Networking agenda for Westwinds. It is about participation, new ways to connect with one another, reflection, interaction, and conversation. Regarding our church's use of Social Networking in church on the weekend, it is and has always been about creating a moment where we can all potentially respond to and move toward God in fresh ways.
The use of Twitter in corporate worship is highly contextual to a congregation. For Westwinds, the use of Twitter, among many other things, is appropriate for us but might not be for everyone. It is part of our culture of creative engagement with the gospel. It is expected that we will try different things. Some will fail. Some will become part of us.
I have a deep-rooted belief that God has called us to act upon the stuff in our heads. The thirst for the sacred, the mysteries of God, the magic of the sacraments, the otherworldliness of corporate worship, the tears spent on broken people—they call us to act. We act by creating—by making stuff. We can incarnate our thoughts into visual art, music, poetry, and film. Projects, proposals, and petitions. Moments and movements. And in this case, by using Social Networking in corporate church settings.
You need to ask questions and discover on your own which Social Networking application might work for you and your church. It may be time to try something new. It may be time to stir the pot. It may be time to go against all odds. And it may not be the time at all. However, you need to be on a path of discovery. The world is changing around you, and you need to exercise your imagination muscles.
There has been a fair amount of talk on the Web about the use of Social Networking in corporate worship settings, and it would be wise for us to examine what is being said. Below are some actual quotations and concerns we have received through e-mails, conversations, and posts on the Web, followed by some principles we can take away.
There is a difference between communion with God and commenting on communion with God.
I can appreciate this comment as a worship leader who desires for everyone to be engaged in corporate worship at some level. However, this statement is only partly true. If the two were mutually exclusive, we would have to rule out the validity of antiphonal praise and chants and liturgical worship that calls for a leader to proclaim truths about God while the congregation repeats, responds, and gives the occasional "Amen." Sometimes, commenting on communion with God is very much a part of the communion.
If we're honest, there are many times we commune with or respond to God physically, and it takes our inside a while to catch up—if it does at all. For example, we might sing song lyrics to hymns and choruses that do not line up with how we are feeling at any particular moment. Nevertheless, we sing them out in hopes that our hearts will follow, and the words of worship become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Takeaway: when we talk about God, he is listening and is part of the conversation.
When in worship, worship.... Don't tweet while having sex. Don't tweet while praying with the dying. Don't tweet when your wife is telling you about the kids. There's a season for everything.
Although this comment comes from an honorable and great place of concern that we should be fully present and engaged in things that require our undivided attention, it's a bit of a straw man. The thing we need to be careful with is judging people for what we may deem distracting when it isn't to them. The very things that you may define as distracting to you may be things that actually help others focus, dig deeper, and engage.
In corporate worship environments, people need to be made aware of the rules. Social Networking in church is only out of line if it is understood that it has no place there. If you desire to create an environment where Social Networking is acceptable as part of the experience, you will have to educate your people so they know it is appropriate.
Scripture gives us much freedom in methodology and worship practices. But the makeup of your church might be a potpourri of traditions. Communicate expectations. (As an aside, sex is not purely physical. Most women will tell you sex begins in the morning. And if that is true, my wife and I are guilty of twittering during sex. We keep those twitters private, though.)
Takeaway: you must define the rules for corporate worship in your environment.
Hearing preaching is heartfelt engagement in the exposition and exultation of the word of God. This is a fragile bond.... Perfume can break it. A ruffled collar can break it. A cough can break it. A whisper can break it. Clipping fingernails, chewing gum, a memory, a stomach growl, a sunbeam, and a hundred other things can break it. The power that flows through the wire of spiritual attention is strong, but the wire is weak.
The word of God is powerful. But to think that our ability to be affected by the word of God is so dependent on our ability to focus that the scent of perfume might derail us is frightening.
It is true that Twitter in church may be a distraction for some. But if it were true that the bond between what God is saying to me and my ability to focus on it is that fragile, we should get rid of the church bulletin, paint our walls white, put on peripheral blinders, and not move a muscle. (Then I'd fall asleep.)
Part of this comment may come from a place of concern that the Bible and its importance are diminishing in our churches. This may be a valid concern, but the Bible need not be threatened by other spiritual habits or creative worship.
Part of this comment may come from a place that values preaching as the apex of the weekend. I would suggest that whereas preaching has an important place, the apex of the weekend is more about meeting with God, however that happens. Through singing. Praying. Reading. Silence. Interactives. Social Networking. Video. A conversation in the lobby.
Playing with my iPhone (or cell phone or Blackberry) during the sermon will likely distract me. I'll be tempted to check my e-mail or read my Twitter feed that has nothing to do with the sermon.
The first part of this concern cannot be controlled and is a matter of personal discipline. Being distracted by your smartphone in any environment is a matter of self-control.
The second part of this concern once again deals with the message being interrupted. To answer this concern, we first need to understand that it is a methodological problem, not a theological one.
Is preaching expository? thematic? systematic? Is it done in a series? with notes? without notes? for thirty minutes? forty-five? fifteen minutes, with a break for music in between? from the NIV? the King James? The Message? sitting? standing? on video? in person? with responsive readings?
The answer to all those things is ... yes. And more. One would be hard-pressed to find a strict biblical model of an uninterrupted thirty-minute sermon preached while people sit in pews facing forward, hanging on every word.
Churches everywhere will interrupt their service this weekend with video, drama, and announcements. Once again, there is no prescription in the Scriptures for preaching a sermon.
If your methodology will allow for Social Networking to interrupt the message in order to enhance an argument or to call for engagement, then go for it!
Takeaway: to use or not to use Social Networking in church is a question of methodology, not theology.
Some of the arguments and concerns about Social Networking in worship services are the same arguments used for the past twenty years as churches have fought about PowerPoint and large-screen projection.
I remember one of our association pastors from California standing up one day and saying, "Men and women, there is a lot of talk about this PowerPoint. But the last time I checked, the power point was a man of God teaching the word of God to the people of God." It was followed by applause.
I didn't know what to do. I wasn't going to necessarily disagree; it just wasn't the point. Did using PowerPoint to project sermon notes and pictures somehow threaten preaching or the future of the church?
Is it possible to preach the word of God and to worship while inviting your whole congregation to comment and interact with you and others while you are preaching? Yes! Is it possible that is an act of worship for some? Yes! Is it possible that someone will engage and be engaged better by use of this technology? Yes! Is it possible that communion with God and commenting on communion with God are not mutually exclusive at all times and that perhaps one can affect the other? Yes!
Is it for everyone? No. Is it possible it will distract? Yes.
So will bad preaching.
Is it possible to worship God without a thirty-minute sermon at all on a Sunday? We had better say yes or we have got a lot of conversation ahead of us.
Instead of talking about ideas of what is proper and what is not for church, let's talk about what is working and what is not. Let's share stories. Let's celebrate what God is using. We have only begun to discover what Social Networking is capable of, and we are in many ways in the experimental stages of this technology.
More Ways to Use Social Networking in Church
Using Social Networking in your corporate worship service may or may not be your thing. It might not match your church personality. That's fine. Here are some other ways you might consider taking advantage of Social Networking before, during, and after what happens on the weekend. We have tried all of these to various degrees and with various results.
Have breakout discussions during the service.
Reserve ten minutes or so for Twitter banter about a topic, the message, a passage of scripture, and so on. Have the band play some instrumental tunes, or put on an appropriate soundtrack for the mood.
Put twenty Twitter plants in your audience and tell them the things you want them to reiterate on the screen at the end of the service.
One Sunday we did this with a group of people who were not already involved in other areas of ministry. I told them that they were the "new worship leaders." Because worship is a response to God and it is participatory, these men and women were given an opportunity to influence the feel of the weekend and to invite people to respond. Even those who were not actively twittering along with the group found it helpful to hear the insights of others.
Give permission for Twitter at any time—even when it is not on the screens.
Get your people sharing their thoughts with one another. It is comforting to hear that others are thinking the same things or asking the same questions as you.
Excerpted from Follow You, Follow Me by John Voelz. Copyright © 2012 John Fred Frank Voelz III. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
So, Why Me and Why Now?,
Post: Twitter Church and Cyberconfessionals,
Not Everyone Thinks This Is a Great Idea,
More Ways to Use Social Networking in Church,
Uh-oh, How Do I Respond to This?,
Post: The Wrong Questions,
The School Passing Period,
Three Categories and Three Questions,
What Is Behind the Community Question?,
Post: Closing Walls and Ticking Clocks,
What Is Behind the Question of Distraction?,
What Is Behind the Question of Time?,
Post: Fear Not,
Growing Up Blind,
Post: No-So-Stronger Danger,
Post: What Would Jesus Tween?,
The Provincial Life,
In the World, Not Of It,
Sharing the Gospel in Social Networking,
Post: The Not-So Space,
The Church Lobby,
The Engagement Bell Curve,
This Is Not the Place to Fight,
Authentic Self, Authentic Space,
The Prayer Chain,
The Ultimate Social Network,
Bible Bullies, Water Guy, and the Hope Whisperer,
Church Culture and Leadership,
True Social Networking,