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Why Go Online

Before we get into the fun tips and tricks, we need to talk about why ministers and churches should be online in the first place. It is vitally important that you understand the why.


If you don’t understand WHY you are using Facebook, it won’t matter WHAT you learn about it.



Billion people

In 2010, 1.8 billion people were connected to the Internet – that’s the same amount of humans living on the planet in the 1920s. (Penn-Olson)

March 2011 figures showed 2 billion online – 30% of the world’s population. (InternetWorldStats)

“A kid in Africa with a smart phone has access to more information than the President of the US 15 years ago” Ray Kurzweil at SXSW festival – Time Magazine March 26, 2012


What do we do when we are online?

A June 2010 VisualEconomics infographic: how the world spends its time online:

Time Spent Online

Average American in 2010, spends 60 hrs a month online, which equals 30 days a year.

Percentage of Internet time: 22% social networking, 42% viewing content, 36% other (email, commerce, search).

In a month: visit 2626 web pages, 89 domains, logged on 57 times.

What about teenagers?

95% of all American teens ages 12-17 are online.

“Google made the internet navigable. Apple made it portable. … Now Facebook has made it social, raising a generation that will never again expect things to be otherwise.”

Robert Lane Greene, Intelligent Life


[Get the most up-to-date statistics at the excellent Pew Research Internet Project website.]



Foundation crack

Sociologist and anthropologists confirm what we already feel: communication styles, processes and means are rapidly evolving.

The church must accept that interactive communication, especially through social media, is a foundational shift in the way we form relationships and communicate.

This is not a momentary fad for people who are bored.




How did we get here?

The video below is from Michael Wesch, professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University, as an introduction to his presentation to the Library of Congress on the Anthropology of YouTube.

The Machine is Us/ing Us


The Internet was initially released to the public as a way to share information – how we could move a document from point A to point B – like an improved mail service. And we even originally stored that information in the same way we did in print.

But now it is how people connect, collaborate and share life.

It is interactive.

It is community.




Television, movies, even newspapers – used to only be about entertaining and information. And our programming still is, to an extent, though I could list many examples of where even TV, news and journalists are making the shift toward interactive programming – and they will continue to do so.

But the Internet moved from entertainment/information to mediating human relationships.

We could argue that when media changed, relationships changed…

…or maybe we should say that because relationships changed, the media changed.

Over the last 100 years, we have created a movable society and a loss of community, which is not historically normal for human society. We have distance & separation from our roots. Even within small communities, there is a loss of connection.

“You could also regard the growing popularity of online awareness as a reaction to social isolation, the modern American disconnectedness that Robert Putnam explored in his book “Bowling Alone.” The mobile workforce requires people to travel more frequently for work, leaving friends and family behind, and members of the growing army of the self-employed often spend their days in solitude. Ambient intimacy becomes a way to “feel less alone,” as more than one Facebook and Twitter user told me.” – Clive Thompson, Brave New World of Digital Intimacy



But, is this a revolution?

The paragraph below is from a book called Naked Conversations. The authors started writing this book in 2005, and these authors were making the case for blogging specifically (at this time Facebook was just becoming public) and the shift with the Internet moving from information to community. They are among the first to start talking about a revolution.

Everything Never Changes – by Robert Scoble & Shel Israel from Naked Conversations

If we were to have met you in 1994 and told you that some young developers at Netscape were finishing up a “browser” that would let you read Internet pages and get to these pages by just clicking on a link, and it would change world information sharing, you might have just stared at us blankly before returning to your regularly scheduled program. Your life was just fine without the World Wide Web. What possible change could it mean to you?

We would speculate that revolutionary change usually just creeps in on you. We doubt that the first stagecoach driver who watched a locomotive speed past him realized that this would doom his chosen vocation. Or the monks with quills realized the full implications of the Gutenberg press. No one even noted the name of the guy who developed the wheel. He or she probably just invented it out of necessity.


They reference later in the book the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

“Something happened and a great many things, if not everything, have begun to adjust.”


Blogging, as well as the open source/collaborative genesis of the Internet, moved the Internet from an information source to a social community.



Welcome to the Experience Economy

We can also read the change in societal norms by observing the state of the economy.  Let’s hear from Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore in Welcome to the Experience Economy:

How do economies change? The entire history of economic progress can be recapitulated in the four stage evolution of the birthday cake.

As a vestige of the agrarian economy, mothers made birthday cakes from scratch, mixing farm commodities (flour, sugar, butter, and eggs) that together cost mere dimes.

As the goods-based industrial economy advanced, moms paid a dollar or two to Betty Crocker for premixed ingredients.

Later, when the service economy took hold, busy parents ordered cakes from the bakery or grocery store, which, at $10 or $15 cost ten times as much as the packaged ingredients.

Now, in the time-starved 1990s, parents neither make the birthday cake nor even throw the party. Instead, they spend $100 or more to “outsource” the entire event to Chuck E. Cheese’s, the Discovery Zone, the Mining Company, or some other business that stages a memorable event for the kids–and often throws in the cake for free.

In 1998, Pine and Gilmore were calling to our attention the move from a service economy to an experience economy. I’m sure we could point out the boom in finances, time and resources for the middle and upper class as a significant or crucial contributor; however, even the lower class in America was adjusting.

All this was happening at the same time that computers were now small enough and affordable enough that we had them in our living rooms. And then enter the Internet  – in 1998, we sat in front of our computers connected to the world, and we did not just want service. We wanted an experience. Remember, “You’ve Got Mail!”

One important aspect of this type of economy is customer participation – “People want to be a part of what they participate in.”

This is certainly relevant for the Internet now which is interactive and participatory.

Because of our need for change due to isolated society combined with expecting an experience, we began to shift and change the way we communicate.




We now use words like…

Word Cloud

Of course, we wonder: did the Internet change the way we think, or did our thinking change and so we demanded the Internet be different?

Take some time to read from a Brave New World, an article from Clive Thompson in NY Times (he is also a writer for Wired and Fast Company Magazines).


 The Fax Machine

Fax MachineIt’s important to note that we cannot approach any of these platforms like the fax machine: something one person in the office is an expert at and the rest of us just use on occasion. We do not treat social media as something that one person handles for the church, and it is not just about trading information.

What about marketing and advertisement?

Take a moment to study the advertising campaign of Old Spice, whose commercial first aired on YouTube in the summer of 2010: Old spice videos and script and this site – these are some of the best example of businesses engaging with their community.


Maybe it’s not fair to compare the for-profit world with the church; after all, they are going to do whatever it takes to make a buck. So we have to ask, does all this mean the church should just WANT to change or does it HAVE to change?



Mass Collaboration


One important, significant, and drastic change that correlates to the new information age, is the way we solve problems – locally and globally. Professionals who are studying this shift have noted that the institutional structure (top down, hierarchy, one or a few decision makers for the collective group) is being replaced by collaboration.

We start to hear words like: openness, peer-to-peer sharing, acting globally, the world is flat, wiki.

Watch this excellent video called Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky at TED Talks (he also wrote a book by the same name). If there is a “guru” to interactive communication, it’s Clay Shirky. Clay is a writer, consultant, teacher on social and economic effects of Internet technologies and he teaches at NYU. He specializes in social networks and how they shape culture and vise versa.

This talk is about how the world will come to the world’s aid now that we have the tools to do it. People want to help. This is encouraging for the church!




A “mash-up” is a combination. Every product, idea, etc can be threaded together with another. Some argue there are no original ideas.

Steal This Film – Watch at least the first four minutes and focus on what they are saying about the resistance of the institution (I do recommend the whole hour video if you have the time).

What does this mean for the church?

With this change in the way we solve problems, what does this mean for the institution?



Institution versus Collaboration

This 20 minute TedTalks from Clay Shirky on Collaboration VS Institution (and pause for a moment to let the title sink in) is extremely insightful. However, the most important information is the last two minutes of this video.

The good news is this video is from 2000, so we only have 40 years of chaos left!



Church History

I’m not even going to pretend to be a church historian, but if we could debate that if the church was at front of printing revolution, will we be at the front of information revolution?

Great EmergenceLet’s hear a word of encouragement from author Phyllis Tickle in her book The Great Emergence:

“About every five hundred years the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at the time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur. When that mighty upheaval happens, history shows us, there are always at least three consistent results or corollary events.

First, a new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge. Second, the organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its former self…The third result is of equal, if not greater significance, though. That is, every time the incrustations of an overly established Christianity have been broken open, the faith has spread – and been spread – dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas….

It would, quite literally, be impossible to exaggerate the central importance to the Great Emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web. By the same token and in absolutely analogous ways, it would be impossible to overstate the importance to the Great Reformation of the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1440 and his subsequent development of movable type and oil-based inks.”

This gives me great hope! Why not be a part of it now rather than waiting for the change or being a part of the group that gets left out?

We don’t have to compete with what is out there. We can be a part of it. We can live there. Our own congregants want us to and the world needs us there.

Nearly two-thirds of online Americans use the Internet for faith-related reasons…[T]he majority of the online faithful are there for personal spiritual reasons, including seeking outside their own traditions, but they are also deeply grounded in those traditions, and this Internet activity supplements their ties to traditional institutions, rather than moving them away from church…Faith-related activity online is a supplement to, rather than a substitute for offline religious life.

“Faith Online” from Virtual Lives – (Volume 38, Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics from Baylor University: www.ChristianEthics.ws. Page 37.)

The Internet has a number of striking features. It is instantaneous, immediate, worldwide, decentralized, interactive, endlessly expandable in contents and outreach, flexible and adaptable to a remarkable degree. It is egalitarian, in the sense that anyone with the necessary equipment and modest technical skill can be an active presence in cyberspace, declare his or her message to the world, and demand a hearing. It allows individuals to indulge in anonymity, role-playing, and fantasizing and also to enter into community with others and engage in sharing. According to users’ tastes, it lends itself equally well to active participation and to passive absorption into “a narcissistic, self-referential world of stimuli with near-narcotic effects”. It can be used to break down the isolation of individuals and groups or to deepen it.

The Internet can make an enormously valuable contribution to human life. It can foster prosperity and peace, intellectual and aesthetic growth, mutual understanding among peoples and nations on a global scale.

It also can help men and women in their age-old search for self-understanding. In every age, including our own, people ask the same fundamental questions: “Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life?” The Church cannot impose answers, but she can—and must—proclaim to the world the answers she has received; and today, as always, she offers the one ultimately satisfying answer to the deepest questions of life—Jesus Christ, who “fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling”. Like today’s world itself, the world of media, including the Internet, has been brought by Christ, inchoately yet truly, within the boundaries of the kingdom of God and placed in service to the word of salvation. Yet “far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come”.

“Pontifical Council for Social Communications” – Ethics in Internet, Official Statement from Vatican City



So why should the church care, and thus be online?

The world is still crying out for the truth that we know.

People still hurt, and people still need love.

And through the Internet and social platforms, we can make connections faster, wider and deeper than ever before.

Watch Free Hugs at marker 32:35 – again from Michael Wesch of Kansas State in the Anthropology of YouTube and then the Message of YouTube at marker 47:32 (I do recommend the whole hour-long video).

If you want to be the presence of Christ in the world, go where the people are and love them. The Internet will take you right inside their living rooms, messes and all, and let you hear their broken hearts, and let you share your hope and peace.


So, let’s dive in!


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