Monday, April 02, 2012

A Reformation of Christian Education, Pt. 3: The Networked Church

As I wrote about in my previous post, sometime between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, we reached the peak of the “broadcasting age” of communication, an era marked by top-down, one-to-many, and creator-to-consumer processes of information sharing and meaning making. On December 25th, 2006 however an event took place that heralded in the rising of a new era of communication. While the Internet had been around as early as 1982, and social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Myspace had already been in use for a couple of years, it wasn’t until roughly 2006 that the idea of technology-assisted social networking hit mainstream culture. The idea of social networking became a “meme” or a culture wide narrative that year, a fact reflected on December 25th when Time’s 2006 Person of the Year was announced as not a famous politician, celebrity or athlete, but as simply… you!  Here are two of the most compelling things the traditional meaning-makers of culture at Time wrote in that article about what they were calling "Web 2.0":
… look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men... It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes. 
This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It's a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who's out there looking back at them.
Wow… now six years later, it’s fair to say the folks at Time were right in recognizing the rising of a new system of meaning-making over the old broadcasting model… the era of networked communication is indeed upon us, and it has huge ramifications for the future of the Church.

In the networked communication model, it’s not all about reaching the most numbers of folks or creating the largest community, but rather attending deeply to the connections one holds in community.It’s important to underscore here that at its best, the networked church is incarnational, meaning it enhances rather than entirely replaces in-person ministry. And it’s also not just the broadcasting church on steroids… it’s not simply sending out a Tweet each day or posting a sermon on your blog and hoping for responses, but rather listening, attending and connecting with folks wherever they might be. In some instances, that might mean spending more time in a coffee shop rather than your church office. In other instances, that might mean leading worship in a public park rather than your sanctuary. Basically, the networked church is about finding folks in their “third places,” wherever they are, and going out to meet them there.Third place” is a term coined by Ray Oldenburg to mean a place where folks spend their time when they’re not either at home or at work… in The Great Place, the Good Place Oldenburg argues that third places serve as anchors of community life and therefore places of meaning making. At it’s best, the networked church recognizes that more and more individuals identify social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube as some (although not all) of their third places. Following the Great Commission then it simply makes sense to go out where folks are, including online… wish folks happy birthday on Facebook, watch their YouTube videos, read and comment on their blogs. Only once we know what folks are talking about does it make sense to engage them in conversation with relevant additional information.  And as my own pastor, Pastor Scott Cady reminded me in response to the first post in this series, make that conversation as wide as possible. While online ministry may seem entirely new and scary, part of it is paying reverence to the great theologians who have come before us, and bringing them in as conversation partners when appropriate as well.

God's peace,

Dustin is a Masters of Divinity candidate in his second year of study at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin really likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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