Meditations (Web)Church

A year (and a bit) in the life of NewSpring's first Web pastor

Three ways for church iCampuses to avoid a dead-chat bounce

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Do you know what a dead-chat bounce is? It’s when even dead-end public chat will look lively if there are enough people in the room with you at any given time. That is, until you notice everyone’s always in the process of leaving.

Or maybe the chat room is just plain dead.

Just about everyone who was part of the early days of the mass Internet (ie. that period when your idea of a wild night was to actually browse the Internet, with or without Yahoo), remembers that moment: Bored out of your mind, you convinced yourself that it would be interesting, at least briefly, to go into an open public chat room and see what happens.

Before long, you were being propositioned by krazygrl23 or just stuck in one of those endless loops of lowest common denominator conversation topics. “So whereabouts is that exactly?” Then you’d hit the exit. If you weren’t a lamo.

Maybe that’s why I recoiled at the idea of incorporating public chat around our online worship in early discussions about NewSpring’s iCampus. Seriously? As in 1990s AOL?

We’ve since decided that public chat is the worst possible idea.

Until you consider the alternatives.

And right now, there aren’t any alternatives.

How else do you cultivate interactivity and relationships among strangers who have nothing else in common other than their faith?

What I learned from my visits to almost all of these icampuses is that you can have pleasant, shallow chats. And you can also have meaningful, even intimate chats.

As every community manager knows, the quality of interaction all depends on how you manage the space.

(Those who took part in beta testing of Lifechurch.tv’s new icampus last Sunday may have noticed that, after two years of learning on the bleeding edge, they actually moved their partly domesticated model of including chat with friends in your row to entirely open public chat. If you’re interested in the thinking behind that move, I’ll be posting a Q&A about chat with Lifechurch’s Online Community Pastor Tony Steward later this week.)

So here’s my top 3 chat no nos:

1. Don’t leave chat to chance. People won’t bother to take part in a conversation at all or they’ll just feel left out if your chat room is really just a series of personal chats between groups of two or three people who know each other well. It should be obvious that it is an open, public conversation that it is going somewhere interesting. Encourage your die-hard attenders or church staff/volunteers to talk about topical issues more or less everyone can have a take on. Make it an explicit goal of the chat room. The most obvious thing to do is talk about the upcoming sermon message. If they’re already processing some of those ideas, the chances are they might be more receptive when they actually hear it.

2. Don’t underestimate your audience. If folks are on your Internet campus’s public chat, the chances are fellowship is what they’re really after. Online attenders are likely to be new, and they’re likely to be serious spiritually, especially if they’re not Christians. So seriously engage them. If all they want is casual chatter, they could just hang out on park benches. If you’re seeing the same folks week after week using the public chat to have essentially private conversations, that’s a sign that they need to be hooked up in a small group. Help them do that through personal messaging, and then channel their conversational energy in public chat into building engagement with folks who aren’t regulars.

3. Don’t get up in people’s faces. NewSpring loves greeting folks on our physical campuses. But you wouldn’t want to send a volunteer to have a one-on-one conversation with someone the minute they come through your doors, would you? Ditto for a chat room. Church staff or preferably other attenders should be encouraged to acknowledge someone when they enter. But they should then move as quickly as possible to keep the public conversation moving in a way that allows new folks to be easily included. Let the relationship develop organically in conversation.

Am I wrong? Or what have I missed?

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Written by NickCharalambous

November 19, 2008 at 12:05 am

One Response

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  1. […] I decided to ask Tony Steward, LifeChurch.tv’s Online Community and all around icampus rock star and innovator about his philosophy on chat. He graciously accepted. (If you wanted to read my take on how to get the most out of chat, you can find my post from earlier this week here.) […]


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