Meditations (Web)Church

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

Can church work inside a social network for the masses?

with 13 comments

I thought this blog post from LifeChurch.tv’s Online Community Pastor Tony Steward did a great service in sharpening our terms of discussion about social networks.

Paraphrasing, a social network is anything that draws people into relationship. A social network service is a commercial or other platform that is about the purposeful business of doing that.

I’ve written lots about my belief that the real work of the NewSpring Web Campus involves building Christ-centered community, and there’s always a tension about what the proper role of a church is in doing that.

And maybe it’s because we’re confusing our “church” terms:

The church, Jesus, designs community.

The church’s gathering places, the sanctuary, the fellowship hall, the web campuses, are the looms of community.

And the church, it’s members, are weaving community into a glorious display of God’s steadfast love and grace.

Let’s face it: Churches have never really had to think about themselves as actively building community. So it’s not shocking that they are apprehensive about it now and haven’t been very good at it in the past.

For centuries, the Sunday services were, in Tony’s formulation, the social network for an entire neighborhood or geographic community. They didn’t have to work to connect people.

The community was (more or less) culturally homogenous.

The community was (more or less) commonly focused.

The community was (more or less) physically congruous.

I think the big question that the NewSpring Web Campus my well end up answering is whether the organic (unnoticed, taken-for-granted) weaving of community in the traditional church — accidental encounters in everyday life, “overheard” conversations through friends of friends, and mutual relationships discovered — can happen in an environment whose “touch points” are far fewer and farther between. Maybe even rare.

A “tightly-woven” church community focuses the power of God. That’s bottom line of Jesus metaphor of a shining city on a hill or our being the salt of the earth.

In both metaphors, dilution, being surrounded by something other, or isolation from one another is how we are weakened.

Concentration. Critical mass. Momentum. Whatever you want to call it, there’s a point where the “tightness” of a community is its power.

We can make a statement with large numbers alone, no matter where we are or what we do.

But we make an argument when the relationships among us, between us and beyond us become pathways for the power of God to flow in a particular direction.

As far as the Web Church goes, there are plenty of social tools, such as existing social network services, that dedicated attenders can use to build connection with others worshiping online.

But the big question for me is whether that connectedness can organize itself organically on a large scale into actions that unambiguously serve and honor God?

You see, even a “secular” social network service doesn’t just create paths of communication. It organizes the investment of time and social capital. The social network spaces we borrow — Facebook, Twitter — aren’t neutral. They are, to varying degrees, pointed toward something.

Can a web church truly be an outwardly-focused body of Christ without an organizing space of its own?

Can a web church truly be an outwardly-focused body of Christ with an organizing space of its own?

If you think that questions this post, that’s because I am.

Talk me out of it?

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Written by NickCharalambous

February 19, 2009 at 5:19 pm

13 Responses

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  1. Sorry Nick. I can’t really talk you out of it… because I’ve been asking myself a similar question. Whilst I am building up an internet ministry for christian men, http://j516.com, I have to ask the question whether community can really happen over the internet. I’m pretty sure it can but how is still out there.

    Nathan Edwards

    February 20, 2009 at 3:36 am

    • Nathan: I’m pretty sure, too, and i do think it’s about the “right space,” but there’s a chemistry behind community building that I think will evade any programmatic approach. I’d really be interested in hearing more about what you are/were trying to accomplish with j516 … I think you might have a lot of learnings for all of us breaking ground on this new frontier … If I can talk you into a blog post, maybe I can talk you into a Skype conversation?

      ipiphanist

      February 20, 2009 at 9:28 am

  2. Nick,
    Your points about community development are well taken, and Christian community can not and will not be formed overnight.

    That said, I believe there is room for growth. Many of the existing large scale Christian communities, seem to be trying to represent the body of Christ online without giving them something to do or some call to action. And those that issue a call to action, rarely organize more than a skeleton base of a social network.

    A balance needs to be struck. The Issachar Network, http://issacharnetwork.org is seeking to communicate what the Global Christian Community is thinking, praying, and doing in real-time. I see levels of involvement ranging from simple fellowship to compiling stories of Christian leaders outside of North America and Europe, and beyond. Come check it out!

    Daniel Berman

    February 20, 2009 at 10:49 am

    • Daniel: Your success is encouraging to hear … Sounds like the Issachar Network is organizing Christians online around the goal of global Christian witness…. Could that be done without the Issachar Network and related web site … but just through vision-casting in an existing social network like Facebook? That’s my question ….

      ipiphanist

      February 20, 2009 at 11:19 am

  3. Honestly I don’t think so.

    Why are you on facebook? To make friends.

    Why are you a member of the Issachar Network, to help out the Global Christian community. Its a very broad but focused call to action.

    You might also take a look at the All Christians on Facebook group. Some very lively discussion occurs there and even some interaction between Christians and Non-Christians. Unfortunately, I have seen very few mobilization efforts to actually do anything beyond talk.

    Basically the (C)/church needs more than fellowship to accomplish its task of proclaiming the Gospel.

    That being said, I hope to be proved wrong but with Facebook hitting one of its first major peaks/bumps in the road in quite a while I still don’t see it happening.

    Daniel Berman

    February 20, 2009 at 11:41 am

  4. One thing I can say…is that the internet brings up tragedy in a lot of cases-but also brings up salvation-or seeking it for others. So many have asked and knocked on my door on Facebook just for the way I talk about Jesus-my epilepsy site is geared toward how amazing He is..and leads others to have to ask-and talk. Sometimes it gives people who are scared/fearful/embarrassed…the feeling of security to ask the questions behind the keyboard-then what they would face to face…but in time-they are able to learn more-grow more…and seek more-leading them to ask people in a church, in a store, in a restaurant, in person. We have that wall-safety wall in the beginning..but when God helps break it down…gives us ability to open up in person to others..and on the internet.
    Helps me share my absolute love for Him during the day when I am unable to drive-get out and share it in person-due to my epilepsy being active. therefore I am thrilled with all I can share-everywhere on line… ๐Ÿ™‚
    Many blessings to you…you amaze me-and the growth of your church!! God is working wonders!

    In His Grip,
    Hetty Siebens
    http://www.twitter.com/hetty4christ
    http://hiswill4me.blogspot.com/
    http://apps.facebook.com/causes/156392?m=6d54c0aa&recruiter_id=19239463

    hetty4christ

    February 23, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    • What an encouraging reply, Hetty. I’ve always wondered about the potential for people to overhear our outpouring of praise and comfort to God through social network status updates and other activity. So good to hear that people have actually responded to you through it. Thanks so much.

      ipiphanist

      February 24, 2009 at 11:58 am

  5. Completely my pleasure…just amazing who needs prayers-even behind a computer screen-many too scared face to face…I love to pray for others…it works wonders-He is amazing! ๐Ÿ™‚ Many blessings to you in all you do for our Lord!
    In His Grip,
    Hetty

    hetty4christ

    February 24, 2009 at 12:09 pm

  6. Hey Nick… I did that blog post… let me know when you want that skype convo!

    http://megodbike.flashmedia.biz/post.php?postid=16

    Nathan Edwards

    February 26, 2009 at 5:33 pm

  7. Nick I love the clarity of your writing – pushes a keyboard whacking hack like me to get better – very nice. I am loving the thought process you have in this post and the questions you pose are “the” questions – atleast in my world right now – in regard to the church and it’s function and role online.

    Tony Steward

    March 4, 2009 at 1:33 am

    • Thanks for the compliment and encouragement, Tony. It’s going to be exciting to see how we work out those ideas. And it’s good to know that we can spur each other on and learn from each other as we’re doing so

      ipiphanist

      March 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm

  8. That is, one can express an attitude inadvertently, without oneself holding the expressed attitude. ,

    Bob73

    October 22, 2009 at 9:37 pm

  9. […] Can church work inside a social network for the masses? […]


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