Meditations (Web)Church

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

Posts Tagged ‘chat

Web Church reflections, part 4: Online discipling can be a difference maker

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This is a blog series of personal observations from my year as NewSpring’s web pastor. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Any references to “web church” are shorthand for “doing church online.” There are weightier aspects to “being the church,” and I’m not dealing with them here.

Social networking has produced an explosion in the amount of interpersonal interaction in our lives, and that represents an important opportunity for all churches to emphasize the power of personal ministry and see results.

Mentoring, accountability, caring or Bible study can all be leveraged by social media tools. Yet my hunch is that too many church leaders, lay and staff, fear “sending the wrong message” that online connections can replace or substitute for doing life together.

It’s an understandable fear, but it may be counterproductive when there are so many barriers to “one-anothering” that come from the increasingly complex and overscheduled lives of believers. Just the difficulty of setting up face-to-face meetings, let alone the cost of breakfast/lunch/dinner or coffee can become burdensome.

My conclusion is that we can’t afford not to use these tools for relational growth, such as small group gathering and one-on-one discipleship, but we should also educate people on how to use them within a healthy relational framework that’s grounded in physical community.

On the NewSpring Web Service, we saw that growing and investing in online relationships wasn’t as easy and it wasn’t “the same” as doing things in person, but it was still a difference maker.

Our largest experiment was with online groups. Overall, we were disappointed, because only a fraction of those who expressed an interest followed through with consistent attendance and a commitment to other group members. We also saw a surprising aversion to video groups, possibly because being instantly “seen,” especially for women, is instantly judged.

But those who followed through with consistent attendance also showed a commitment to other group members outside of group time, a sure sign of spiritual health, such as by praying for one another, holding themselves accountable to one another and engaging one another to offer or receive Biblical guidance.

All self-reported that the group — which is continuing — had contributed to their spiritual growth. Many had never before been able to make a group work, whether that was a result of scheduling conflicts or other practical issues that are all too numerous and all too real. And there was a very real sense in which it created a spiritual appetite for real physical group meeting if the circumstances were right.

From my own observations and the reports of volunteer leaders, one-on-one discipleship conversations, especially those via video, also displayed a high-degree of parity with offline conversations in so far as serious, genuine and open dialogue.

No one doubted that they could serve as a healthy supplement to face-to-face meetings between individuals or as a substitute method of “pouring into” someone from afar, provided that they were relationally engaged in other ways within a physical community of faith.

The biggest issue is whether the parties understand and abide by the expectation that each is fully present in the online space and not “multitasking.”

All of us have to make tough decisions about how many people we can properly invest in. If there are ways to explore smarter ministry, we should investigate them.

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Written by NickCharalambous

March 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Considering using Tokbox for small groups?

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Tokboxtokbox-live-video-calling1 fever is in the air after this week’s videochat orgy among the church Twitterati.

The platform has sizzle for sure. (It even has an API). But for me the question is:

Can Tokbox be used effectively for online small groups? Will the platform, and its potential for technical issues, distract people, or will it add to group interaction and sense of connectedness?

I started looking at Tokbox in late November based on a recommendation from Dave Adamson of Liquid Church, a member of the Internet campus Pastors Ning group, who was using it for just that purpose.

Toward the end of a five week test, Dave was already calling his TokBox experiment “an outstanding success,” with all seven participants, from four countries, agreeing to continue the group. (I haven’t heard back from Dave about the results of a survey he used to evaluate the experience. I’m hoping he’ll post something soon.)

With all the chatter about Tokbox and our campus launch coming up soon, I decided to take it for an interaction test-drive this morning with the help of some members of NewSpring’s CommTeam and a few invited guests.

We all agreed that hearing a voice and seeing a face helps tremendously with creating a sense of connection in a way that leaves text chat in the dust.

And a one-click-to-join, nothing to download, no-need to register system like Tokbox is going to be about as easy as it’s going to get for a multi-person video and/or audio chat solution aimed at a broad audience. (Tokbox even has a Facebook Firefox extension.)

We felt the video and voice quality was more than adequate for small group  purposes, and the latency did not seem unreasonable, although we did have U.S. only participants. And the platform is easily able to handle between 6 and 12, which is the optimal small group size.

But we also agreed that small group leaders and the participants would probably benefit from an orientation before plunging in.

Here are the top 5 initial suggestions for the “ground rules” we came up with. If you’ve used Tokbox or some other multi-person video chat, please add your thoughts in the comments.

  1. Walk everyone as a group through the mute/unmute, and camera pause/unpause functions in the individual chat window as well as the user’s microphone settings. The ability to amplify the mic, in particular, is very helpful.
  2. Everyone in the group must use headphones. The echo that comes from hearing the conversation through someone’s computer speakers is just annoying.
  3. Everyone must be in a quiet, private location so there’s no ambient sound or the possibility for interruptions. (For instance. If you’re borrowing public WiFi, try sitting in your car, rather than a coffee shop.)
  4. Everyone should agree to use a sign, preferably something that stands out easily amid the faces and lets everyone know someone wants to speak. Simply raising your hand to cover the camera works just fine, or you could use something like a piece of white paper.
  5. Group leaders should be comfortable directing and guiding the conversation, rather than always fishing for responses to questions from the group at large. That will cut down on the awkwardness of the conversational hand-offs.

There’s bound to be interpersonal awkwardness initially, and maybe some clumsiness in keeping the conversation moving. But isn’t that something even face-to-face groups grapple with?

What about you?

(P.S. If you are an Internet Campus pastor and want to be part of the Ning group, drop me a line for an invite.)

Written by NickCharalambous

December 17, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Four questions about icampus public chat with LifeChurch.tv’s Tony Steward

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If there’s an IT about church icampuses, it’s may be about the way they are encouraging and managing interactions among online attenders.

So far, public chat rooms are almost a standard component of the experience. After participating in the LifeChurch.tv beta test for their new icampus, I was surprised that after two years of learning from their internet campus, Lifechurch.tv had decided to go more simple and even retro in the way they used their chat functionality.

I decided to ask Tony Steward, LifeChurch.tv’s Online Community Pastor and all around 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. ) Here are Tony’s answers:

NC: It looks like you’ve opted for an open public chat in the beta… not just people in your row. That seems like a pretty big change in direction. What motivated that?

TS: We went with a wide open chat (for now: we are wanting to add group/filtering options in the future, but have other things to figure out first.) because of a couple reasons. First, we value the power of anonymity as people connect with us. That they can come and interact with having to create an account or give us information, allows them to connect on their terms. Secondly, with the chat next to the Video there is an opportunity for individuals to participate and help shape the actual experience with their own prayers, praises and conversation.

NC: Online community is about fundamentally about conversation. Do you think that chat rooms are conducive to making real connections? Why?

TS: Chat rooms are a piece of the pie for making connections, and currently our most powerful. Mainly because it is live interaction, and shared experience – which is tough to accomplish online. Online Gaming is really one of the only other avenues to establish shared experience and relational connection besides a live chat. Because of the shared experiences, real connections are very possible and we find them happening already in our current lobby chat, and are very excited at the opportunities this new chat interface will bring.

NC: Internet campus chat rooms range from busy and prayerful to quiet and superficial. What does it take to manage a good chat room experience?

TS: Chat rooms can flow matches in similar fashion to the energy in a room during a physical live experience. So, direction through the video for them to participate, and leadership by example by our Lobby Chat Team will be essential in helping people to participate in a healthy and productive manner during experiences.

NC: It would seem that extending interactions beyond the walls is a holy grail of online and offline churches. What strategies can be used to take those self-contained chat interactions into other networked spaces?

TS: Great Question! Haha, every week we are having this conversation about what it looks like to extend our ministry process into new online communities. Currently we are experimenting with a Facebook Team and a Blogging Team that is looking to extend the ministry of the Internet Campus in a healthy way into new circles of community, through established and relevant relationships. That said, we are inventing this wheel as we go in the midst of some other foundational changes.

So, what do you think about alternatives to public chat? And if your church is using it, how do you think it might be improved?

Written by NickCharalambous

November 21, 2008 at 2:40 pm

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?

Written by NickCharalambous

November 19, 2008 at 12:05 am