Last week, I helped to lead a Moderators’ Conference on the blessings and burdens of technology. There were so many things that were fascinating about the dynamics of the meeting. It was a conference for the moderators of middle governing bodies (Synods and Presbyteries, if you’re conversant in Preby-ese).
Usually, when I teach conferences, people show up because they want to know about the topic. But this was different. People needed the Moderator training, and that’s why they were there. The technology stuff had very mixed reviews.
It was invigorating in so many ways. There were people who did not know the possibilities that social media presented. So when we talked about evangelism, and how congregations are using web 2.0 to reach out through sermon podcasts, blogs, and review sites, a light went on for many. All of a sudden, that command to reach the ends of the earth became a palpable reality.
In fact, we not only talked about this, but we saw it happen. At one point in the conference, there were about 150 Moderators in the room, but we were Ustreaming the event, so 940 people were watching it over the Internet.
Other people were not learning as much, but they were sharing what they were already doing in their own congregations, giving me great insight into what’s possible.
When we talked about being able to communicate with each other, about the meeting possibilities, we heard how people used to drive three and a half hours for an hour meeting, and then got in their cars to drive another three and a half hour drive. Now men and women can use Skype to meet with each other, and they can save the seven-hour drives for special occasions.
Many church leaders are conducting Bible studies on Facebook, allowing for busy parents to get the faith formation that they need. And when a pastor found that the elderly women in his church no longer wanted to brave driving in the dark for a study, he taught them how to set up a Facebok page and talk about the Scriptures there.
And of course, we talked about the ability to form communities and tribes through social networking. How our face-to-face communication is enhanced by Internet contact. I certainly found that as I was leading the conference with two Twitter friends. I had never met Melissa DeRosia, but I felt like we were old friends, because of our online interactions.
Even though there was this very exciting part of the conference conversation, there was also a frustrating undercurrent. People were worried about not having control over photos, comments, and content. They wanted to know who had oversight over the Presbyterian gathering in Second Life. People wanted their Presbyteries to have social media policies in place before they experimented, and some were shocked that I hadn’t set up rules and regulations before I jumped in.
I shrugged and said, “Well, I guess we’ll come up with the policy when we run into problems.” (This is when I’m reminded that I was not born and bred Presbyterian. I was raised by an inventor, which makes me approach technology differently.)
Other people were very angry over what they perceived as a generational issue. There was an idea that this was all for the “young folks” and once you get to a certain age, there’s no reason to learn it. They were angry that I would even suggest these tools for people who were over seventy.
It reminded me that the digital divide is not only between the rich and poor, but can also be with people of different generations. But…actually…it’s not really about age. There are people much older than me who are very wired, and people who are younger who hate looking at a screen after having to look at one all day at work.
After all was said and done, I took great comfort in Byron Anthony Wade’s words. He kept reminding me, “We’re just sowing seeds here. Some will grow. Some won’t.”
Good words to hear.