God Complex Radio Season Three

Charlene li Pic

Can real community form through a Twitter feed? What do you do if your church gets a bad review on the Internet? How can we use social media tools in our church contexts? Can our church communities ignore the Internet any longer? How can we, as religious leaders, navigate the changes that social media present?

Join me and Landon Whitsitt as we welcome Charlene Li to talk about these questions on God Complex Radio. Charlene Li is the co-author of Groundswell, the author of Open Leadership, and the the founder of the Altimeter Group.

Also joining us is Meredith Gould, the Abbess of the Virtual Abbey, and author of many books, including The Word Made Fresh and Why is There a Menorah on the Altar?

The Show is at our God Complex Radio site.

Functions of Social Media in the Church

I’m in the midst of editing a podcast for God Complex Radio. I interviewed Phil Shepherd, at the Euc, and Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group and author of Open Leadership.

While talking to Charlene, I realized that the ways we communicate and use technology in our churches have three pretty distinct functions:

1) We use it to reach out. In many congregations, people usually check out the website before they enter the church. Our website is our new front door. Another effective outreach tool seems to be our sermon podcast. We regularly get thank you emails from people who listen to it. People have also come to our church because of the reviews on Google maps. What’s been most effective for you?

2) We encourage the congregation. Charlene Li is a business writer, but I was thrilled to find out that she knew congregational culture and understood the challenges of reaching across the generations. She explained that when churches receive outside criticism, sometimes the most important thing is to build up and take care of the body. Use emails and newsletters, and make sure that your communication works across generations.

3) Leaders support each other. Right now, churches are cutting and downsizing. Retiring pastors have watched their nest egg dry up, pastors beginning their careers have found that those entry level jobs are disappearing. Church culture often blames the pastors for the decline. Sometimes it’s the case, but not always. I just don’t believe that former generations were that much more awesome than we are. Sometimes we’re just caught in difficult situations, and we need a place to vent and share with one another. We need to pray for one another. Social media has become that place for many leaders.

What functions would you add?

Oh! And new season of God Complex Radio is scheduled to come out on Tuesday! We’ve had a bit of furniture rearranging to do in the summer/fall. When Bruce Reyes-Chow stepped down from his Moderator position, Landon Whitsitt stepped up as Vice-Moderator. Landon put a ton of work in as the producer, so we’ve had to figure out how to redistribute that. Now I think we have… Landon’s going to do a bit more hosting and less producing. And we’re adding a new person on the team to help produce. But more on that later….

Exploring the Activist’s Tool Box

I was taking a friend on a tour of Miriam’s Kitchen, the feeding and social services program housed in our church. Along with an amazing breakfast and dinner, Miriam’s provides a full array of services for our homeless guests. When we walked into one of the offices, I introduced her to the Development Associate by saying, “This is the woman behind the Tweets.”

My friend said, “I tried Twitter. I was on it for about an hour. And that was it. I just don’t have the time. How do you find the time?”

The Associate responded, “Miriam’s makes sure that I have the time.”

I smiled at the exchange. The question of time is important when it comes to social media. But as Miriam’s raises funds and awareness around the issue of homelessness, they know that Twitter is an important part of their strategy.

Miriam’s Twitter feed is fun and insightful. They tweet the menu of the day, statistics on homelessness, needs of the guests, and appreciation for volunteers. They retweet what people say about them, and they quote funny things that the chefs say. They let people know about fundraising events, and the tweets have spurned other organizations to hold events for them. One day, our guests received a box of socks from California, because someone on Twitter read that they needed them. Twitter, as silly as it seems for those who are not active with social media, is an important tool in social justice work.

When a church or nonprofit group engages in advocacy, when we need to get the message out about an issue like homelessness in our city, there are many things we can use when we put together a strategy. There are the traditional avenues to get the word out about an issue, like direct mailings, press conferences, and press releases. We can assemble print, radio, or television ads. Each of these is important. But they can also take a great deal of money, time, or power to pull them off. If an organization has those things, then using traditional media can be extremely effective.

But what if our church or organization doesn’t have these things, but they still want to speak out on an issue? Then there are many other tools in our box now, and even though they take time, they are often easy and cheap to utilize them.

Blogs allow us to generate news and information, without having to worry about the layout of a regular newsletter. Furthermore, they allow people to respond in comments, and many are set up so that the article can be shared over Facebook and Twitter. While a direct mailing only targets the person to whom it’s addressed, the impact of a well-written blog, one that tells personal stories and relates important information, can allow for interaction, involvement, and sharing. Through blogs, we can become aware of other people who are working on the same issues, and begin to form important constellations of thought. Facebook can be a place where people share causes with their friends and Twitter is an effective means of getting the word out, recruiting a young volunteer base, and raising money around an important cause. The tools are changing all the time. There are on-line petition sites and advocacy networks that gather similar organizations around particular causes. There are sites where we can post Power Point presentations, YouTube videos, podcasts, or Livestream events.

While traditional media allowed a person to consume information, new media lets a person interact, respond, and share. It’s also important to note that younger generations are putting down print media and turning off the television more and more. So as church leaders seek to engage young activists, then they will need to use the same tools that a new generation is using. This is an exciting time, when so much of how we consume and share information is changing. In the midst of all of this, we will need to use as many tools in our box. When the tools are used well, it will worth the time to keep up with it all.

Redefining Adulthood

I’m frustrated that sociologists have decided there is a new term for adults in their twenties. Financial stability and marriage has been an indicator of adulthood in our country, yet a new generation has not been able to become financially stable and many have not gotten married. So sociologists [9/6 edit, thanks to Gould: and psychologists] have come up with new terms: the odyssey years or emerging adulthood. Just as an adolescent is not a child or an adult, the emerging adult is not quite an adolescent or an adult.

The problem with this is that the odds are stacked against a new generation. Each generation has their own set of financial difficulties, but for those in their twenties and thirties, “financial independence” is very difficult to achieve. Because of the high cost of education, students often have to take out large loans. And with a difficult economy, their eventual incomes often do not outpace the debt. Many very responsible young adults move back into their parents’ homes, in order to pay down their loans.

Add to this equation that we now have a society that is based on two incomes, but a societal expectation that men and women need to be “financially stable” before they get married. Under these circumstances, many adults are unable to get married. Often people are in same gender relationships, and others choose not to get married. Does this make them less mature?

As a society, we set up these traps. Now, we look at a new generation who is caught in them, and claim that they are not-quite-adults. We wonder why they can’t settle down, or maintain stable careers or relationship. We wonder what’s wrong with them, while we don’t take responsibility for the hardships that we have caused.

With our definition of adulthood depending on solid careers, financial stability, mortgages, and marriage certificates, we will all have a difficult time. We know that many Baby Boomers have been laid off and had to change jobs. Many don’t have adequate retirements will be moving in with their sons and daughters in years to come. Do they lose their status as adults?

We need to change our definitions. We need to have more understanding of the financial and social dilemmas of a new generation.