Christian Ministry in a Web 2.0 Environment

7 03 2007

(This is the first post I made on this blog. I have cleaned it up and re-post the new version.)

I walk up the stairs and enter the foyer of the church. The walls are marble columns interspersed with giant iridescent panels of stained glass. Two large, open wooden doors invite me into the main part of the church. At the front of the church is a stage with a glass pulpit prominently positioned. A number of people are milling around waiting for the service to begin. I am approached by a smartly dressed women who warmly welcomes me. After a brief chat I discover that she and her husband are the two pastors. I ask her how she came to be at the church. She shares that her and her husband felt called by God to buy a small island and build a church on it. I wonder about the practicalities of planting a church on an island where nobody lives? I then recall that transport is simple – you teleport in.

second-life.JPGThis impressive church exists only in the virtual world of Second Life. It is a computer-based simulated environment where real people, via the internet, interact in a three dimensional environment. Each person is represented by a character, known as an avatar. Whilst in the world you can communicate with other people through typing messages to one another. You are also able to dance, fly, shop, buy land, construct a building, play a round of golf, run a business, conduct a lecture, hold a meeting, and attend church. As of March 2007, Second Life had around 4.3 million members with around 30,000 people moving around this virtual world at any given time.

The principle attraction is social networking, the chance to hang out with friends or make new friends from around the world. Social networking is one of the key components of the latest stage of internet development known as Web 2.0

Most Web 2.0 users are within the 12 – 28 age bracket. This age bracket comprises a key demographic for Christian ministry organisations in terms of target constituency, donors, staff, members and supporters; and yet most ministries have little or no Web 2.0 strategy. This post seeks to explain what Web 2.0 is and how a ministry can use Web 2.0 to assist in engaging the 12 – 28 age bracket.

WEB 2.0

From its beginnings the internet was principally about communicating information in a passive manner. Similar to television or the newspaper, users had little input into the content. In the last four or so years a major shift has occurred. Users are now actively involved in producing content. Many of the most successful websites are 100% user driven. This shift is known as Web 2.0; the second stage of development. The Pew Internet Project describes this as the ‘surging wisdom of crowds’. Sites that exemplify this ‘crowd wisdom’ include MySpace, YouTube and Wikipedia.

SOCIAL NETWORKINGmyspace.jpg

One of the key attributes of Web 2.0 is creating a platform by which people can meet new people, develop friendships and express themselves to a new crowd. The largest social network site is MySpace with around 65 million users and some 220,000 new registrants daily.

MySpace describes itself as,

…an online community that lets you meet your friends’ friends. Create a private community on MySpace and you can share photos, journals and interests with your growing network of mutual friends! See who knows who, or how you are connected.

Other social network sites include: Xanga.com, Facebook.com and Friendster.com. According to ComScore each of the websites address a different age niche.

table-1.jpg

 

 

youtube.jpgYOUTUBE

Youtube.com was created in February 2005 and sold to Google just 20 months later for a staggaring US1.65 Billion in stock. It allows users to upload video’s, watch other people’s videos and comment on those videos. Around 70 million videos are watched every day.

Within the usual limits of decency, users are given complete freedom to create and comment on the contributions of others.

This participation is a key characteristic of Web 2.0. nielsft states,

“For me, the main criterion for a good 2.0 site is that it invites me to engage in a conversation. I don’t want to be talked down to, told what to do. That doesn’t work for me anymore. It is that culture of conversation that makes all the difference.:

Users expect a voice, whether to respond or to express an opinion.

WIKIPEDIA

But perhaps the ultimate expression of Web 2.0 is Wikipedia an online encyclopaedia which anyone can contribute to. The recognized method for creating an encyclopaedia is for established experts to contribute through a rigorous peer review process. How then can Wikipedia’s content be trusted when anyone can contribute without a review process? How can we be certain it is authoritative? Like much of the Web 2.0 offering, collective intelligence is given considerable credence. This, ‘surging wisdom of crowds’ does have its limits and particular caution should be applied when accessing Wikipedia’s content.

Another distinct characteristic of Web 2.0 is that it is free to users. Income is derived from either donations or advertising. So a Web 2.0 strategy can be developed with very little investment.

BLOG

Another key form of Web 2.0 is the blog or weblog. This is an online personal journal usually authored by one person, but with the capacity for others to comment on the journal entry and on other people’s comments.

David Pollard suggests the following content for a successful blog:

1. Original research, surveys etc…;

2. Great finds: resources, blogs, essays, artistic works;

3. Original, well crafted fiction;

4. News not found anywhere else;

5. Clever, concise political opinion;

6. Benchmarks, quantitative analysis;

7. Personal stories, experiences, lessons learned;

8. First-hand accounts;

9. Live reports from events;

10. Insight: leading-edge thinking & novel perspectives;

11. Short educational pieces;

12. Great photos;

13. Useful tools and checklists; and

14. Fun stuff: quizzes; self-evaluations, other interactive content.

THE CHURCH AND WEB 2.0

How is the church interacting with this Web 2.0 phenomenon?church-marketing-sucks.jpg

An online poll, ‘The 59 Smartest Orgs Online’ lists the top charity websites in terms of Web 2.0 engagement. Of the 59 organisations only two have significant Christian connections: Center for Church Communication and World Vision. The Center for Church Communication site is considered best practice through its blog Church Marketing Sucks. It has managed to attract a number of creative thinkers who collectively are pushing the boundaries of how to engage in mininstry in today’s post modern milieu.

The second organisation is World Vision that makes good use of blogs, RSS Feeds and Podcasts. When the World Vision website is updated, the RSS feed is the method by which, those who have signed up to receive news from World Vision, are automatically sent the new website content. A podcast is an audio file message that reports on some aspect of World Visions work. With the growth of digital music players such as the iPod, podcasts have become a significant way to communicate to supporters.

Common to these organisations in utilising Web 2.0 is a willingness to engage their members and donors.

According to a survey completed in America by the Centre for Church Communication only 10% of Christian Websites allow for visitor involvement and yet a characteristic of web savy 12 to 28 year olds is the desire to be involved, to participate, to connect with an online community.

Some of the ways this can be facilitated is through:

  • Having a website that is well designed and regularly updated;
  • A website that provides information, advocacy and participation as well as the opportunity to make online donations;
  • Providing a place for members to share stories, images and video via a blog;
  • Developing a group on one of the social network sites such as MySpace, that encourage participation and engagement;
  • Utilise YouTube. Hold a competition for the best video that promotes the ministry; incorporate YouTube video’s in the website or the blog;
  • Place photos of the ministry, supporters etc.. on Flickr.com (photo sharing site) and place the photos within the website, blog;
  • Send out weekly and monthly newsletters via email. Utilize images and good design rather than simple text;
  • Provide an RSS feed; and
  • Develop a strategy to encourage others to blog about the organisation (the amount of blogging can be measured through blog search website Technorati.

(Adapted from http://www.squidoo.com/org20)

See here for an excellent example of a Web 2.0 Christian Website

mychurch.jpg

Another Web 2.0 application worth looking at is MyChurch which is an all in one Web 2.0 resource for churches and ministries. Through a simple and clean interface it provides: a ready made platform for displaying and commenting on pictures; an events calander; classifieds; a bulletin; a blog and space for media files including audio, video and text documents.

FINDING NEW WAYS TO CONNECT

Most ministry involves participation of some sort, whether seeking donations, encouraging volunteers or running a program, it requires people to be involved. In the past this was facilitated through emails, letters, face to face conversations and phone calls. All of which are still used but are now being supplemented with other forms of communication as discussed in this paper: blogs, RSS Feeds, podcasts, and social networking sites. In particular these are being more and more utilized within the 12 to 28 age bracket; which for many ministries, is a target audience and one that is underrepresented.

The offerings collectively known as Web 2.0 provide a cheap, reasonably simple vehicle by which ministries can make significant connections.

Mark

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Virtual Spirituality

Re-imagining Church

Here comes 3D web

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10 responses

7 03 2007
Ministry engagement with Web 2.0 « brownblog

[…] Ministry engagement with Web 2.0 January 23, 2007 Filed under: Web 2.0 — Mark Brown @ 10:41 pm This post has has some attention and can be found here. […]

9 03 2007
Caedmon2

Hi Mark. I am very interested in the emerging church. Perhaps the virtual world could be a part of that in the future? Obviously, there are key advantages to the virtual world – Ease of meeting people from all around the world, much lower financial constraints, etc. However, there are also risks – deception for example being one of them. It is much easier to do deceive as an avatar, than face to face. That doesn’t mean that we need run away from the idea.
I’m in my early 20’s, and there are key things that I struggle with, or “irk” me about “church”. What is church? Is it a building, well no, the people? The singing? The sermon? Community? Sunday? What?
Perhaps SL can have a digital replica of a church (building) that lives and breathes like any pente church on earth, filled with avatars raising their hands. Nothing wrong with that. Is that enough though? Could the virtual realm be another avenue or launching platform for another kind of “church”? Maybe. But there is something to be said about the beauty of interpersonal contact as opposed to staring at pixels on a screen.
I need to investigate SL a bit further to comment more extensively. Cheers.

10 03 2007
Mark Brown

G’day Caedmon2,

Thanks for your comments. We are definitely in the very early stages of Virtual Reality. So your questions are very cool. Any programme or new possibility needs to have a mass of good questions asked of it so as to refine it. That is why I love the blog, it provides a space for this to happen. So I encourage you to keep asking, keep exploring.

I think that a church ‘building’ in SL is similar to real life in that it can sit there looking pretty but utilized poorly. Church is about a relationship with God. My relationship with God, my relationship with God with other people. Being focused on another aspect, such as pumping worship, cool preaching or great friends is tenuous and risky. These elements always shift. What happens when worship sucks one sunday?

I really struggle with making sure that God is the focus when I go to church. Sounds crazy don’t it!

I think it would be cool to plant a church in SL… But the question is, what does God want of me?

Mark

16 03 2007
slfountain

I run Second Faith, a not for profit consultancy service providing information on religion and religions in Second Life. There is a teleport SLURL link to my office on the front page of the web version of Second Faith, which includes a page which lists the SLURLs of sims which include Christian representations.

http://www.bayyinat.org.uk/secondlife.htm

I’ve been to a service at ALM – it was great, although I’m Muslim myself. Drop in on Second Faith if you like, glad to natter to fellow SL believers. Try to be around 10pm-11.30pm UK time most weekdays. Take care 🙂

18 03 2007
jdavey

I think the the thing we must remember is that despite the emerging postmodern culture of the 21st century and the sloth-like movement of the Christian church in keeping up with cultural and technological advances, when we do finally catch up with the secular culture and successfully adapt and use some of the technologies out there to further the Gospel we must stick to biblical teachings, the teachings of Jesus Christ. At the core of it all is the Great Commandment and the Great Commission and in our striving to further the Gospel with all the tools available at present and in the future, we must not get lost in the details of our striving and forget about the core message itself.

19 03 2007
Mark Brown

Amen to that Justin! You are talking about the great danger of being distracted. Or getting more absorbed in the pretty wrapping paper rather than the beautiful gift contained inside.

What do you suggest we do to stick to biblical teachings? This on the surface sounds like an obvious question, but it is still one that I spend some time thinking about!

19 03 2007
Mark Brown

Thanks slfountain,

Be good to catch up in SL sometime. Also I have recently started a group: Not For Profit Organisations in SL. It’s charter is to provide a forum for NFP practitioners to support each other in creating a presence in SL. I invite you to join!

23 03 2007
bpool

Hi Mark

I have read and re-read this post and tried out Second Life. I am the biggest fan of the Internet and the many resources it offers. I visited many churches in Second Life and have listened to the odd on-line sermon, spoken to strangers in churches and picked up a leaflet from one church – something about aliens. However after spending about 6 hours in the game I am disappointed because people don’t seem to want to discuss anything more than the basics “where are we?”, “how do I get there?” or “how do I change my clothing?” I mentioned Jesus on 3 occasions and was threathened with being barred twice while the 3rd contact running away from me. The whole Second Life world appears to me to be a dark, deserted void full of empty buildings, land that only appears once you get close to it, and lost people looking for something but not knowing what it is. I don’t think it’s Jesus. A Second Life forum told me the place to actually find people is within Adult locations but this is not my scene. I hope Second Life is not a view into life of the future.

Bruce

25 03 2007
A fantastic beginners guide to Second Life « brownblog

[…] Christian Ministry in a Web 2.0 Environment […]

5 12 2007
Should churches be in Second Life? « Lessons From Babel

[…] Wellington in New Zealand. You can see a video of their first service here. Mark also has written a good article on ministry using web 2.0 tools that complements much of what has been written in this […]

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