Sean says it’s a revolution

A few minutes ago, I was talking with Sean of the blog Ministrare — he’s here at the Palo Alto church while Amy, our senior minister, is on sabbatical — and he showed me a video that he likes. He put the video up on his blog, and I’ll embed it here, so you can watch it, too:



Over on his blog, Sean says that he believes we religious liberals are not ready for the social media revolution. I think Sean is mostly right.

But I can find some bright spots, places where we do use social media well. Here in Palo Alto, we’ve been piloting a podcast for Sunday school teachers, and the teachers tell us they love this venture into online learning. And although I write my blog on my own time, I find that some people in the congregation do read it, and what I have written here has sparked some very interesting conversations in the face-to-face congregation. When we do use social media, what we do online strengthens and reinforces what happens in our face-to-face congregation.

So I’m ready to embrace the social media revolution. I think it will make congregational life that much better. What do you think?

10 thoughts on “Sean says it’s a revolution

  1. Donald Wilton

    I realize that social media is important to a lot of people, but I also know that it substitutes for human contact and interaction that as a Universalist I find of greater value than electronic interaction. Our churches deal with love more than the conservative do and I wonder if we need the electronic interaction to make up for what we are not missing?

  2. Jean

    Hm. So what then will become *truly* revolutionary is for someone (say, a writer) to put away her Ipod, Iphone, Facebook page, internet service, tweetability, and pay attention to the non-virtual world and … write about it. With a pen. On some paper pages. And then make copies of (aka publish) the writing.

    and, okay, I’ll concede this: market the old-fashioned book like hell on social media.

    Now THAT blending of technologies would be delicious.

  3. Dan

    Jean @ 2 — I think you’re on to something here: not getting rid of the old, but blending the new social media with books. Donald @ 1 — I think maybe that’s what I want to see with social media and church: not diminishing the church experience by replacing it with social media, but extending the church experience out into social media. If that makes sense.

  4. Jean

    It seems that, at its best, “social media” is never a replacement for face to face contact, but rather an augmentation, as you say, an extension. My little experiment this academic year on Facebook has shown me at least that — I know my students outside the classroom in a bit more breadth by the quirky things they post on FB, and they by the same that I post, and somehow those ephemera allow us to see one another as more human, more connected, than we would otherwise with the simple, and formalized, connection of the classroom.

  5. Ms. M

    I was in a gathering of eight dear ones last night. Folks I don’t get to spend time with but once a year for three days. At one point during our “just hanging out time,” four of the eight were on their lap tops typing away. Left me feeling really sad. Being together, talking about real life issues of connection and disconnection, the worries of the world and spirit…and the compelling sense that I, too, should be focused on things on-line not IN LIFE. Ok, gotta go!

  6. Jeremiah

    On a personal, community and congregational level, Facebook has had a huge influence on my life for the better. The ability to forge connections in new ways with anyone and everyone on the planet is utterly breathtaking. Used wisely, I suspect social media can help to transform our spiritual lives in ways we cannot yet even foresee.

    But nothing is a substitute for face-to-face interaction.

  7. Joe

    Two reactions to the video and your commentary:
    a) I found the Erik Qualman YouTube video extremely annoying because many of his claims do not stand up to scrutiny. For example, he says “By 2010 Gen Y will outnumber Baby Boomers.” There are about 60 million members Gen Y’ers in the US born between 1978 and 1994, vs. 78 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 to 1964 in the US. In the video, Qualman also says, “Social Media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the Web.” On his blog, he cites as his source for this claim as the Huffington Post, which in turn cited a single report on Reuters that found a researcher looking at Internet search engine data found that during the period he examined, more people entered search queries about social media than porn. This research is pretty weak support for the claim that, “Social Media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the Web.” On Qualman’s blog, he lists all the claims made in the video, and his sources. On that blog, you will also see that most of his claims have been debunked by his readers. It’s amazing to me how many hits the video and others like it have generated. Maybe people like factoids … words presented with high energy music …

    b) It’s unclear to me what the “social media revolution” is or even is there is one (yet). Yes, social media (a rather amorphous term encompassing a vast array of technologies and interaction styles) is quite popular, and growing in usage/consumption. But has it transformed society, culture, values or consciousness like other revolutions have (e.g., American, French, civil rights)? So far, not so much.

  8. Dan

    Ms. M @ 5 — On the other hand, about the only time I get to connect with you is online….

    Joe @ 7 — You write: “Maybe people like factoids … words presented with high energy music …”

    Or maybe Qualman is Machiavellian enough to use social media to gain lots of attention so he can prove that social media is a powerful force.

    Seriously, though, you raise good points, especially your second point (b). What’s not clear to me is how “social media” is much different from Usenet, BBSs, and other online communications tools of 15 years ago — except that maybe now social media is owned by for-profit companies which need a catchy phrase to sell themselves to venture capitalists?

    All this being said, an increasing amount of communication is taking place in some new and interesting ways. I saw an article in a newspaper recently that claimed that email now accounted for less than half of all Web-based communications (sorry, couldn’t find a citation for that right away); if that is even vaguely true, that’s a trend that congregations should be watching. The growth of online learning in colleges is also a trend worth watching. We should also be paying close attention to populations that continue to have little or no interest in or access to online communications (not all 20-somethings spend lots of time online), and close attention to populations for whom online communications are as natural as breathing (some 80-somethings spend more time online than I do).

    Yes, the video is annoying, and probably grossly inaccurate (and yes the soundtrack really sucks). I still think you and I should keep making podcasts — which reminds me, I’ll be writing up scripts this weekend….

  9. Cindie

    Just found this on the Interdependent Web email round-up.
    Whatever works! All churches are experiencing declines. We have a great faith to offer to world, and social media helps sell it.

    I have noted that it allows me to stay in touch with fellow church members every day. We post on Facebook – and it’s usually silly – but when there’s a serious issue or call for help, the response is huge.

    The big rock in the road at our church are our older members. Some of them are connected or want to be (and I’ll be offering a Facebook workshop to them) but many proudly proclaim that they don’t even own a cellphone. We have to bend over backwards to cater to this shrinking demographic, and I don’t think there’s a lot we can do about it.

    But keeping our youth and young adults engaged is critical. To support young adults, I am starting a babysitter list for their own events. Seems simple, but no one has done this before. They have their own tight group but need the larger church’s support.

    They’re the ones who will take over when I am gone.

  10. Scott


    The best we can do with technology is attempt to ride the ever more frequent and frenetic waves. Often we’ll fall off the current wave and then we need to lie down and start paddling until we can catch the next one.

    My issue is with “Social Media Revolution” … NOT. There is a Facebook, Twitter, blah blah, … phenomenon but it is a mistake to ever point to anything in technology and say “aha there it is!” because as soon as you do it is somewhere else.

    My plug for the next waves to catch – data sharing, collaborative resource development, and remote presence.

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