More than a sermon

Scott Wells has started me thinking about what I’d like to do to introduce an online component to sermons. Here are some preliminary ideas:

  • On Thursday (the day I usually write a sermon), post a reading and a question for reflection on a sermon blog; the reading would be used during the service three days hence.
  • On Sunday morning, just before preaching, post the reading text of the sermon on the same sermon blog. The sermon would have embedded hyperlinks, and bibliographic references for further reading as relevant.
  • In addition to comments on the sermon blog, the order of service would give a hashtag for a Twitter conversation. The sermon would be streamed live online, so shut-ins and people who were traveling could hear the sermon, and participate through Twitter and online comments.
  • After the Sunday service, comments would remain open on the sermon blog, and I’d join in the online conversation when it made sense to do so.

This would fit into my normal weekly work flow: I have often posted a reading or reflection question a few days before I preach a sermon, and I already post a text of my sermons online before I preach them. At present, I don’t have comments enabled on my sermon blog (because I got too many comments by evangelical Christians and Hindus who wanted to argue without listening to anyone else), but it wouldn’t be a big deal to enable comments once again. The only thing listed above that I can’t do right now is stream the sermon live online (yes, I know I’m at a Silicon Valley church, but we don’t have the volunteers who could oversee the streaming, and our Internet connection is woefully slow). And for you diehard Facebook people, there could be a Facebook page with the sermon blog’s RSS feed.

The real question is: would anyone actually participate in a Twitter conversation, or read the sermon online and comment on it? Would you? Or is there some other online enrichment strategy that I’m missing?

13 thoughts on “More than a sermon”

  1. That is the real question. It would take a very specific kind of congregation (physical or virtual) to participate at that level. But, then, you might have that kind of congregation…

  2. Some really good ideas. One problem with Twitter is that a sermon — really a whole service — is too short an arc for people to tweet. No time for tweets to feed on others .. oh, the sermon’s over.

  3. Perhaps there could be more engagement earlier in the process. How about posting the theme for next week’s sermon Monday evening with a request for thoughts, quotes, readings, etc. As far as the Twitter arc goes, @bitb, maybe a moderator could RT or fav a few choice tweets to keep the conversation going?

  4. Adam @ 1 — You might be right, but this might also be a way to reach people who travel a lot or who have to work on weekends. It might also be a way to introduce newcomers to what the church is about. But in one sense you’re completely right — smaller churches will see no need for this kind of thing, because they already all know one another, and already talk among themselves.

    Scott @ 2 — You’re right about Twitter. I guess I’m thinking of it as a longer conversation, continuing the conversation after the sermon is over.

    This is also a size-related matter — big (2,000+) megachurches are already doing this. When you have that many people tweeting, it’s not a conversation so much as a bunch of people posting their remarks.

    Phil @ 3 — Good idea on involving people earlier on. When I was living in the Boston area, Peter Bowden and I went to the emergent church service at the Episcopal cathedral of Boston. Right after social hour, they had an open meeting to plan the following week’s worship, and anybody who was present could attend and talk with the worship leader. It was an interesting process that would translate nicely to an online setting.

  5. A few times in the last few months, I’ve asked an open-ended crowd-sourcing question on Monday before Sunday’s sermon. Like, a week ago, “I’m preaching this Sunday on abortion as a religious decision. What questions need mulling? What resources need reading? What do you hope I will say or won’t say–no promises, either way…” Ended up with a lot of comments that got the conversation going and helped me see new angles. These were only about half members of my congregation. This isn’t at odds with anything proposed above, just maybe an additional, earlier step to engage people in the creation. I like what you all are saying, and once again am reminded that I need to take the plunge into twitter.

  6. Oh–just seeing Phil’s comment, which is basically what I was saying, too. Sorry!

  7. I have often wished that I could have known a little more about the focus of a sermon before it is preached. In the short span of a sermon words and thoughts fly by sometimes before I am able to catch them. If there is a particular concept, book, or historical period that the sermon draws from, I’d love to know that so I could do a little internet research so that I’m better prepared to hear the sermon. I also love having time to think about big questions before they come at me on Sunday morning.

  8. Jake @ 5 — Nice. Thanks. (And not exactly what Phil said, so thanks for saying it.)

    Don @ 7 — Very helpful. Thanks.

  9. Back in 1829 BT (Before Twitter), Henry Ware Jr said that preaching gained its authority from the minister’s knowledge of his (at that time) parishioners, gained in pastoral calling. But on those pastoral calls, the parishioners expected more than simple good company or platitudes, they expected to be listened to by the person who wrote the sermons for covenanted worship.

    These musings on how to find out what our people are thinking on a particular subject presents the reality that our preachers are too over-burdened to tend their every family at the level Dr. Ware had in mind.

    These pastoral conversations were more than gathering statistical information (x many divorces, x many kids in trouble, x many underemployed, etc), but deep explorations between the pastor and the parishioner about the religious tradition might have had to say on whatever the parishioner was going through. And then, in real time,the parishioner gets to challenge the received wisdom with, “That’s not how it feels to me.”

    There are pros and cons to Dr. Ware’s vision of the interrelated pulpit and pastoral ministry, not least the fact that many great preachers are less than stellar pastors, and vice versa. But my humble opinion is that social media are not going to overcome these problems.

  10. Elz @ 9 — Thanks for that great insight. I’ve always thought of a sermon as just part of a conversation. And you’re absolutely right, social media are not going to replace the face-to-face conversations. I’m just hoping social media can extend those conversations in meaningful ways.

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