Doing Church in the Digital Age: Part 2--Flattening

I'm grateful for the discussion generated after the last post. There's so much to chew on with this theme: "How has the age of the Internet impacted how we "do church"? In other words, how is our communication with one another affected? What new tools do we have for building community? What new challenges do we face with advances in communication technology? And, most importantly, for a church like ours in leadership transition, "How does this emerging culture of the Internet impact the leader and leadership structure we seek?"

This week I want to throw one major idea into the hopper: "flattening." One thing is abundantly clear when it comes to the internet, the old pyramidal structures of society have dramatically flattened. Here's what I mean: it used to be that the higher up in an organization you were, the less direct communication the average person could have with you. In print media, a pundit or columnist could write an article and you were privileged to read it, but not invited to respond to, let alone communicate directly with, the writer (unless, of course, you took time to write a letter to the editor). Now, we have organizations (churches, government, businesses, entertainment) where you're permitted, even encouraged, to communicate directly with the CEO, leadership structure, pastor, church board, or star. You can follow their Twitter feeds and leave a message for them; you can read their blogs (like this one!) and leave your thoughts for them and others to consider; you can write on their Facebook wall if you're a "friend"; you can often email a columnist or leave a note after an article on the online version (the New York Times does this a lot, I see). What this is doing is flattening the way we relate to each other. It's creating instant access, or at least the expectation of that. It's also creating an intricate web of interaction that goes in multiple directions and no longer just one way, top down. A conversation is created by such online communication; there's no longer just a fiat pronounced from on high, which people may take or leave. Instead, people are now invited into an online "town hall meeting", as it were.

How does this impact a church, I wonder? Surely, it invites church leaders to create some sort of space online where dialog is encouraged--it wouldn't be a stretch for pastors and church boards to have sites where readers and congregants can leave feedback and ideas--and possibly even have real-time instant messaging during certain hours. It might also mean that some version of a sermon is posted online and people can then interact with its themes and leave comments, questions, and thoughts for others to engage and ponder. Granted, things could get messy--and we can't manage every detail or take time to respond to every suggestion. But...could the benefits outweigh the cost in time, effort, or messiness, I wonder?

What thoughts do you have about "flattening" as it relates to "doing church"?


Viki Erickson said...

Again you have brought out great "descripters" of our changing society. I do love the ability to
read sermons on line and respond to them instantly. However, I wonder how this effects are idea of worship? Does it encourage people to part with corporate worship and the personal aspects of it because it becomes easy to "do church" on line? Will our next generation understand the importance of worshipping God in that special way? Or will it become more important to "take a hike " with the Lord and catch the sermon on line? I also think it is important to me to "chew on the message" before I begin a dialog with others whether it be the messenger or others who have experienced it. I would say that we need to explore how to mesh these two very diffierent experiences.

Carl Hofmann said...

You raise a very good concern undergirding this discussion: what are the drawbacks of internet-age technology? How might human community be affected in the negative? In what ways can our digital age produce a virtual community that detracts from, instead of enhancing, our humanness? Stay tuned for postings which will press into these areas as well!
Thanks for writing,