The folks at the New Media Project at Union Seminary are working hard to get us to think about digital and social media, the Church, our churches and theology. What? Actually think about theology in church? Glorious.
Seriously. Go read their stuff. I’m a little biased because The Young Clergy Women Project (which I gave thanks for just yesterday on this blog and also five minutes ago after reading my emails) was one of the six case studies in the New Media Project. But even without the personal ties, they have great things to say.
Anyway, they’ve gotten a bit under my skin in that I’m regularly thinking about the parallels between congregations and social media. Last week, I participated in the annual craziness that is the TYCWP annual meeting: twenty-some women holding a meeting online, while about 18 of them are in the same room. It’s hilarious and it works for us. But every year, we have to do some clarifying of the “norms” – the way we make the meeting run so that business gets done while leaving room for the ensuing hilarity. TYCWP does a great deal of our work online, and since our membership base is under-40, we don’t often talk about the norms and guidelines for our shared ether-space. There is a certain understanding that we mostly know how to work with social media because we’re the age to know. That hasn’t always worked for us, but it turns out to also be generally true.
In congregations, we have the same principle at work: we don’t often talk about the guidelines because we think that our members generally know what they are. Here’s the difference between congregations and social media though: People who find you on social media had to know enough to get on the computer and use the social media. People who walk in the door only need to know – at the most basic level at least- how to walk through a door.
Now, those of us who spend a bunch of time on social media – blogs, groups, whatever- know that it all works better when there are guidelines for participation, especially on bigger and more active sites. Posted comment policies are not uncommon on popular blogs, and FastCompany has been tweeting “the rules” for social media. The forum of social media lends itself to that kind of posting, and somehow help rather than hinder interaction.
How do we post the guidelines in a congregation? How do help people learn the ropes without seeming unwilling to change or seeming unwelcoming? Why is it that guidelines in some places foster relationships but in other forums seem to shut people down?