Thursday, December 14, 2006
Is Church 2.0 better or just more digital?
Dan Harper and Peter Bowden are engaged in some provocative thinking about "Church 2.0" — an ecclesiastical analogy to Web 2.0, the term used to describe the rise of user-generated, interactive, "community"-oriented Internet services like MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, and blogging. Dan and Peter have set up a wiki (another supergeeky Web 2.0 tool) to collect Church 2.0 ideas.
I'll confess: I really admire the ambition of what they're doing and will look forward to seeing how experiments along these lines play out, but I can't help but think that the church is almost by nature an analog instrument rather than a digital one. Sure, I listen to sermons and religious music on the stereo or on my iPod, but almost everything I value about the church takes place in real time, in a real place, face-to-face, with next to no digital additions. When it comes right down to it, I see the church as an embodied social reality, and I see other kinds of interaction as supplemental — even highly desirable — but not central. (I am apparently thinking incarnational thoughts during Advent.) A newsletter is great, so is a website, so is a radio program, so is a TV show, so is a podcast — but these are incidental or tactical; they're aren't essential.
I do think there is an enormous opportunity for religious liberals to see online communication and interaction as an important part of our broader religious mandate, but I'm also not sure that congregations are the obvious sources or channels for this kind of communication. Very few churches can provide high-quality experiences in a wide range of media. Each medium requires specialized expertise and attention, and perhaps only a dozen UUA congregations have the infrastructure to take on very many of the ideas Dan has already proposed. I also realize that Dan is not really thinking about technology in every case, but is finding analogies for new ways of organizing people. It may simply be that I'm resisting the technocentric allure of his metaphor.
Parachurch groups, however, could form to support online communities in a way that wouldn't compete with the local church and wouldn't demand a concentration of technical talent and energy in each local church. I've been intrigued for many years by the mid-century success of the Unitarian Laymen's League at promoting Unitarian growth through newspaper advertising and regional events. They're famous for the ads that asked, "Are you a Unitarian without knowing it?" The Laymen's League wasn't congregational and it wasn't denominational; it also didn't survive past the formation of the UUA in the mid-1960s. I'd love to know how they cultivated participants in their work and coordinated their efforts. Something similar could be done to develop "Church 2.0" resources not for local congregations so much as for the broader community of Unitarian Universalists.
Some of these resources might prove extremely useful to local congregations, but in the end I think almost every church will continue to be a real-time, real-space community of people who don't need a computer to interact with each other, to hear the good news, or to touch life's depths and find new strength.
P.S. If the funding existed for developing some Web 2.0 tools at a certain magazine I know, I'd be implementing them now. And if some independent enterprise were trying to develop non-geeky, sophisticated, but easy-to-use communication tools for UUs, you can bet that I'd be eager to see them succeed. But I hate PowerPoint in church. That's a line I won't cross!
Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 14 December 2006 at 10:19 PM