The Hype of Social Networking and the Church

Lately I’m running across a number of companies that are building social networking sites targeted to the church market. A number that have set their sights at being the ‘church Facebook’. Yet, most of what is called ‘social networking’ is meaningless. They often offer me-too features that don’t add real value. For example, I’ve joined church-targeted community sites that allow their members to blog and even with hundreds of members, one site had three blog posts total. Or how many sites do I need to continue to add friends to? I believe a lot of the problem stems from trying to be all things to all people (a new Facebook or MySpace) or the lack of creative and difficult thinking around building for a specific community.

Zack Hubert a pastor at Mars Hill put it well when he spoke about a community network for Mars Hill that is “geared to build up a community of people and not the community of one.” This is right on. He goes on to say:

A social network is centered around the individual…my friends, my media, my blog, my connections, my thoughts, my experiences, my pictures, etc…whereas a Community Network is centered around the Community, groupings of people, real relationships forge the bonds, not imaginary ties that have aspirations to reality. My becomes our and I think that’s a significant change…

Churches who seek social networking should use existing mainstream sites. You should be missional using these social networks, go join an existing one like Facebook. In fact, you can become my friend at Facebook and I’ll join you. But I do believe there is plenty an online community can do to help promote the very activities that are central to being the church. Serving, community, mercy all facilitated by tools created to these specific needs. And it is because of this we will soon seek churches to use our beta of a Community Network from the people who brought you Ekklesia 360.

What do you think a Church Community Network should be?

14 Comments
  • Jeff Landon

    August 4, 2008, 7:40 am

    Drew,

    You nailed it on the head with the social networking thing. I had a friend of mine that was trying to start-up the next Facebook for Christians. I couldn’t help but think about the fact that there isn’t any need for a “christian” Facebook. Facebook serves its purpose and has become insanely popular – we don’t really need one that excludes all of the non-Christians.. Its almost the antithesis of being a missional community..

    Jeff

  • Jacob Vanhorn

    August 4, 2008, 3:46 pm

    This echos much of my thinking on the subject. We are not served well by a separate Christian social network site, but rather I think we can continue to learn from developers and churches who are using the existing social network sites.

    Just like other businesses, I would be for a group of entrepreneurs who were Christian who decided to start a social network site with kingdom operating/managing practices. Something that sought to engage others through ways that exalted Christ through the display of transformed people running businesses.

    I wouldn’t lump all social networks together in saying they are about the individual though. They exist on a continuum between ‘all about me’ to ‘about the social group of which I am a part’. I do like MHC’s direction in organizing the network around groups, rather than individual identities. The City and Facebook both have personal pages, as well as groups, however, if I understand the City correctly, you enter through the group rather than as an individual. (please correct me if I am wrong there)

    In considering a Church Community Network, I would think of concentric circles of connections with tools for more connection and awareness of the smaller connections. (ie: LTG > Small Group > Area Group / Neighborhood > Church wide > Region of churches > National) This would be primarily for making connections that include those who are directly accountable to one another for encouragement, ministry and prayer. Something that encouraged and facilitated the local pastor to participate in his group, in order to minimize the effects of Christians being primarily linked with and fed by national pastors through podcasts and such. I continue to see a growing trend of young Christians identifying more with a national, influential author/pastor/speaker than their local body and pastor. It can help and hurt the situation on the local level.

    After we have connected the body through this network, then a section on the network that helps people engage their communities at a community level. You could include articles that encourage people to participate, even articles that show examples, but I would add real time ways in a local community to actively engage. Some people in each region/city/neighborhood willing to post community gatherings and such. I am working on how to do that well at the local church level through our “Austin Life” (http://www.somaaustin.org/austin-life/) section of our website. I have posted some community events on our own calendar with a link from the calendar page (and we use Ekklesia 360 for this). My goal is for our people to have an easy way to see the gathering points in our city and how to connect.

    The challenge for me is that the data is all over the place on multiple sites and I am trying to plant a church, not build a social/community networking site with community events. But I would love to be able to have our non-church community say, “Wow, Soma Austin really knows what is going on in the city, and they are here to participate alongside us.”

    Gotto go, but that is my quick shot at it. There is certainly more to it.

  • D. Goodmanson

    August 5, 2008, 11:37 am

    Jacob, good suggestions. A lot of what you are requesting will be accommodated by the system. We definitely are gearing this to allow the LTG > Small Group > Area Group / Neighborhood > Church wide > Region of churches > National approach for people, with an emphasis on a more regional plan through EngageCity, which we registered (EngageCity and CityEngage) a year ago to do this.

  • Jacob Vanhorn

    August 5, 2008, 4:15 pm

    Glad to hear that you guys are thinking that way. I made my CMS & webdesign selection based on your commitment to continually rework your system and even how your missional engagement value drives you guys and your developments. I am excited to see EngageCity take shape and am excited to hear more on Renova next week in San Diego.

  • Brendon Derr

    August 5, 2008, 10:29 pm

    Hi Drew,

    Great post! Every community is different, so I suppose the idea of a local network would always be a little different depending on where your church is and who your audience is. But I do believe that in every way, a localized social networking model is a much better fit into the Church’s mission than a globablized one. Freecycle.org is one fantastic success story in local social networking and for anyone who is interested in launching a Church Community Network, I’d highly recommend signing up with Freecycle just to experience it and see what you pull from it. Drew, I look forward to hearing about the variety of ways that your network is utilized in the local community! I don’t have a specific answer to your question, but I do have a few hypothetical questions for the local church, to continue the conversation.

    1) Where is God calling us as a Church in fulfilling the Great Commission? Are we confident/faithful enough in that calling that we’re ready to PRIORITIZE using our website to DO ministry online, rather than promote how we’re doing it at the church? This prioritization is important if any kind of local network is to be effective.

    2) The foundation of the Church’s mission is its teaching of truth to others. Are we looking at this network first as an effective teaching and learning medium to help users understand and apply the Gospel message? Or is this simply a place where people get connected and hopefully grow closer together in a way that leads to spiritual growth? Have we properly integrated the two?

    3) How can this network be deeply integrated with and add to the effectiveness of Church programs already going on? Example programs are sermons, bible studies, outreach programs, food drives, recovery programs, retreats, etc. To be clear, the question is not related to how the network can promote these programs, only how it can help them be more effective in doing ministry.

    That’s all for now. Thanks for the great post!

    Brendon

  • Ben

    February 8, 2009, 5:38 pm

    Generally speaking, Christians should not be in the business of profiting off churches. Trying to fill a niche market of “community network” sites to sell to a church is materialistic and anti-Christian. It would be better to develop products in an open-source format to make available to churches pro bono.

    And it’s a matter of phrasing between “social network = my” and “community network = our.” Besides Facebook being a hook-up site…

  • D. Goodmanson

    February 8, 2009, 8:26 pm

    Ben,

    I’d have to disagree. I believe someone who provides a service or product to help churches can earn a living. From my experience often the ‘real’ cost including lack of support & accountability, technical skills required and confusion churches are left with from open source software is far more costly than paying a fair price to have people assist them.

    As to the phrasing, we have looked at two segments Christian social networks where everyone is invited to join and Church Community Networks which are private communities for a local church to interact.

  • Steve Adams

    February 21, 2009, 11:02 am

    Ben, I think the words, “materialistic and anti-Christian” are a little harsh. I have worked with Drew and his team @ Monk and although we have certainly had our disagreements and are no longer working together in the same fashion, I know they all have a love for Christ and the Gospel. Far from being “anti-Christian”. I believe it’s a fine line to walk when providing services at the level they do for the church and I pray they will continue to do so in a God glorifying way.

    As far as open source; Ben, there is some really good applications available and I know churches are already using some of them. On that note: In the near future, I will be offering free websites to churches and only charging for the service of setting it up, hosting, and tech support. In the case of what Monk provides, I don’t think it’s materialistic or anti-Christian having a paid alternative.

    Drew/Ben, I have had great success with open source and I must say the support and technical advice has been better than ANY I’ve experienced in a paid environment.

    Back on topic:

    Drew, I agree with part of what you said “most of what is called ‚Äôsocial networking‚Äô is meaningless.” as it pertains to my personal life. Now when it comes to work, thats a different story. I am part of several work related social networks of sorts and this interaction has been mutually beneficial.

    A Church Community Network – I can’t think of any reason to have one. Plus, I would venture to guess that just about anything you would want to use it for, you can already do/use something that is already out there. Other than it being called “Church” or “Christian”.

    I could have a Church-targeted community site up and running on Monday with the help of WPMU & BuddPress. But I do not see the reason or need.

    “What do you think a Church Community Network should be?”
    I don’t think we need any Church or Christian Community Networks, regardless if it is focussed on the individual or the community. Go be the Church in the networks that already exists in the community.

    Steve

    Ps. In the first sentences of that last paragraph I almost sound like a deconstructionist. Well, I’m not. Far from it. I just don’t think we need any Church/Christian Social Networks.

  • D. Goodmanson

    February 21, 2009, 4:26 pm

    “I will be offering free websites to churches and only charging for the service of setting it up, hosting, and tech support.” Steve, this doesn’t sound free.

    From the conversations we’ve had and hundreds of people that we involved in market research I’d say most pastors and people don’t share your position. Personally, as a pastor of a local church there are numerous reasons why we (Kaleo) would want this. But I’m cool if we agree to disagree.

  • Anthony

    October 1, 2009, 1:38 pm

    I am looking into this for slightly modified purposes… that I won’t go into for now, but does cobblestone have a spanish available option? BTW, is this the same technology used with onthecity or completely separate?

  • D. Goodmanson

    October 2, 2009, 10:49 am

    Anthony,

    Cobblestone users can post/write in Spanish but presently we have not released a Spanish version. This is a completely separate technology which you can view here: http://www.cobblestonecn.com

  • Donovan Jones

    December 3, 2009, 5:32 pm

    Church Social networks are good for medium to large “real world churches”

    Churches has many community events that take place within them in the real world..

    So a social network will showcase the members and the events that they have.

    Like on my real world church website you can see long sermons, and videos of the choir and other events that take place, as well as communicate with other church members in the real world church!

    “Thats an excellent thing”

    But you have to stay up with the trends and get the right social network software to power your church community.

    Now having a church or religious social network for the heck of it is definitely a waste!

    Social Networks should be a standard for all real work churches due to all the features a social network offers, what they offer is the basis of whats offered in the real world!

  • Andrew P Moore

    January 11, 2010, 8:45 pm

    In looking at the posts- I am not sure there is a firm grasp of the point of building an online network. The world that people live in is real. The ability to build an online community that is easy to access and provides a support system for folks who live and work in a technology driven world is critical to the success of many organizations. People may even provide insight and a depth to their backstories and advice they ordinarily would be too shy to share in person or scared to ask in front of others. Building the system on an existing framework like Facebook provides legitimacy to the message and shows that the church is in tune with its followers and their daily interactions.

    Just my thoughts- but the idea of creating a brand new service or site may be appealing to a more fundamental crowd, but using existing avenues with good content and a drive toward community building and support – I believe- will gain a better reaction from the people the church is trying to aid and engage.

  • Ron Pate

    November 17, 2012, 3:02 am

    Please remember. All the data your church uploads to an existing site (ie. Facebook) is subject to their terms and conditions and is effectively owned by the site. As a Pastor myself, I do not wish to create a data pool of my community and allow it to be owned and used by someone else. The right to privacy of our church data is a foremost concern. This is our primary reason for looking for software which allows us to control the database and not have it constantly being data mined for exploitation of our people.

    Just a thought.