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Toward Twitter-Church

Have you noticed that Twitter and Facebook are everywhere?   In every store we enter we see the constant appeals to ‘like our page’ and ‘follow us here.’  Businesses and retailers run competitions with prizes and benefits for the special tweeter. This has been commonplace for some time. Yet now a new trend is emerging. No longer are these social media devices reserved for the likes of customer satisfaction and retail marketing.  We are now seeing Facebook and Twitter interact with current television programming. For example, the hit singing competition “The Voice” has a ‘Twitter Lounge” whereby the contestant interacts with the fans.  In fact the show displays a constant twitter feed at the bottom of your television screen.  Viewers have the ability to see the responses of the show’s host and coaches, and even to lend their voice to that feed.

In another example, the hit culinary competition called “Top Chef” included a “Twitter challenge.”  For this special event, fans of the show got to tweet their requests for ingredients or actions as the chefs were cooking.  Thus, the chefs had to adapt to a fan’s suggestion of ‘include bacon!’, or ‘steal another chef’s ingredient.’  Again, twitter was the means for the audience to interact with the enfolding of the program.  Even popular programs like ‘Big Bang Theory” or”Fringe” include opportunities for fans to interact with the program in a personal way.  Through social media, the universe depicted through popular television program begins to break into our own.

What’s going on?  Is this just brilliant marketing for the creators of FaceBook and  Twitter?  To some degree that may be the case.  Yet more than this, I believe this speaks to an unfolding dynamic by which the line between ‘audience’ and ‘participant’ is being forever blurred.  What these programs are realizing is that viewers wish to be involved in the programs that they watch; that they wish to interact with the universe they see unfolding before them week after week.  What is more, as ones sense of personal interaction increases, their loyalty to the program increases as well.   A viewer will, to a greater degree, find personal investment in their favorite program when they are given the opportunity to interact, comment on, or even create the content of that program.

Our religious tradition is one that emphasizes congregational participation in worship.  That is, after all, what it means to be a liturgical tradition.  One has to wonder, however, if we need to hear the challenge being posed by contemporary social media, and find new ways for these interactions to take place.  When FaceBook and Twitter allow individuals the potential to create the experience of their favorite television shows, does simply reciting the psalm by antiphonal responses cut it?  What does it mean to be liturgical in 2013?  Are our congregations wishing for a deeper level of participation and involvement in the unfolding of our worship?

Now obviously, I am not suggesting we post an ongoing twitter feed above our pulpits.   Yet I do recognize that social media provides one with a unique avenue of personal interaction.  For example, I am one who uses my Ipad to conduct liturgy.  One of the beauties of this is that I am able to see a real time update whenever someone comments about the worship on Twitter.  It is a blessing to be able to see one of our young people tweet a quote from the sermon or hymn, or offer their thoughts and insights into what they are experiencing in worship as they are experiencing it.

Perhaps, this current trend of social media and television are pointing us to the fact that people long to be involved.  People long to feel as if they actively participate in that which they find important in their lives.  Beyond gimmick or sales tactic, when people feel that they are given the opportunity to create the very thing that unfolds around them, then there is a deeper sense of ownership, care, and loyalty.  We would do well to heed this call and consider how the church can fully live out our liturgical identity in today’s world, using today’s tools.

What are some creative ways that you help foster interaction and participation in worship?

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith.

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0 Responses to Toward Twitter-Church

  1. Thanks for this Kyle! I think I goes beyond just how we as a church use these means of social media, but the potential impact – short example, I tend to banter on both Facebook and Twitter with clergy friends; sometimes we’re serious about our conversation topics, sometimes we’re just engaging in friendly banter. Sometimes someone will post a sermon or blog link and we chat. As a result, I’ve had non-church friends and strangers ask what parish I’m serving, because they want to come out and participate… I’ve had comments such as “the church I was forced into as a kid NEVER had a sense of humour!” “If I lived closer, I’d come to YOUR church – you’re keeping it real!” and “glad to see the institution hasn’t strangled the faith out of you yet!”
    So maybe part of our socmed challenge isn’t just to use the tool of technology, but to celebrate them as a part of our evangelism?
    Hmm… I’m now into deep thoughts for a Monday!

  2. Dawn Leger

    I have actually been part of an experience where the twitter feed was projected. Most of the time I found it distracting, but it was particularly powerful during the prayers of the people. We were able to offer up prayers from where we were, and we also prayed with voices from all over the world, people who couldn’t be with us, even some who didn’t even know us, just found us and sought our prayers.

  3. Thank you for this, Kyle – this is a big part of my own reflecting at the moment – what does social media do to our notion of church and of worship… Facebook is THE way I communicate with university students – and it totally changes our notion of community (for instance, when students graduate and move away they often stay connected in the chapel facebook group – I have done pastoral ‘counselling’ via facebook messages around the world now… always trying to also help them make face-to-face connections in their local community. And out chapel community blog at Advent & Lent continues to have contributions from folks who have moved away – and sometimes have never actually lived locally, but always connected via the internet) The enlarging of community is a real gift.

    One of my thoughts – which are fairly disjointed and jumbled around this – is the need for church to help teach about solitude and the value of silence, so that you can hear your own voice – and God’s… in a world with constant feedback that gets harder and harder.

    And yes, it seems to me there are many creative ways to include twitter and other forms in our actual worship…

    So thank you for more food for thought!

  4. I’m a little cautious about using social media in worship, not necessarily because there aren’t uses for it. There are, as Dawn pointed out. Social media can bring immediacy to prayer requests. Certainly, my own experience with Facebook has allowed me to know more of my friends needs and so helped me know what and who to pray for.

    Still, I’m just contemplative enough to worry about too much social media. Can we learn to keep silent and wait on the Lord, if we are constantly checking social media for the most recent updates? Is unplugging the equivalent of a silent retreat for many of us (it can be for me)? Do we need to constantly to add our input, when, perhaps, we need to listen for God’s?

    I do want to be clear. I’m not saying that technology or even social media has no place in church, but, rather, I think we need to think about the focus. If social media helps us participate in the services in a more meaningful way, then, it is good. If social media becomes all about us, then there is a problem.

    Peace, Phil

  5. Yes, yes, yes. I think we’re all making some important observations. On the one hand, social media is a great tool for conversation and interaction. On the other hand, the role of solitude and silence has been ignored in the constant noise. And yet, in this conversation, I wonder if looking specifically at social media or technology ignores some greater questions about participation in corporate worship. What I mean to say is this: if social media is (or has the potential to be) just another means of communication, like speech or handwriting, then shouldn’t integrating it into worship be simple? Or do the questions we’re asking have more to do with discomfort around spontaneous or improvised participation in worship? Is a tweet prayer any more distracting than one blurted out in the silence?

  6. Jesse;

    It think it all depends on style of worship and what you mean by participation. In a contemplative service, for instance, the worship sets the tone, but the participation comes in the contemplation of the worshippers. On the outside, that looks like a tightly scripted performance with minimal audience participation, but, to someone who is participation, one is engaging directly with God and, though God, one’s neighbour. On the other hand, one might have a more spontaneous experience in worship, with extemporary prayers, dramas, few scripted elements and also find God speaking there. Both have their particpation in the service, but the second is more obvious than the other.

    Now, how would soial media fit here. I agree that it is better to think of social media as just another method of communication, but I doubt it one could say all methods of communication are easy to integrate. Each in the own way, music, sermons and even the liturgical forms we know and love have been difficult to integrate into services, so why should social media be any different? Why is decisive is to define precisely: what are we trying to do with this technology? can this technology do something for us better than our other methods? does it create avoidable disruptions? If we can answer those things, then we will find it easier to integrate things like Twitter and Facebook.

  7. Absolutely. I think we’re all in agreement that technology itself is value-neutral. The hows and whys are the questions we’re just beginning to ask… and it seems to me we probably won’t come to any conclusions without doing some health experimentation.

  8. Kyle Norman

    I wonder if we have gotten a tad de-railed here.  Is the discussion of particpation in worship limited to Social Media?  For me, seeing twitter on The Voice and Top Chef wasn’t about the coolness of that tactic – but spoke to the demand for viewers to be participatory in the program.  In some sense, they were allowed to become co-creators of that which they were viewing.

    For me that is what posed the question about worship in our churches and the possible desire for our members to be more participatory.  Even if we remeove social media from the equation, I feel that question is still there.  Are our people longing for the ability to particpate in the creation of worship in a different manner?  How do we best navigate the various aspects of our tradiiton, namely liturgical for mand order, with the possibly emerging desire for people to free and involved.

  9. I see your point with the participatory, interactive element, but I still wonder what we mean by it. To my mind, my contemplative example is participatory, but that participation may not be incredibly obvious to those looking on. This isn’t to say that this is the only valid type of service nor that a more visible participatory-interactive element is impossible to do. It would, I submit, ask for a very different kind of service and one that probably will either not follow the rubrics of the traditional service or will have to have multiple options within the rubrics in order to work. Again, I’m not entirely sure what that would look like, although I’m pretty sure it could be made to work quite effectively. I suspect that, as an intravert, I might get overstimulated, but that is certainly my issue, not anyone elses.

    Now, are there people in our pews longing to participate in that kind of service? Quite possibly. Yet, let’s remember that there is a greater diversity of people sitting in our pews including those who are fine with the current arrangements and, indeed, those who may have moved from a looser liturgical structure to the tighter Anglican one because they felt it worked. That shouldn’t limit experimentation, but should suggest some caution about employing those experiments too indiscriminately.


  10. Kyle Norman

    Phil, I completely agree.  All talk of participation in worship is set within the context of the type of service we are doing.  Obviously, high energy interaction would not be appropriate during a solemn contemplative service.  This I think takes a lot of care, and a willingness to listen to the Spirit beyond all things.

    It is often quipped that if you want to spot an Anglican in a crowd, just stand in the middle and yell “The Lord be with you!”  The Anglican will naturally respond “And also with you” (or ‘and with thy spirit’).  I sometimes wonder if we rest too much on our liturgical responses, labelling them as ‘participatory’ when they may actually be robotic responses.  (I know I have said ‘And also with you” without actually realizing what I am saying or why I am saying it)

    This is probably heightened now that we have people who join the church who to a greater degree than before, have little or no liturgical background.  Is there a challenge to move beyond call/response.  As I ended the post – what does it mean to be liturgical in 2013? And, dovetailing with Brian’s HMV post, are there challenges that are being issued to the church that we ignore at our peril?


  11. Kyle;

    Of course, there are problems with the current liturgical models; the most notable of which is the one you highlight. It is next to impossible to keep one’s attention on all parts of the liturgy for the whole thing and it is equally impossible to know if anyone else is giving robotic responses or genuine ones. It is very difficult sometimes to know if the person themselves are. Yet, this is the problem with prayer in general. Even in private prayer, sometimes we’re on and sometimes we’re off. This is the problem of trying to have a relationship with someone who doesn’t usually talk back, at least in the ways we expect. Sometimes we feel like we’re just going through the motions and talking into the air. And sometimes, we feel very connected. We might be using exactly the same words, but have very different reactions. That is as true of me in private prayer as in a liturgy.

    All of this doesn’t mean that we don’t experiment in worship, but rather to remember that our experimentation will, eventually, become routinized. Since culture changes, we do have to ask questions about what works. For many people, the Anglican liturgy doesn’t make sense and doesn’t work. For many people, it makes total sense and does work very well. It depends much on what we are asking for in our worship.


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