Thursday, September 1, 2011

Guest Post: Thoughts on Social Media and Worship (Part I)

Rev. David Hansen (@Rev_David), pastor at St. John Lutheran Church of Prairie Hill just outside of Brenham, Texas, is an active participant in #chsocm. He also provides content, generates conversation, and makes me laugh via DM in between weekly chats.

Before going any further, a confession: I’ve been known to live-tweet a liturgy or sermon.

Yes indeed, that was me with my phone out, tapping away. I may have even taken a picture or two (no flash – everyone has their limits). I confess. I did it.

To be clear: this is not a confession in the sense of asking for forgiveness, but in the sense of declaring, affirming, and acknowledging. I did it and I’m glad I did it.

I’ve discovered that I am not someone who can just sit quietly and listen. It doesn’t work for me. I figured this out in college and grad school. If I sat and listened attentively – kept eye contact with my professor, didn’t allow myself to be distracted, etc. – then I totally got the material during class. As soon as I left the room, it was gone.

But if I engaged with the material somehow – during the lecture itself – it stuck with me. Occasionally this meant an engaging classroom discussion, either with the professor or classmates. More often this meant taking notes – extensive notes – notes that covered what the professor said, as well as my reactions to and thoughts about the material. If I could engage with the material while receiving it, it stayed with me.

The same is true in worship. If I just sit – worshipfully, attentively – I'll certainly get something out of it. Worship has every chance of being uplifting, grace-filled, and moving. And yet, as soon as I leave the worship space, any learning or insight begins to evaporate.

But if I engage with the worship service –take service notes on my bulletin, or tweet what moved me in the sermon, or ask a question on Facebook provoked by the sermon – then it all stays with me. I’ll be able to carry it with me beyond the worship space and into my life – and isn’t that the point?

In fact, in my tradition, we occasionally require just such behavior from worshipers. How many Lutheran pastors have required confirmation students to take sermon or worship notes? Isn’t that the same sort of engagement that happens when someone uses social media during worship?

Are there ways to do this that can be too distracting to other worshipers? Are there people just playing games on their phones? Absolutely, but some of us are able to listen better precisely because we're using our phones.


ramona said...

I want to use social media instead of sermon note for my confo kids, but I'm not quite brave enough to let them do it during worship!

Anj Wiley said...

Rev. David, I agree with your post. People learn in different ways. I was a note taker, probably to an excess, while I was in school. To tweet or not is personal and environmental! I know it would not be acceptable at my church. The nagging thought I've had since the #chsocm chat is this: I believe that preachers, pastors, priests etc. have a gift from the Holy Spirit to do what they do and that Jesus speaks through them to the people. If I was listening to Jesus, I would hang on his every word and hope that what spoke to me would stick-like the Apostles! But I would love to read a tweet chat transcript of other peoples' thoughts and be able to go deeper. I doubt I'll live that long to see it at my church! Thanks for the post, looking forward to Part 2!

asacredrebel said...

Ramona that is a wonderful thought... to set up a twitter hashtag for sermon notes from the confirmation kids...

or maybe a Facebook discussion page for worship notes...

Meredith Gould said...

I, too, am a visual-kinesthetic learner. If I'm not doodling or writing, I literally cannot retain what I hear, no matter how closely I am listening. There's something about movement that facilitates deep listening.

Heck, I was once been known to do needlepoint during senior management meetings! After everyone had their big reactions, I got to do a bit of teaching about learning styles.

And because this seems to come as news to lots of people, I included a hefty section about it in my book about church communications as a ministry. I still spend a fair amount of time writing and teaching about this to clients in the healthcare industry.

IM(rarely)HO, I think learning theory should be part of every professional training curriculum.

♥ julie said...

I've tweeted during the sermon before, and if people have given me sideways glances, I've addressed it after the service, letting them know that something the preacher said was so good, I needed to share it immediately with those who weren't present. Most people don't totally get it, but seem satisfied that I wasn't just texting during worship.

Ramona, I would be bold and give it a try with your confirmation kids. Talk to them beforehand and be honest about how you hope they won't be playing Temple Run or passing notes via 3G during the service, but that actually, this is a big responsibility. Especially if you can get others in the congregation to interact with them via twitter or facebook during the week, based of what what they tweeted about the service. I think you'd be surprised at how teenagers can handle something like this when they're given permission rather than feeling like they have to sneak around it.

As far as it being distracting to others, here's what I'd want to try in a congregation: having a designated "social media" section. Anyone who wants to tweet or live update about the service can sit in one of several designated pews (or rows, whatever) so that those who don't want to see backlit screens out of the corner of their eyes don't have to. I certainly don't want to segregate anyone, but I think this would actually lift up the ways we can use social media in ministry. Of course, anyone who wanted to sit there but didn't want to use social media would be welcome, but everyone would know that there would be cell phones and tablets being used there during the service. They did this recently at a production of Godspell on Broadway, and it worked fantastically from what I understand.