Recently friend and fellow pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Keith Anderson asked for some feedback on his thinking about the role of social networking in light of our denomination’s belt-tightening measures that included a layoff of 18% of staff in the church-wide headquarters in Chicago. His blog post Social Networking and the Future Church Seven Key Characteristics of Social Networks got me thinking about the need, and not just the potential, for utilizing social networks to support the mission and ministry of the church.
Keith’s guess that we will need to utilize smaller, informal, grassroots networks for learning, sharing, communication and coordination is on target and I believe will be the new reality if denominational structures are to survive. I’m grateful for the way Keith connected social media to mission in seven areas. He has helped me to think of denomination mission support outside the traditional structure of a budget, synod/diocese/local judicatory, or church-wide denominational organization.
Keith raises an important point that both resonated with me and one that I believe is the key to the future of the ELCA (or any denomination for that matter). He does this by way of beginning his third characteristic “Virtual and Personal” with a disclaimer (one note here…), which for me is THE proclaimer here. The Church of Jesus Christ is relational. It is all about relationships and connections that happen… in relationship, in dialogue, in sharing highs and lows, joys and concerns, questions and best practices to be the Church we are gathered by God to be.
We are relational because God is first. We are a priesthood of all believers (non-hierarchical) because we are all connected (not necessarily geographical) as the body of Christ the Church. We are called as the body to be in relationship with God and each other (virtual and personal), praying, interceding, proclaiming the Word, and confessing sins to each other. We share (open source) because of God’s abundant blessings given to us and we share (generous) them (voluntarily) with our neighbors next door + around the world (multifarious) not out of obligation, but out of joy and love for the blessings God gives us.
The future of the organized Church in the developed world lies I believe, in observing, experimenting and integrating the lessons of relational networking found in both the emergent church and social media phenomena. The ELCA and other denominational leaders would benefit from having the following on their reading lists:
- Seth Godin who is a best-selling author and successful business icon, writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, how to meet individual and organizational needs, and leadership in the midst of the change we are in the midst of
- Robert Putnam who is a Harvard sociologist, Professor of Public Policy, and social capital guru of Bowling Alone fame, has just released American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us co-written with political scientist David Campbell, is the most important book in decades about American religious life and an essential tool in understanding religion in post-modernity.
- Phyllis Tickle who is the founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly is a respected authority and speaker on religion in America today and a keen observer of the current religious landscape. Her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why describes how North American Christianity is presently undergoing a change every bit as radical as the Protestant Reformation, possibly even as monumental as its natal break with Judaism.
The institutional church is not about to turn, it is. Phyllis Tickle notes that denominations won’t cease to exist, rather they will give way to something new. As for my beloved denomination, my sense is that unless we as the ELCA rethink and reform what it means to be the church nationally and locally (remembering that it is ALL about relationship), not a stone will be left on stone at Higgins Road (Chicago church-wide headquarters) or on the steepled towers of many once proud congregations.