Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sermonating and Social Media

Phillip Lund, Cynthia Landrum, Scott Wells and Dan Harper have been discussing sermons and social media.  Their general consensus is that the 20 minute sermon encased in the church worship service puts the message in a form-factor that is both obsolete and too individual in its creation.

I disagree that there is a problem with the individual creation of the sermon.  Sermons are not really individually created -- ministers have their circle of people that they use for coming up with and testing ideas that go into the sermon.   Whether people do that over the dinner table, at a meeting, at a coffee shop or on social media of some sort doesn't change the fact that in the end a good sermon comes from many people but no good sermon is written by committee.

Now, the other point, the terrible mismatch with the way that we now expect to receive information and the customary church service, I think deserves some deep consideration.

In social media, content rules.  Somebody has to keep putting new stuff out there for everyone else to react to.  There's only so long that people will want to check up on what everyone else had for lunch.

Sermons are the principle form of content being produced by the church.  Every week, hundreds of UU's and thousands of other ministers, produce a big hunk of content which presents their religious point of view on Life.  Lots of that content is wise, perceptive, funny, challenging, meaningful and informative.  Most of it exists as sound heard by a couple of hundred people at the most.

That experience of the sermon in worship should not be discounted.  There is something about being in the same room with a compelling speaker that is unique and irreplaceable.  Despite all our other sources of comedic information people still want to go hear a stand-up comedian perform.  "Live" still works.

But those live performances of sermons do not travel well.  Most of them never get out of the room that they are in.  Yet that content could travel in the streams of social media, but not in the same form as it now exists.

I like Ted talks.  I think if preachers packaged their sermon content like a Ted talk, many of them would travel in social media.  That means that they have to have (1) clear labeling of content in the title (2) short digestible length (3) high production values and (4) focus on the message vs focus on church or denominational advertising.  I think of the videos produced by the "it gets better' campaign -- simple direct messages to a particular audience.

I think that our ministers are fully capable of crafty such messages, but most lack the skills, equipment and time to turn their sermons into inspirational - It Gets Better- Ted talks.   Most are not equipped or ready to turn their sermons into a straight video recording of their sermon in their robe and pulpit now.

What we need is body that can advise and consult on technical matters, invite participation by gifted ministers, help them produce the content in suitable form, edit it and put together the final package.  If it could produce one a week that would be freely available to share through social media, it would be a good thing.  I would bet that the best ones would go around the world and to places where we never go.

I am confident that the people we have participating in social media will be able to use such content in ways that build their networks, stimulate conversation and connections, and support our building based congregations and new forms of community.

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