Sermonic onion rings

We all know that internet and social media is having a profound impact on how we interface with content.  No longer are we passive consumers of information.  We want to interact with it, have our say, express our take on it.

#roastpastor. The live-stream bursts forth

As I grew up one of my enduring childhood memories was my father’s ongoing war with our television set.  This was particularly the case as Rhodesia turned into Zimbabwe and the official propaganda of the triumphant regime grated against emotional scars (like losing a neighbour to a landmine).

Dad would at times rant and rave at the television which would blithely continue droning on with the latest State-sponsored version of current events and past history.  We contemplated buying Dad a foam rubber brick to hurl at the TV in times of great pique.  But essentially he was stuck with the sense he could rant and rave all he’d like, but its impact on the media and their information provision was zero.

Not so these days.  More and more we’re turning to online portals for our information, and it’s interactive.  Internet savvy information consumers expect to be able to give feedback on information through comments, and to share amongst their circle of friends, but with their spin and perspective.

I need look no further than a normal winter Friday night in our household to realise the internet age is drastically altering our experience of consuming media content.  Simply sitting down to watch Friday Night Football is no longer enough.  Along with the boys huddled up on the couch will also be the mobile phone and the laptop.

The mobile phone received a steady stream of SMS and Pingchat messages from other friends around the country watching the game.  If it’s a Manly game that will mean we’ll all be either gloating or commiserating according to the on-screen fortunes of our team.

The laptop is there to enable me to log-in to online forums to interact with the game, hear the gossip from people updating at the ground, post thoughts and comments to the Twitter stream and periodically check Facebook to see who is slashing their wrists at the on-screen action.  With all this going on through virtual community it’s little wonder fans are fed up with free-to-air television showing games on delay.  No longer is it an option to stay away from the score and watch later.  Knowing the score is inevitable.

Which makes me wonder where the future of ‘preaching’ is headed.  No small matter here because preaching and teaching is still an important part of camping, so we need to be thinking about how to keep at the cutting edge.

I think it’s fair to say that the days where preaching consists of a 40 minute dialogue from ‘the expert’ to a mute audience are numbered.  Already preaching and teaching has become far more interactive.  A lot of sermons and presentations are paired up with Power Point and other electronic forms to widen out the experience.  It’s not uncommon for teaching to be question and answer with the broad congregational base encouraged to participate with their thoughts and questions (this is certainly the case at the church I go to, Maleny Baptist).

But I also think there’s a new layer getting added by the digital age, something that is both confrontational as well as an opportunity.  What I’ve noticed is that Gen X are sparking up a commentary stream via social media and SMS during the sermon.  I’ve started to receive text messages from across the room during sermons and presentations (and I hasten to add at this stage the text messages have been complimentary to the presentation).

It’s only a matter of time before most presentations (aka sermons) are exposed to live streaming of update and critique via mediums like Twitter, SMS and even Facebook.  Nothing is very sacred anymore, the inner sanctum will be stripped bare and interaction will commence.

There will be many threatened by this comment stream and SMS engagement.  I consider that they have their origins in behaviour that is far from new to civilised church:

  1. A Twitter stream is a little like a practice that is heavily encouraged – note taking.  It’s just that the notes are public and immediate.
  2. Two people interacting via SMS is not unlike the post-church chat, it’s just that it’s happening live.  Previously it would have been considered a distraction for two people to put their heads together and talk during a presentation.  SMS and other associated interactions take the distraction out of proceedings, making live one-on-one interaction possible.
  3. This lurch into internet interactivity could be so profound as to parallel the quantum shift that occured around the time the printing press put the bible into the hands of the average lay-person.  Back then it allowed the ‘congregation’ to be more au fait with what they were being taught, perhaps even to think for themselves for the first time in a long time.  Internet immediacy will shift things to a situation where the ‘congregation’ have the ability to be in the debate and a part of the presentation.

In Australia ABC Television has a wildly popular political show called Q&A.  One of it’s chief attractions is the rolling news reel at the bottom with a steady stream of Twitter comment from the show’s viewers, fueled by the hash-tag #qanda.  Live, immediate, witty and thoughtful – it’s a view of the future.

How far away will it be before a the screen behind the pulpit live-streams the thoughts on their preacher’s efforts?  #roastpastor


2 Responses to Sermonic onion rings

  1. Josh Tandy says:

    Social media interactions with sermons is already happening here in the States.

    I agree that it can be a distraction, but it can also just be another tool to communicate the Gospel. All about how it is used and to what end.

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