Fromm: What does a fully networked church look like?
Schultze: Human beings are inherently multimedia creatures. So “networking” takes many forms across all media, including in-person, print, electronic, and digital media. A full network employs all of the fitting or appropriate means of communication for the purposes of congregational life, from worship to education and fellowship. The notion of “fitting” use of technology in this networking is crucially important. To be fully networked is not just to be busy, but to be fittingly involved with one another. We constantly have to be asking ourselves not if we are networked per se, but if we are networked appropriately, in tune with the purposes of the church.
Fromm: Do you anticipate Web technology taking over every aspect of a church’s operating platform? If not, what operational aspects will avoid the change?
Schultze: Web technology will not “take over” any aspects of church operations but will instead be integrated into operations in different ways and to various extents by each congregation. There will not be a one-size-fits-all approach, although some software and hardware companies will tout this. We’ll see major differences among churches and denominations depending on everything from location (e.g., urban, rural suburban) to congregational life, demographics, and theological and ecclesiastical traditions. The most promising Web 2.0 developments will be organic, not organizational.
Fromm: How is the movement from mass media to massively participatory media reflected in the creation of Christian worship?
Schultze: Participation varies enormously among people. Some like to participate only as consumers, not producers. Still, a sizeable percentage of people who participate in worship also like contributing to the ways that worship is planned, executed, evaluated, and renewed. Worship is going in all kinds of directions with tremendous creativity and vibrancy as well as silliness and misguided practices. The question behind the technological explosion is how to educate the “masses” about the history and purposes of worship so they have enough context to participate wisely in worship and in worship renewal—beyond being just consumers.
Fromm: What new spiritual practices are emerging from the networked churches? What traditional practices are being renewed or transformed? What are the new rules and the old rules for spiritual practices?
Schultze: Churches can be networked within and without (intra and inter). The intra-networking is beginning to take off among the so-called emerging churches, creating ongoing communications about activities and events. New software is also gaining ground in the larger, community churches for the sharing of gifts, talents, and other resources for the sake of the common good rather than just the sake of the individual member. Some worship planning is also occurring. On the inter-church front, multimedia products, particularly sermon recordings, are being distributed, primarily via congregational leaders with platforms beyond their local churches.
Fromm: To what extent do you see the networked congregation having an impact on traditional audiences, church hierarchies and authority structures?
Church governance is already becoming quite a mess as the new social networks create groundswells of innovation, dialogue, and novel practices. Somehow church leadership is going to have to learn how to listen to the existing conversations both online and within congregations in order to discern what to do to foster new but wise leadership.
b) Pastoral/Biblical Interpretation
Issues of pastoral interpretation of Scripture and interpretation of the meaning of “church” are popping up throughout contemporary churches. This is being spurred by books and websites that are asking tough questions, especially about faddish and narrowly literalistic interpretations. One way to understand the new developments in interpretation is that they represent a kind of Augustinian (4th-century) revival of doctrinal interpretation on many levels at once. It’s becoming increasingly clear to younger members in renewal-oriented churches that Scripture, creation, and culture are all texts that need to be “read” through the lenses of basic Christian belief and doctrine. As a result, much preaching is regaining its extemporaneous style, personal engagement, cultural criticism, spiritual heart, authentic sensibilities, and deep hermeneutical thrust that combine affective and logical insights. In a way, preaching is becoming more like theological conversation or a doctrinally informed “chat.”
Wise preachers are listening more closely to their congregations, through many media outlets, to determine how their proclamation and conversations are being interpreted and received. Preachers are wondering if their congregations really “get” the basics of the faith—even if their members grew up in Christian churches. I believe that this is essentially why someone like Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill church here in West Michigan, is so popular; he is gifted at discerning ancient truth and communicating it in inspiring and relevant ways (in a very low-tech environment, by the way). Bell’s high-tech ventures (such as the Nooma DVD series) are extensions of his basic, highly doctrinal preaching (that some would call a “teaching” rather than a sermon). This is not simply audience adaptation but often a movement toward a kind of dialogical approach to preaching in which preacher and congregations keep the preaching-nurtured conversations going all week and all year long.
It appears that social networking is becoming the primary means for those interested in worship renewal to discourse about the subject, share ideas, ask questions, pass along resources, and report on their own experiences. These developing networks are linked to conferences and “published” resources as well. I see this is a sub-community of church members across Christian traditions who are interested in the same issues. Unfortunately, there are also highly faddish trends driven by overly technological views of worship as “audience effect.” So these networks of discourse need some wise voices as organic leadership to avoid going in unbiblical directions that are uninformed by both Scripture and tradition. Perhaps the greatest concern, in my view, is the lack of recognition in populist worship renewal that all worship is “liturgical” (the work of the people). There are not liturgical and non-liturgical forms of worship. The question should be, “What is faithful liturgy?”
d) Leadership/Gender Issues
Technological social movements invariably attract more males than females. This has a subtle but profound impact on the ways that technologies are perceived and employed. While social networking undercuts some traditional ecclesiastical authority, it also re-energizes a kind of paternalistic view of worship as a male-driven, instrumental, effects-oriented, controlling practice. This is partly why in-person discourse is so important; it provides greater “bandwidth” for multimedia, multisensory interaction and is more respectful of gender differences (whether they are social or genetic differences).
Fromm: What will be the roll of private and/or non-profit “producers of the sacred” in the networked community movement?
Schultze: The only “producer” of the sacred is God. That truth has to be the starting point for faith-oriented social networking and related cultural production. So we begin with a sobering truth, namely, that Christian spirituality is not about what human beings do but about what God does. As I tell my students, we need to keep in mind that Christian spirituality is all about attending to what God has done, is doing, and has promised to do. In other words, God is already at work. Our “job” (really, our calling) is to attend to the Spirit’s movement here, and there and everywhere, often where we least expect to see God at work. We can’t move ahead faithfully in a Web 2.0 world by pretending to play God.