I was skimming through Mashable (a blog that covers social media and technology) and ran across an article called, "The Next 5 Years in Social Media." This insightful article starts to forecast what's hot and what's not for the next five years.
In summary, here are key observations (paraphrased):
1. The Pipe is Getting Bigger. 4G wireless service and the increased availability of up to 50 MBps connection to your home will dramatically increase the download speeds of content. Faster connections = richer content and higher interactivity.
2. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter aren't going anywhere. The gold rush of social platforms may be settling down. There will still be pioneering on the edges, but these are likely to be the 3 stable platforms for a while.
3. Independent streaming overcoming the "mass content channels." Both TV and radio are facing hostile takeovers by interactive streaming by Netflix, blip.tv, Pandora and others. Everyone can publish and get their content out to the masses without control from the cable companies or networks.
4. Interconnected devices. Devices will talk to one another and share information. Your scale in the bathroom will share information with your PC and your refrigerator to help you manage your weight and your cell phone/smartphone will track your exercise. It's not just the Richard Simmons meets Big Brother scenario, but you will be able to manage your life in new and interesting ways.
What does this all mean to the church?
We find ourselves at an unprecedented opportunity to connect with people in richer and more interactive ways. The increase in bandwidth, interactivity between devices and the ability to push content mean that we can reach out to people and connect with them more than ever before. We can gain some stability in the social tools available to spread that message.
Let me project a little based on the trends Mashable offered…
1. If your church is not on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, you need to NOW! Even if your church does not have a website, it needs to engage digitally with those in your community. Start to listen to the conversations and engage in them. You have to be present to be relevant.
2. Start digitally recording your services. Use a flip camera or digital recorder plugged into your sound board (if you have one) and record the service. Now, chop it apart into relevant segments and ask "would I want to watch this on YouTube?" A great sermon, a wonderful or cute children's message, a rockin' song or anything else makes great content IF DONE WELL. Post only the best gems of the service, tag it appropriately and post.
3. Multi-site church and "digitally distributed" church trend will continue to grow. Churches like LifeChurch.tv and others will continue to expand to spread the Gospel. It fits the "on-demand" mentality growing in society today. We need to be able to create communities in new ways and be able to connect the physical community with the digital one.
4. Create sharable content and make it FREE. The days of buying a denominational DVD or books should be over. We should be willing to digitally distribute anything and pay for it to expand the reach of the Gospel. I personally believe places like the United Methodist Publishing House should be pushing free content out via Netflix, downloadable Amazon Kindle e-books, and iPhone apps that help people strengthen their faith. AND IT ALL SHOULD BE FREE!
5. Interconnecting disciples. We need to be less concerned about creating our own "walled gardens" of believers and be willing to intermingle between churches and denominations. I know this can get a little dangerous but I think there are a large number of denominations who share a broad set of core beliefs (Jesus is the Son of God, came to this earth and died on the cross for our sins. We gain salvation through faith in that sacrifice…) Imagine if we could coordinate our efforts to ensure no child went to bed hungry in an entire city. Wow…that's powerful. We could work together to ensure every home received a bag of groceries that needed it. There are not enough people in one church to make this happen, but there are enough Christ-followers to make this a reality.
OK…so the last one was a little bit out there, but the rest of them can be made reality today. The church (in the past 40 years) has constantly played catch up. Isn't it time to surf the trend vs. trying to avoid getting smashed by the wave?
The bottom-line is that we need to get our digital act together. Like it or not, the church will need to switch from analog to digital. Are you ready?