Meet Gavin Richardson: Youth Minister, lover of South Park, Renaissance man. Last week, Gavin introduced us to the relationship between spirituality and social media, and how modern technology is bringing us back to the basics. This week, with the second post in the series, Gavin talks a little about his own roots, and discusses the power blogging can have in bringing people together and in building relationships between pastor and community. Visit Gavin on the web at www.gavoweb.com and follow him on twitter @gavoweb
While you were playing Nintendo, I was designing websites
I have been designing websites since 1998 when I first learned HTML code and script. In those early days creating a website was an interesting venture, from a church perspective (which is a bit behind in most cases), you wanted to get your message out there for the masses to discover. For a church, a progressive website probably consisted of photos or notes from a pastor’s sermon to go along with your worship, time listings, and ministry opportunities. Strangely though, the most visited single page on a church website was (and is) the staff, or more specifically, the pastors bio page. Why?
A number of years later, when blogging came onto the scene I was an early adopting observer. Having heard about them and even read some I remember when my friend Jay Voorhees (what a name) showed me his first blog and how he could post thoughts and people could comment (embedding photos/graphics was still quite a process in those days of blogging). I still watched for quite a few months, and then threw my voice into the blogosphere back in 2004 with the obligatory first ‘I’m here posting‘. I started my blog calling it ‘Hit the Back Button to Move Fwd’ because I was immersed in monastic practices (still am) and felt there was value that could be brought from the past and used to help discern the future shift of post modernism & technology. So I began speaking and, at that time, about 16 people were listening.
A journal for the masses
What’s great about blogging is that in spirit, its journaling software. Journaling has long been considered a spiritual practice. You are able to write down feelings, thoughts, prayers, ideas, rants, and so on. The public nature of this journaling then throws your vulnerability out for the world to see and engage. Two entities in my early days of blogging that captured my imagination and attention were ‘Real Life Preacher’ and the community surrounding the ‘Emergent Church’.
The brilliance of ‘Real Live Preacher‘ is the exact keywords that hit the values of an entire generation of people surrounded and consumed by the transformation of technology. People are brought in by authentic-ism (real), it breaks down the walls of protection put up to hide what one feels is shameful. Being real allow us to see that WE are like THEM. It opens peoples minds to think, “maybe we aren’t weird after all”. The outlet of the blog allows for a conversation and a direct line to the individual person. Conversation can happen and thus this relationship becomes a ‘live’ entity. Intimate connections can and are formed between speaker and community. Preachers generally have answers we seek, so the brilliance of naming, and being a ‘real live preacher’ was/is fascinating to me.
The Emergent Church took on a groundswell voice when it started to use the medium of blogging for church & theological conversations to reshape the evangelical (and eventually mainline/protestant/catholic) churches. People were heard from a global scale, from a tall skinny kiwi, to an alt worship guru, and a denominational deconstructionist, to name a few. The blogging social medium opened a door to share thoughts, frustrations, ideas on church doctrine & practice at a level never before seen. In a great example of ‘the world being flat‘ the Wikipedia page on Emergent Church had listed some 200 blogs as ‘experts’ – everyone had an opportunity to be heard and part of a larger conversation.
Building relationships + establishing connections, one believer at a time
Back to my, and your, church websites. Why do people visit the pastor’s bio page more often than any other single page? It’s simple, people want to get to know more about them; they want that connection; they want to know the man (or woman) behind the wisdom they receive. Long before blogging made it accessible, people were already looking to establish some connection with a spiritual guide. As with everything, in both faith and business, it comes down to establishing a connection. The development of social media, starting with blogging, now moving to Facebook or Twitter, brings a more authentic glimpse into the life of those spiritual guides to connect with. Our need now is to share our spiritual lives with others. Today, wherever people are, there is an opportunity to connect in conversation and relationship.
Where do you see the relationship between theology and blogging going from here? Gavin makes an amazing point when he says ‘the Internet allows us to open up. It allows us to feel like maybe we aren’t that weird are different, and that maybe in our differences we can find many similarities’. How does the web enable us to be more real and genuine? Is the Internet a good outlet for discussions on faith and religion, or is your faith a more personal experience that need not be shared with the world? Share your thoughts in the comments below.