Can't grow wildflowers in a hothouse

Posted Sep 19, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Nadia Bolz-Weber, guest blogger


A year ago I realized that I do not have the foggiest idea of how to send a piece of mail to any of my 110 parishioners. I don’t have the mailing address of even one person in my parish. While that has been true since day one, it only dawned on me last year, and it dawned on me because a colleague from a more traditional setting asked one day if my church, House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO, mailed out our newsletter or if we emailed it. First I thought about how cute it was that he thought we had a church newsletter. Then I realized that I couldn’t mail them something even if I wanted to. Then I realized that I had never once thought about the fact that I didn’t have anyone’s mailing address.

This is often the way things go when people ask about the funky little emerging-Lutheran church I serve. I have to try and step back in order to answer questions. And I always end up thinking that people are asking me these questions (like, “What are you doing that attracts young adults?” and “How did you start a theology pub?”) so that they can take the answers and produce a strategy to implement what we did so that they can have the same results we had.

This represents one slight reluctance I had to being part of the New Media Project case study research—I didn’t want for the practices at House for All Sinners and Saints to be systematized and commoditized as a way for traditional churches to become more “emerging” so they can attract the same population we have. And the reason I am hesitant to have someone look at the results we have, then ask what we did, take those answers and make them into a strategy is that not one of the practices we have was the result of a strategy. Never once have we implemented some program or system in order to get a certain result. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, it’s just that, a) it would never dawn on us to do that way, and b) we’re kinda too lazy to even try. We just do what we do naturally because of who we are—we aren’t who we are because of what we do. When people ask me what young adults want, I’m not sure I can answer because I never once have had to ask myself that question.

That’s why it took us a while to be able to articulate how it is that we use social media. We just use it because we are largely native to it. It would be like someone saying, “Tell me about why your church uses electricity. How did you come up with an electricity-using strategy and how has it helped your church?” No one comes up with an electricity-using strategy because electricity use is just a built-in, a natural part of your daily life.

All this is to say, while I can step back and see that the relationships people have at House for All Sinners and Saints are strengthened by the daily interaction they have with each other on Facebook, that interaction is natural and not the result of “trying to use social media to strengthen relationships between people at church.” And I cannot in any way assume that if a community of people who are not native to social media adopted similar practices that they too would then see a strengthening of their relationships.

I’m all for sharing our practices with each other and seeing what might be fun to try in our own contexts, I just can’t assume that we can grow wildflowers in a hothouse.


Nadia Bolz-Weber
Nadia Bolz-Weber is the Pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, one of the case studies of the New Media Project. She holds an M.Div. from Illiff School of Theology and is the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? She blogs regularly on Sarcastic Lutheran.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

1 Comment

  1. 1 LC 31 Jan
    I would think the importance of sharing strategy is for churches that are failing and need to replace an old strategy (implicit or explicit), or churches that want to do too many things (whether they want to call those things strategies/ministries/what comes naturally to us) and need help deciding which to prioritize. For churches that are realizing that what comes naturally to them is also killing them, they may need to reexamine their identity and find out what's so self-destructive about their congregational body...but maybe they also just need to hear your strategies.

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