This is the second in a series of three blog posts by this author about social media and Christian unity.
“This is the future of music,” reads a sign that Amanda Palmer holds up during her video pitch on the social funding website Kickstarter (fair warning: there’s some adult language in the video
and onscreen). Kickstarter
invites contributions between $1 and $10,000 to fund everything from a new album to a documentary about trees protected by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
. In the beginning of May, Palmer set the Kickstarter record
for both the value and the number of pledges to produce and promote her new album. Bucking the music industry’s overwhelmingly downward trend, Palmer’s fundraising success didn’t come out of nowhere. With 141,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook, 549,000 followers on Twitter, and, most importantly, a well-earned reputation for engaging fans in person and online, Palmer built a community ready to engage when she invited them to “join our rock and roll cause.” To date, Palmer has raised $585,869 from 10,794 people
. What might church leaders learn from this? And what might this mean for the unity of the body of Christ?
When church leaders step into the already-flowing stream of social media, they will pick up a certain number of followers because of their office and reputation in real life; so did Palmer. But authority in social media is gained by authenticity and engagement. Palmer’s fans participated in exchanges about writing and rehearsing her new album. Palmer didn’t just present her finished project; she showed her work and invited us along. The same is required of church leaders in social media. Each week, Cardinal Seán O’Malley’s blog
shares whom he has met with, evocative photos of sacramental life, and relentless thanks for the many people who live and minister in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The humanness of the man in this high office comes through in the asides—like a photo
of a sign warning of alligators outside a Florida monastery. Rather than degrading the office, these signs of humanness and sustained engagement make a church leader accessible and compelling. After we met recently, I confess, I too looked on the blog for our photo
and reposted it.
In an earlier post, Lerone A. Martin writes
“the democratizing effects of new media upon religion have no end.” Effective church leaders will be more accessible to the faithful online. This is good for ecumenism. As my colleague Dr. Brian Flanagan
stated, I fear the “clericalization of the ecumenical movement,” as a niche ministry able to be outsourced to Church leaders or ecumenical officers. What if social media holds some possibility for the flattening of the church in ways that help the work for Christian unity be the work of all
the baptized? In order for this possibility to take shape, we need church leaders risking new kinds of vulnerability and engagement with social media. We also need a renewed teaching of our baptismal promise that we are all
baptized into the one body of Jesus Christ.
Amanda Palmer’s candid and longstanding engagement with her flock created the possibility for her to set an audacious goal where people could rise to meet the challenge. They believed in the mission. They felt valued and connected to something larger than themselves. Some of this happened online. They were willing to take a risk with a leader who was inviting them to re-imagine creating music beyond the confines of a stuck music industry. Social media invites us yet again to hold out that audacious goal that Christ himself proclaimed that His followers might be one. Now we need to invite others to follow Him. Ordained in the United Church of Christ and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, the Rev. Laura E. Everett serves as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a 110-year old ecumenical expression of 17 Protestant and Orthodox Christian traditions. Find more of her writing and preaching at http://RevEverett.com or follow her on Twitter at @RevEverett. 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 email@example.com.