This is the final post in a twelve-part series on Community formation and social media.
Over the course of this series, we have taken a look at community formation and social media through the lenses of community planting, identity formation, conflict, healing, and nurture via the thoughtful reflections of writers from a wide variety of backgrounds. These reflections included aspects of communities that exist solely online and those that are a blend of online and offline interaction.
One thing that stands out through the entire series is that the church has much experience with the formation and ongoing maintenance of community. It is a hallmark of the way we practice our faith. Our uncertainties come in the attempt to translate these practices that we know so well from face-to-face interactions to those that are partially or fully mediated by social media.
We tend to speak of online community as an entirely new phenomenon, but as Jim Rice pointed out in his post in the series, many of the essentials remain the same even as they may look and feel a bit different when practiced online. Perhaps that is one reason why we have found so few in-depth studies of the practice on community formation and social media available—a fact that led to our focus on this topic here and in our ongoing work.
One study of online religious community worth noting is Heidi Campbell’s book Exploring Religious Community Online: We are One in the Network. Although this book is now nearly ten years old and pre-dated many of our currently prevalent social media networks, this look at online community remains relevant in its considerations of these online networks and how they affect offline communities as well.
Most often, we encounter community in a blend of online and offline interactions. Kathryn Reklis explores this hybrid nature of relationships in her theological essay for the New Media Project, “X-Reality and the Incarnation.” A good example of the impact that the addition of online community can have to an existing offline community can be found in the story of the creation of Yarlington Chat, an online chat group for a residential housing community in the UK. The development of this online community dramatically affected the way the residents experienced and engaged in their offline community.
For examples of well-run communities that exist more online than offline, Social Media Today has collected examples of Six Nonprofit Organizations with Super Successful Online Communities. While they are not explicitly religious organizations, the tools and practices they employ to build their online communities are familiar and relevant to online religious ministry groups and churches that are developing their social media communities.
For a stronger focus on faith community specifically, read “Building and sustaining communities in a world of social media” by our project director, Verity A. Jones, in US Catholic, or her longer theological essay “Faith communities in high relief: Reflections on the Trinity” on our website. In addition, all of our New Media Project case studies consider the question of community in a world of social media in one form another as our research fellows evaluated what these groups were doing with new media. Our series of Recommendations, which grew out of what we learned in the case studies, is another excellent resource for exploring the practices that faith communities are finding helpful online.
The New Media Project will continue its study of the ways that digital social media practices, patterns, and tools impact the forming, shaping, and nurturing on Christian faith communities over the coming year. We’d love to hear from you about the things that are working for your community or the questions you’ve encountered as your community has worked with social media.
Kenetha J. Stanton is the interim associate director of the New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.