Keeping vigilant about online community possibilities and tools


I’ve often mused about where we might be in Electric Vehicles if we had started back when the Ecological Crisis was brought to the public attention in a big way. (There WAS an early EV that was produced and leased to people back in the early 90’s, but that effort was “mysteriously” (or, NOT so mysteriously) stopped and literally torn up (the cars were retrieved from their lease-ees and summarily destroyed; literally crushed).

But if we had kept that development going, where might we be now, 30 years later, instead of where we are, having largely abandoned that and not picked it up again until Tesla, and a dramatically bigger Ecological Crisis, started everyone thinking about it again?

I was just today thinking similarly about the development of Virtual/Online Community technologies and tools. Where might the church and it’s communications orgs be, if they had kept researching online community possibilities?

.I got my first job in denominational web communications in 1997, shortly after writing and researching intensely on the possibilities of “Online Community for the Church”. Back then, I had a strong message of “Not REPLACEMENT of face to face community, but enhancement, extension of, and building on, as well as pointing back to and enabling MORE face to face community.

Now, that has obviously shifted. We now find ourselves faced with something MUCH MORE LIKE replacement (albeit only for this interim, Covid-19 world reality) . And the same question I posed in the previous post about “Where would we be if we had continued to explore and develop the EV concept”, is now the same question for Online Communication tools and technologies: “Where would we be if we had kept faithful to the development and exploration of online community possibilities, and the simulation of “real” , “face to face” community?

My gut tells me we’d have been much better prepared for the Covid reality that has been thrust upon us. And so where do we go from here? Life events have gotten in the way of my initial thoughts about this , as they rushed into my consciousness back in March when the lockdowns and responses began.

I was thinking about how I could be of service to the many, many churches , or educational institutions — especially church related educational institutions such as Seminaries — in re-immersing ourselves in finding technological, online “replacements” to get us through the times of distancing and stay-at-home suggestions/pleas/warnings.

Interestingly enough, that (abandoning the initial efforts in the EV development, as well in attention devoted in the web technologies world to the online community tools) is also what many church agencies have done with their “old” and/or “obsolete” and/or and “unsuccessful” attempts at online community.

It was “unsuccessful” because there was no dedication to investing enough in it to see to it’s success. UMC.org abandoned a couple of “community” experiments, and eventually ended up removing comments from articles on the umc.org site. They ended up abandoning those initial investments by leaving them out of the many upgrades/migrations into different web content systems.

The argument was always the same: We tried it, it didn’t work (translated, that really means, “we got tired of how much effort it took”. No surprise there, since if you don’t value something deeply enough to invest time (and yes, along with that, the money to pay for the time), then you are in that self-fulfilling prophesy cycle.

(The same cycle also persisted at the Publishing House in my previous web work and following after I left)

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