Not only has the Internet, particularly social media, changed the way we operate, but we can use it as a lens to view congregational leadership from a different perspective, a network perspective. Digital strategists talk about the development of the Internet in terms of Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. What does this delineation mean and how, coupled with some theological reflection, does it inform leadership in 21st-century congregations?
World Wide Web 1.0 generally consists of static content posted or broadcast for others to read and digest. The majority of congregational websites fall into this category. Congregations post their worship times and upcoming events. They may share their ministry philosophy and mission statement and list volunteer opportunities. Some ministry leaders even blog, adding new content on a regular basis, but the emphasis is still on broadcasting information.
Web 2.0 is moving toward engagement, conversation, and even the development of new relationships. Think Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the wide range of social media platforms and tools that exist today. Web 2.0 is no longer about merely broadcasting. It is all about relationships and the discussions that develop as a result. My nephew posts pictures of his newborn son on his Facebook page. I download them to my computer, so I can show my family, and then leave a congratulatory post for the proud parents. Or I read a question posted in the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Clergy Facebook group and add my thoughts to the long line of responders. Here, ELCA clergy from around the country meet and share questions, concerns, and joys—something that could not happen in quite this way prior to Web 2.0. And on Twitter I can follow and converse with a wide variety of people, depending on my interests. I just have to do it in 140 characters or less. The use of social media can deepen relationships we already cherish and create new connections with those around the world.
While there is still debate over what exactly Web 3.0 is and how it is emerging. Meredith Gould, sociologist, digital strategist, communications consultant, and author of The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways, refers to it as “portable personalized content and search functions”1 that we carry around on our tablets and smartphones, both of which are basically portable computers. For many of us, the primary function of our hand-held communications device has shifted. We carry computers in our pockets that just happen to function as phones, too. Technology is altering our lives. Walk into any crowd and observe how many people are checking their handheld devices for text messages or using them for Internet surfing on the go. No longer do we have to sit in a restaurant with a friend wracking our brains to remember who starred in a favorite movie. Now, we can pull out our phone and look it up using one of dozens of search engines. We are always connected. Says Gould, “Social media has led to significant changes in culture in terms of values, beliefs, attitudes as well as social structures such as groups, organizations, institutions. People who do not use, let alone study, social media are probably unable to trace their sense of how culture and society has changed due to social media.”2
Now I will look at leadership through the lens of our highly relational and networked world.
Church Leadership 1.0
Church Leadership 1.0 developed with the growth of Christendom. It began with the creation of councils and structures to formalize the Christian faith. It developed into the pre-Internet and late-twentieth-century leadership with which many of us are most familiar. Its focus was on the organizational structure. It exhibited—and where it is practiced, still exhibits—the “broadcast” characteristics of Web 1.0. Because of this, it is also centralized and hierarchical. Think mainline denominational offices, judicatories, and congregations that have typically been organized based on a traditional, top-down flow chart. While leadership may be vested in a council or board, Leadership 1.0 still looks to a central figurehead. In denominational offices a bishop or executive officer is typically at the top of the organizational pyramid. Many congregations have looked to their pastors to act as theological CEOs.
When I attended seminary, we joked about the “Herr Pastor” style in the Lutheran congregations in which we grew up. The pastor was the ultimate authority, and he (only men were pastors in the Lutheran church when I was growing up) knew it. This was an age when people relied on expertise, and the presumption was that since he had attended seminary, he was the only one trained in theology and congregational leadership. I recall that in the 1960s in my Lutheran congregation in Trenton, New Jersey, the pastor was the president of the congregation council, the norm for some Lutheran congregations at that time. In most areas of the congregational life, the pastor had final say, especially concerning worship. Members deferred to him as the trained expert. The congregation mirrored what was happening in society at the time, and it worked. In the mid-twentieth century, corporations flourished and so did congregations.