ATwitter Vicar & models of Church

Sky News featured a story entitled “Britain’s first ‘Twitter Vicar'” about a Vicar who “is harnessing the power of social media to spice up sermons in his church”. Fantastic.

Check out the link to hear how the Rev. Andrew Alden is using Twitter at Church to encourage people to tweet questions and participate in the sermon through social media:

It’s great to see the press highlighting the ways the Church is embracing social media. Often its assumed the Church is slow to pick up on new technologies, but that’s not entirely the case as this example shows.

As you’ll know from reading my posts on it, I’m really in favour of bringing Twitter and social media into Church. We are a culture that have become accustomed to interaction – social media has played a huge role in this.

Being talked AT and broadcasted TO, when we get no chance to share our thoughts, no longer is the norm. It’s the almost-bygone era of the ‘classroom model’ used when we were growing up, where someone stood at the front and talked for ages and everyone passively listened and made notes. Sure, this still exists in some spheres, but less and less.

So why do we often use this model in Church?

Using social media within Church gatherings will seem irreverent to some. It will seem distracting to some. But it will be life-changing to others who otherwise might walk away from Church altogether, confused by it’s ‘broadcast’ model of communication and the lack of engagement.

There are lots of other Church leaders/Vicars/event organisers/speakers who already do this. A big shout out to all of them! But Andrew is definitely a key example and did a brilliant job interacting with the media and representing Church brilliantly. I think it’s great that Sky highlighted Andrew, as it’s great for the public to see that the Church is engaging with online culture. You can read the full Sky story here.

Do you think Twitter in Church is a good thing, a distraction, irreverent…? Do you agree with the diagram above, that Church should reflect the more engaging manner of School and work places, rather than the Classroom model? If the Church is to exist in a hundred years, these questions are vital.

  • Luke Leadbetter

    I heard about this a week or so ago, and am very much for it! (as you’re probably learning, I like social media a lot (I also just signed up for Pinterest!)) I have doubts about twitter in church, I think that there is the chance for it to become a distraction, and to draw us away from the real message of a sermon or talk. On the flip side, and to me the more prominent side, I think that Twitter during church provides a valuable opportunity to explore and grow in our faith, through challenges that we may not normally make within a service, as well as expansion on previously made points.

  • Adrianjgerman

    I got told off for using AV and the key points of my sermon a few years ago, although our church has moved forward a little (Luke may disagree) since then. I had a disagreement with a non-Christian recently who thinks one should not keep one’s mobile on during the worship, whereas I, (someone who attends and leads worship) think it should stay on 1) I sometimes pray for all my contacts 2) someone may be in trouble (this has happened) and we can then pray for them in church

  • TheAlethiophile

    As a Luddite, I’m sceptical about technology for the sake of it. Interaction may be great, but it need not necessarily have to involve a lot of gismos. My church is very small with a congregation of little over 100
    people. Heckling is positively encouraged and questions asked by the preacher are, unless otherwise stated, expected to have a response. He will even sit down in a huff if people aren’t responding. So in our instance, I would not see much need for it. Rather, a few of us might tweet soundbites using the hashtag #SermonTweet to share with others in other churches. Of course, what this misses is the
    detailed exegesis that the preacher gives.

    As a pragmatist, I’m always thinking about what’s most effective. With the school/work /church model, we need to ask ‘why have these more “open-plan” approaches been taken?’ and then ask the very big question ‘what is church for?’ To that latter question, there may be as many answers as there are churches; not necessarily mutually exclusive, just with different emphases. It’s only when an individual, local church can decide the answer to that question for themselves can they really go about asking how they can be effective in meetings their multifarious goals.

    Demographics also plays a big part. In the article linked to, Andrew Alden made specific reference to the 18-30s age group. There is a risk that in catering for one group that another may be excluded; this is true of just about every aspect of church life, so as always, we have to consider balance.

    In all this, the message itself should not be allowed to get obscured by the technology.

  • As part of Andrew’s congregation – and a follower of Vicky’s blog since Spring Harvest last year – and an online learning instructional designer – I love it! IT makes sense to me and is how I live and work and now live,, work and worship…
    We know Andrew isnt the first – the media have grabbed hold of it and love it – and we just love that the Gospel and the relevance of Church is out there getting some positive media attention… (Personally I think its the fact that we even have heard of twitter in deepest somerset that is making the headlines!!)
    And as Andrew succinctly put it – Jesus was a creative communicator – so should we – Gospel in 140 chars…

  • Some good questions there, on a topic I feel quite strongly about too! (I haven’t seen any of your other posts on Twitter as yet, but I’ll be sure to check them out!)

    I personally think that it’s important for churches to use whatever means there is available in order to reach as many people as possible, and with with more and more people on Twitter, I do think it has an important role to play if used well. But not all church leaders are tech-savvy and simply posting on Twitter for the sake of it doesn’t guarantee that it’s being used effectively. I think there has to be a reason. 

    In the church I attend, I tried to encourage using Twitter for promoting events, or sharing testimonies. The purpose was to complement our website and give an ongoing sense of church life so that those looking in could get a picture of who we are and what we’re doing – and how lives are being changed.

    As for social media during services themselves, I’m in two minds. It could be helpful if people in the congregation have questions about points that they haven’t understood during a preach, but people should feel able to raise those in person after the service anyway.

    For those who have already introduced social media, then that’s great if it’s working out. But unless a leader has a particular reason why they feel that integrating social media to their meetings would be a good thing, I’d probably rather it not be used just for the sake of it.

    And if that means that people have to sit quietly for 45 minutes and listen to some good “old fashioned” biblical teaching, then that’s not a bad thing in today’s fast paced world!

  • RobPringle2003

    I attended my first Twitter service at St Paul’s last night, and I found it really engaging! I like that my followers get a taste of the sermon as I quote bits, and get to ask questions.

    Definitely would like to see more of this kind of attitude towards preaching!

  • Bethanyannbennett

    I think this looks a promising way in which to engage with 21st century congregations. Good for him!

    I’ve seen this approach modeled at a conference and I thought it worked well and created a feeling of community and an identity for the corporate group which may not have previously existed as delegates had traveled from all around the United Kingdom to come to the event which was held in my home town. I think the gist was that attendees would text their comments and messages which would be shown on a large screen from the main platform. I like to have information presented to me in several different ways to help me remember it. The advantage of the approach the Vicar in the news clip is modeling is he is not only receiving tweets but then in addition verbally discussing and reviewing them. The social dimension I’m sure will help the congregation to remember and engage with the replies. 

    I was talking with my nephew over the summer about Church and religion in general. He was struggling to understand why those of the same belief could be different in terms of what they think and how they practice and yet still agree they are the of the same persuasion of faith.

    This had come up in his religious education classes and he was very clear he found it difficult to accommodate such a wide range of views about the same topics. I think if he had seen opinions written down from a first person point of view they may have been easier for him to digest and talk about.

    In a classroom discussion, or any debate or Q and A session, I think participants can be hindered from talking around the issues which concern them. They might talk about something which is different from the question they had in mind.

    A member of my extended family found this perplexity frustrating and problematic because he didn’t have a full understanding of how believers could be the same but different. I tried to communicate to him that communication itself can be very complex. People don’t always tell you how they feel or what they think. I explained part of growing up into an adult was learning to read between the lines, and because of the format of Church there was a lot of acting involved in the personal interactions. I said modern communication has shifted and now communication is about “telling yourself ” to someone else.

    I hoped this statement would leave some room for him to make up his own mind about who was right, if there was anybody he knew who he thought was right outright and that it would link verbal communication with character. I’m not trying to push my view on him by any means but I would like him to develop into someone who can be critical when needed while maintaining the unity in relationships he needs to get on in life. 

    I think many people prefer to “tell” themselves to others, now. And expect their audience to do some work joining the dots, when tackling an intellectual problem; or to employ their empathetic listening skills, and respond appropriately to a moral issue or a conundrum which is fixed on the emotions. This process is two way: I think it’s commonly accepted in all of the arts and humanities subjects, that what person x brings to a “text” is as significant as the text itself and will affect the perspectives person x takes while interpreting the medium and the meanings which he or she takes away.

    Meanings which are not constituted by persons and perspectives risk becoming meaningless. Twitter provides a useful interface through which congregations can engage, and it capitalizes upon the idea that church is a public space; where public lives and private thoughts can intersect. I’m encouraged this pioneering project is being moderated and initiated by the Vicar himself as it engenders feelings of safety and security. Something my previous experiences of church physical have lacked.

    I wonder if it would be useful to appoint digital elders to guide an initiative like this over the long term, or to have champions who could promote the sharing of resources for those who were smartphone-less during the meeting; or to help excluded members of the congregation to gain the skills and the confidence to try church online. My personal situation has been very stressful and hurtful and I sometimes see the world exclusively from this perspective. I do enjoy reading about new and positive developments amid the Churches in the UK. If I were to go back to a UK church and had a smart phone, this would be a convenient and relatively non combative way to engage and work through my initial stressors. I’m not sure how I would cope with the intense experience of several hours of face to face meetings with strangers after everything that has happened to me as a consequence of having been in this situation before.    


  • Beth

    I can’t believe I posted for so long. I’m desperate not to offend your readership. 

  • Great idea, Vicky. So are you going to encourage live tweets during your talks at Spring Harvest next week?


  • Luke Leadbetter

    If they’re in a similar form to The Youthwork Conference then most likely!

  • Richard Wyld

    The school-work-Church diagram seems all wrong to me. For one thing, the traditional Church layout we know probably began when school didn’t exist and work looked like agricultural labour. But equally, school can look pretty ugly as can work, not the idealised round tables in the picture. I don’t want Church to look like my school or workplace to be honest..

  • Richard Wyld

    Can’t seem to delete the above comment, but notice it seems a bit harsh. Whoops. Sorry.

  • Matt McChlery

    This is a great story – I love it when church becomes relevant to the culture they are embedded within!

    I think interactivity with what is being preached about is excellent. It engages the listener in what is being said a lot more and adding emelents of technology just further engages and excites the younger generations in particular.
    I am in talks with my church leadership at the moment to try and use the YouVersion Bible app where your church can create ‘Live Events’ and congregations can access that and follow along within the meeting as well as interact with the sermon etc all live on the YouVersion site and app. I think it’s worth a try!