Google+ (Jesus+You)=Vital Practices

By Greg Troxell, part of the Vestry Papers issue on Real Basics for Vestries (January 2012)

The Internet experienced another massive shift on June 28, 2011 when Vic Gundotra announced [i] the launch of Google+ a.k.a. G+, googleplus.

During the last seven years many churches have integrated social media resources such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Foursquare, and blogging into their communication and community building strategy. Each of these tools helps to create a well-rounded communication strategy. Social media reaches not only youth and college aged adults but those who are 30, 50, and 60+.  

If you belong to a church that is not yet using these free tools, this latest advance [Google+] should cause a faith quake resulting in social and administrative changes. Social networks are here to stay and it’s time to use them. Social networking is built on the motivational felt need [ii] for humans to connect and belong to a caring community. Social media allows us to strengthen our commitment to being a vital congregation [iii] with meaningful worship, a caring community, enriching discipleship, responsible stewardship, and significant outreach.

At All Saints’ in Carmel, California social media has helped us reach these groups and foster further engagement, dialogue, and connection. In addition to these platforms, we have been using Google programs extensively. They have helped our staff and congregational leaders become more efficient, connected, and effective at collaborating. Google products are free and work well whether using Windows, Apple, or a smart phone. The moment Google unleashed G+ for organizations we launched our own profile at All Saints and have been pleased with what we are discovering on G+.   

Google+ Hangouts 

G+ has many of the features people have come to enjoy on Facebook and the two giants are fueling many competitive improvements and a market niche for each. The native integration between gmail contacts, email, calendar, Google docs, and YouTube makes G+ very user friendly. Even more exciting to me is the inclusion of G+ group videoconference technology, what G+ calls a hangout. Hangouts allow any member to commence a group video conference/call with up to ten people, all for free.

No doubt you’ve used a speakerphone during a vestry meeting, or perhaps for a telephone interview of an applicant for a job opening. Adding video is a nice touch to these standard communication tools. Video allows people to see nonverbal communication and increases attentiveness. While gmail has provided free 1:1 video calls, G+ Hangouts open a new realm of possibilities. I’ve used hangouts to:   

  • Join a staff meeting when I was out of town 
  • Convene a mentoring/small group conversation with 5 others 
  • Set up a congregation hangout (video chat room) 
  • Network with a group of Episcopalians that share a common interest 
  • Hold interfaith conversations 
  • Enjoy a video chat with three of my children who attend different colleges on the East Coast   

G+ Hangouts are designed to foster engaging dialogue and connection. The technology is minimal, giving almost ubiquitous and easy access to anyone with high speed internet (cable, fiber, wifi, mobile, satellite, fixed-wireless) in suburban and metropolitan areas as well as for those living in what are considered underserved communities and rural farmland and deserts.  

Cost Saving Advantages

Some Episcopal Provinces are subscribed to Adobe Connect, paying for access and using conference call technology that adds additional charges for toll-free calls. Other offices use subscription based Go-to-Meeting/Webinar which has limited interactive features and is set up for unidirectional dispensation of information and knowledge. Since G+ is free and offers integrated holistic communication solutions, I suspect that it may satisfy the needs and goals of vestry and finance teams alike.   

Why Bother

The incessant development of more and more social networks may be exhausting to some. Those who are not so geeky may ask, “Why bother?” Beyond the cost savings, ease of access, and lifelong learning advantages, G+ also offers another venue for our church to be present, witness, and meet the world.  

For comparison sake I’d like to invite you to consider the behavior of the larger Church in the United States. We have more than 217 denominations, nearly 335,000 congregations [iv] , each is committed to proclaiming the Gospel while appealing to different spiritual appetites and convictions of people and still only 40% say they attend church each week. Still we plant more churches and offer two or three distinctively unique worship and liturgical experiences during the week. We do this because we want to reach people, serving them in love, and sharing with them the good news of Jesus Christ.  

We are a tribal people [v] and these social networks, like our various styles of worship, allow people in different circles to connect with our churches and include members in the responsibility of evangelism, encouragement, and discipleship. Sure it will still be important for people to meet face to face, but in between meetings and for those who can’t drive or convene with the rest of the group, G+ Hangouts allow us to stay connected and learn from one another.

G+ hangouts could be used by our seminaries, churches and diocesan centers to offer:

  • Online classes 
  • Mini conferences 
  • Mentoring 
  • Meetings 
  • Check-ins 
  • Distance learning communities 
ECF Vital Practices Hangouts

ECF Vital Practices is piloting a series of Google + Hangouts beginning February 2012. Working in partnership, the ECF Vital Practices team and I will offer technical sessions to help people throughout the church become familiar with the technology. Additionally, I and other congregational leaders, in collaboration with ECF Vital Practices, will offer a variety of hangouts to foster an interactive learning community for Episcopalians interested in shaping the future vitality of the church.  

My own passion for ministry will be the focus of the hangouts I lead, reflecting my own ministry across a variety of settings and roles. The objective is to engage in dialogue and cultivate a learning community across the church on each subject. I invite you to join me and connect so that we might consider partnering to create even more hangouts that also reflect your strengths, vocation, skills and ministry.  

Greg Troxell is the parish administrator at All Saints Episcopal Church in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. He also serves on the Commission on Ministry for the Diocese of El Camino Real and has led seminars in California, Virginia, and abroad on vocational discernment and strategic planning for churches and other ecumenical para-church organizations. Visit Greg on Google+.

Resources 

Google+ Resources:  

Google+ Hangouts:

Footnotes

[i] Google blog announcing G+ 
[ii] The Emotional Spectrum, was developed to guide the relevant proclamation of the gospel in emergent ministry and pastoral situations. The matrix is a mind map of felt needs, emotion, emotions (reactive, motivational and virtuous) and the perilous evils/ills that besiege those whose faith has not yet permitted them to take hold of the abundant blessing God has promised all humanity. (Download the chart
[iii] Read the introduction to learn more about what we mean by Vitality and Growth in the Diocese of El Camino Real.
[iv] Statistics provided by http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/fastfacts/fast_facts.html#attend

[v] Seth Godin




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