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Tribes, Web 2.0, and Ministry

September 15, 2009

One the insider buzzwords of 2009 is the word “Tribe”.

A tribe is any social group that has a natural affinity for a common cause or interest, some type of initiation or hazing, and some form of leadership – typically a single chief. Republicans, Oprah viewers, U of Texas fans, folks who went to the Washington DC Tea Party last Saturday, or Microsoft MVPs are all examples of tribes. When you meet someone in your tribe you instantly connect at least in the area of common interest.

2009’s marketing goal is to somehow generate a feeling of tribe around a company’s cause or product. The idea is that a “tribe” of users, all interested and participating in the same community, would grow the interest in the organization.

What does this have to do with Web 2.0?

The on-line industry has been all atwitter about Web 2.0 for the last couple of years. It’s hard to actually define Web 2.0, but essentially Web 2.0 is about creating virtual tribes.

A Web 1.0 web site would give the user no indication that there was anyone else going to the web site. If you went to your bank’s website and transferred funds there’s no community – it’s just you and the web site. You have no idea if the bank has any other web customers and you don’t really care.

A Web 2.0 web site encourages the users to participate in a community if users. Social media sites, such as Twitter, Linked-IN, and Facebook are popular because they encourage or facilitate participation in a tribe.

(Web 2.0 is also an evolution of the programming style of the web page – downloading more information initially so that the web page can seem more responsive. A Web 2.0 page can almost feel like a thick client application.)

What does this have to do with Ministry?

As excited as business are about tribes and Web 2.0, these ideas apply more to ministries than to businesses. BestBuy shoppers do not naturally feel an affinity for one another, but folks who sponsor orphans in Zambia, or listeners to the same radio ministry do feel a common bond. Because ministries are formed around a common cause, Web 2.0 is a natural fit for ministries.

A wise ministry will recognize that their cause is larger than just the (human) chief of their tribe. It takes every member of the tribe to serve the cause. If everyone who supported your ministry consciously identified with the ministry as a vital part of that tribe it would have powerful impact.  Web 2.0 is one way to grow that feeling of affinity.

How can a ministry use Web 2.0 to encourage their tribe?

There are plenty of ways a ministry can use Web 2.0:

  • The leader can tweet about their day, giving tribe members a closer connection with their (human) chief.
  • Multiple blogs by several in the ministry can keep everyong up to date with what’s happening. This means that the minsitry should allow and encourage everyone to blog from the CEO to the field leaders to the volunteers.
  • The tribe’s web site can include a blogroll – an up-to-the-minute listing of activities. For example, “a new sponsor in Conn sponsors a child in Peru”, “A volunteer in Ireland just signed up for a mission trip”, “a child in Sudan just received a letter”, “203 orphans gathered for a Bible Camp”. This scrolling list gives viewers a sense that exciting things are happening right now and they are in the know.
  • Show tribe members how they have impacted lives directly and indirectly. If someone gave to a fund, and that fund built an orphan home, which serves 12 kids, make sure that the tribe member is thanked not just for the gift to the fund, but they see the photos of the 12 kids they indirectly helped.
  • Help tribe members voluntarily find one another online. Make it easy to discuss the tribe online.

In a Web 2.0 tribe, the tribe members can speak up. They can cheer when someone volunteers to work a concert, or they boo when they disagree with the chief. They see the activities on the blogroll. If 821 kids are sponsored on Orphan Sunday everyone is encouraged; but when nothing happens one day, everyone knows.

This level of transparency and vulnerability is scary for a business, and may feel frightening to you as well. But a ministry’s commission isn’t to be successful. It’s to be faithful. Proverbs 3:5-6. We take our steps in faith and God plants our feet where He wants them to be planted. While it’s not natural for a business to want to be transparent about the good times and the bad times, ministries have an obligation to be honest about both the bounty and the desert.

For ministries, Web 2.0 is more than a new technology, it’s a philosophy of trust within the tribe and trust in the tribes (divine) chief.

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