Let me be really rude and plug something I wrote a year or so ago – just in case it is helpful to anyone. Contextually, this was written for a disscusion board type of online community. I don’t get enough comments to really have to apply it to this blog but I might do to keep things in mind. Oh, and I never did finish The Purpose Driven Life.
How can we make an online community work?
In the lead up to this new Gush I’ve been thinking about online community and how that should operate.
I happened to pick up the “Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. Chapter 19 talks about cultivating community, which believe is something intrinsic to living life as a Christian in light of a Trinitarian, relational God.
Warren outlines nine characteristics of Biblical fellowship:
Authenticity – sharing true feelings
Mutuality – encourage each other
Sympathy – support each other
Mercy – forgive each other
Honesty – speak the truth in love
Humility – admit our weaknesses
Courtesy – respect our differences
Confidentiality – not gossip
Frequency – make group a priority
It’s difficult to translate literally across into an online setting as it’s such a left field thing to do. Authenticity for example must come with some kind of restraint in regards to safety of the user, humility is different in light of a wide audience and frequency may be valued or it simply be another means of procrastination.
Might I suggest the following – nine similar characteristics with an online slant aimed at active forum users. Which means you!
Realness – I’m myself, I share the faith-life questions that I’m coming across in my own life in order to open discussion so that I and the wider group of forum users can benefit. I am only open in giving examples to the extent to which I am comfortable. No one can force me to share anything, however if shared, it shall be treated according to the other characteristics below.
Encouragement – I can expect to find support from other users, but this also means that I will actively seek outside ‘offline’ encouragement where possible as I acknowledge that people online can only offer ‘so’ much from their distant position. (See Matt 25:44-45; 1 Cor 12:4-7)
Understanding – If you happen to be willing to share something it will be treated with respect, users will do their utmost to offer support by means of biblical/experiential advice or sharing of similar experiences, yet you should be seeking offline relationships as they far surpass the online. This is also a good place to ask that you be wary of offloading everything onto one person (a common thing on msn), it’s okay to share but each must to an extent carry their own burden. (See Gal 6:1-5)
Patience – tempers and differences flair on forums, we all know that. It’s great to have a lively discussion yet when it reaches the point of smashing someone’s opinion into the ground that’s not acceptable, work through differences in a mature manner even if you are on the ‘receiving end’ of the hurtful comments. Bring unresolved or difficult to resolve conflict to the forum leaders. (See 1 Cor 13; James 1:19-21: 1 Peter 3:8-9)
Tact – gently correct, you’ll never win someone over by pushing a personal opinion onto them, biblical backing is the best way to present a ‘Christian Perspective’, this isn’t to say you can’t present your own but be prepared to listen to those who have sought God and his word on the issue. (See 2 Tim 4:1-5, Matt 18:15-17)
Humility – be ready to own up to where you might have over stepped the line, better still, don’t overstep it in the first place! Treat other users with respect. (See Phil 2:1-4)
Respect – a big one in the online world! Respect differences. Read the posts before you thoroughly before condemning their opinion give them a fair go, clarify what you think they are saying if you are unsure. (See Proverbs 18:13)
Confidentiality – the reality is that an open forum is not a place for confidentiality, yet this is still imperative when the issue is not your own, ask before sharing that ‘other persons’ story, mentioning names etc if they say no, don’t share it.
Frequency – This is totally up to you, I think it’s great if you can positively contribute regularly, however this is online, and just a tiny fraction of life. This is not a typical community. We’d love to ‘get to know you’ but you are free to come and go as you please, you are not bound in any way to stay. (See Acts 2:42-47; Heb 10:25)
Finally, if you could prayerfully consider your participation in the new boards and keep the discussion going around the kind of community you want to see happen that would be great.
I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of this and what God has in store for us!