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 Iâ€™ve been thinking about online community and how that should operate.
I happened to pick up the â€œPurpose Driven Lifeâ€ 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 â€“ sharing true feelings
Mutuality â€“ encourage each other
Sympathy â€“ support each other
Mercy â€“ forgive each other
Honesty â€“ speak the truth in love
Humility â€“ admit our weaknesses
Courtesy â€“ respect our differences
Confidentiality â€“ not gossip
Frequency â€“ 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 â€“ nine similar characteristics with an online slant aimed at active forum users. Which means you!
Realness â€“ Iâ€™m myself, I share the faith-life questions that Iâ€™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 â€“ I can expect to find support from other users, but this also means that I will actively seek outside â€˜offlineâ€™ encouragement where possible as I acknowledge that people online can only offer â€˜soâ€™ much from their distant position. (See Matt 25:44-45; 1 Cor 12:4-7)
Understanding â€“ 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), itâ€™s okay to share but each must to an extent carry their own burden. (See Gal 6:1-5)
Patience â€“ tempers and differences flair on forums, we all know that. Itâ€™s great to have a lively discussion yet when it reaches the point of smashing someoneâ€™s opinion into the ground thatâ€™s not acceptable, work through differences in a mature manner even if you are on the â€˜receiving endâ€™ 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 â€“ gently correct, youâ€™ll never win someone over by pushing a personal opinion onto them, biblical backing is the best way to present a â€˜Christian Perspectiveâ€™, this isnâ€™t to say you canâ€™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 â€“ be ready to own up to where you might have over stepped the line, better still, donâ€™t overstep it in the first place! Treat other users with respect. (See Phil 2:1-4)
Respect â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€˜other personsâ€™ story, mentioning names etc if they say no, donâ€™t share it.
Frequency â€“ This is totally up to you, I think itâ€™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. Weâ€™d love to â€˜get to know youâ€™ 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.
Iâ€™m looking forward to seeing what comes of this and what God has in store for us!