Social Design for mission and ministry (6): building conversation

The next step in the Facebook Developers’ recipe for good Social Design is to build conversation.

Some of what gets said there about conversation wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out. Like, “An effective conversation is based in two experiences: ‘Listening’ [and] ‘Speaking’.” You don’t say!

But it’s their practical advice on how to facilitate conversation that could prove really illuminating for our practice of mission and ministry.

On the listening side of things, Facebook Developers propose a two-pronged strategy:

  1. “Presenting information about the activity and actions of others” — to help people see themselves potentially engaging with what you’re offering.
  2. Notifying people of activity that is specifically relevant to them — to invite action (and interaction) not just with your faceless app or programme but with real people.

When it comes to speaking and sharing, they present five related strategies:

  • Focus the conversation.
  • Reduce ‘sharing friction’ — ie. hurdles to easily sharing content.
  • Encourage feedback.
  • Encourage sharing.
  • Enable people to share outside Facebook (emailing, clipping for a blog post, etc)

Now, obviously enough, the fundamental Christian conviction that Jesus is risen and is therefore Lord will shape the way we engage with the whole issue of conversation.

On the one hand, there’s a kind of ‘proclamation imperative’ woven into the fabric of the Christian message. Some things aren’t up for discussion.

We’ve just got to reckon with this — however we end up capturing it (I personally like the way John Dickson describes promoting the gospel as a ‘reality mission’). The Jesus we want to share and introduce people to makes exclusive and absolute claims.

On the other hand, the New Testament describes the gospelling activities of the earliest Christians with reference to a wide range of speech-acts: persuading, reasoning, arguing, proving, and (of course) proclaiming.

If we fail to contend with this, we risk confusing our own words — as profound and insightful as they no doubt are — with God’s own self-revelation. And here be dragons!

In the end, I feel it’s the way talk of conversation can help insure us against this risk that makes it so valuable. It’s one way to stop ourselves overstepping the bounds of our humanness.

More on how to move in the direction of implementation in our ministry early next week…

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