If Deloitte researchers had watched any of the build-up to the 2009 College Conference at Montreat Conference Center January 2–5 — or if they had attended the conference itself — their observations surely would have been confirmed.
The blog for the conference, themed “Outrageous Generosity,” went live before last year’s conference even began. The very first post included an impressive promotional video that was also shown at the end of the 2008 conference. Later posts advertised when small group leader applications were available and featured links to the “Outrageous Generosity” group on Facebook.
In the months leading up to the conference, planning team members and volunteers made videos introducing themselves to would-be conferees. Campus ministry groups from Georgia Tech and Auburn universities used footage from a homeless outreach event to inspire and to prepare students for the four-day event.
During the conference, students and leaders used Twitter, a popular basic social networking tool that publishes brief statements from its users. Everyone who “tweeted” (sent a Twitter message) during the conference tagged their message with “#mcc09,” which allowed those interested to track messages associated with the conference.
Students exchanged almost 300 messages in the days surrounding the conference, and messages included everything from updates on activities (“Catching some dinner, then back to film Tony Campolo for #mcc09”), to quotes from the keynotes and sermons (“Lisa: Invite America into the adventure of compassion. #mcc09”), to schedule reminders (“College Conference – Up Next: Worship @ 8pm, Jonathan Kingham Live in Concert @ 9:30pm. (follow on twitter @ #mcc09).”), to comments from those who couldn’t attend (“What do you get when a tenth of your tweeps are in the same room? If you’re me, you get the Montreat College Conference. #mcc09”).
The tag letters were chosen by none other than the moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Bruce Reyes-Chow, who attended the conference and who has been noted for being particularly tech-savvy among denomination leadership. During a town hall-style meeting he held at the conference, he said that making technology a part of congregational life is only one way of exploring the future of the church.
“If anything, I think my time as moderator is giving folks permission to think about being pastors, leaders, elders, church people differently, if not to actually do it, then to talk about it,” he said in response to a question about what the church should take away from his 21st-century leadership style. “The last thing I want anybody to do is to go back to their church of 40 people … of whatever demographic and say, ‘Now we all have to get on Facebook because that will save the church!’ It won’t.”
But Reyes-Chow said he hopes his unique pastoral style will open the door for further discussion.
“I’m helping to push things out there so that there’s some permission for us to talk about being church differently, especially around technology and the way we engage and communicate.”