Trouble with first-timers


Do you tweet? I don't. There. I said it. I've tried a few times but never really stuck with it. I like the challenge of finding something witty to say in 140 characters or less, but it's not something I can have running in the background of my mind while moving through the day. For me, tweeting takes too much time and attention, and like other social media platforms, it is hard to measure the ROI.

After listening in on an earnings call this week, CNN Money reported that Twitter has acknowledged it is facing a significant problem. It appears that people who know how to use the micro-blogging site seem to love it, but nubies are often slow to adopt and rarely stick with it.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter's co-founder and interim CEO, called this revelation "unacceptable." As I read on and learned about Twitter's attempts to change – more disciplined execution, simplify the service, help people understand it's importance – it started to echo some of the challenges facing today's church.

There, you have a great product – really the best and most important product if you think about it – a group of folks who really get it – they love the church and are passionate about its mission – and then you have nubies who try it out and for one reason or another just don't get it like existing members do.

While Twitter can try harder, tinker to improve its user interface, and better market itself to entice new members, I wonder if there isn't an almost cultural aspect involved.

John Ortberg, in The Life You've Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, warns of pseudo-spiritual formation in individuals and the church, and describes boundary markers as "highly visible, relatively superficial practices – matters of vocabulary or dress or style – whose purpose is to distinguish between those inside a group and those who are outside."

Ortberg then describes the true center of spiritual formation, that we should long not to be "conformed to a religious subculture but transformed into 'new creatures.'"

I know that in my brief bouts with Twitter there were times I felt I didn't belong. And I can't help but think some folks feel that way when they step into a sanctuary on Sunday morning. What practical steps do we need to take to attract and retain first-timers, and what cultural aspects might we need to address to ensure that, once there, we love them as our neighbor?

One thing Twitter has going for it, leadership knows there's a problem. They haven't fixed it yet, but they know they've got to. What about our situation do we find unacceptable? What, if anything, are we willing to change?

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