Friday, November 26, 2004

On-Line Resources for Face-to-Face Community Building

It's been a few months since I mentioned the Six Sigma Church initiative on these pages. Honestly, this is one of the juiciest projects I am involved in, and it's tempting to post on it more frequently. But with the privilege of insider-dom comes the responsibility of discretion, and so I must allow a thin veneer of historical perspective to come between real-life politics and my public posts.

All that to say that this exciting project of congregational empowerment got shot down over the summer, before it even had a chance to take off. After a couple weeks of teeth-gnashing, though, our Six Sigma Squadron started smiling again when we were re-authorized with an even bigger mandate than we had started with.

Now we are recovered from the summer drama and ready to fly, once again. Our mission: to lead a diverse congregation of 500 through a discussion of the role we all play in our shared ministry -- a sort of "congregational check-up." We aim ultimately to promote not just vitality and strategic thinking but also grass-roots empowerment.

We have an ambitious plan to get this community-wide discussion started over the next six months. We're starting with a written survey that will broadly assess the congregational mood. Then in March 2005 we'll use the survey results to help organize a series of neighborhood meetings, run as facilitated small-group discussions. In May 2005 we'll organize a couple big town-hall style meetings to review what came out of the neighborhood groups.

I love leading bottom-up organizational projects like this -- helping 500 people recognize their common voice. This time around, much more than ever before, I am attuned to the ways we can use the Internet to help our community thrive:

SurveyMonkey -- a convenient way to administer surveys. Compared to using only paper forms, we expect the combination of paper and on-line survey forms to significantly boost participation. By encouraging use of on-line forms whenever possible, we expect to virtually eliminate tedious data entry and focus purely on more interesting analyses. Results and analyses will also be available in real-time to everyone.

WorldCrossing -- a great platform for creating free on-line discussion forums. By hooking on-line survey repondents directly into this forum, we can stimulate an on-going community-wide discussion directly, without leaving survey participants waiting for weeks before we can make sense of survey results and organize neighborhood group discussions. (Thanks to on-line community expert Ari Davidow for recommending WebCrossing and WorldCrossing to me.)

We are also considering blogs as another on-line community tool. Bill Ives recently shared a great example of a community blog, "The uvScene." Bill also pointed me to a post by Lee LeFever about why blogs are good for running on-line communities.

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