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Networked: leaders are networked in a couple of ways — first, they are aware of how community can be created, sustained, and nurtured through the use of technology; they realize that today on-line connection serves to deepen what a congregation can offer; second, they are not afraid of technology, and know how to learn through electronic means, and are able to find what they need, or find the person who knows, what they need moving forward…

How can we be 21st century leaders without taking part in the social network revolution?

When congregations endeavor to explore their vision and mission, they often hold workshops to explore the bigger, deeper questions of “why” they exist and “what” is the difference they are seeking to make in their greater community. The “why” and “what” questions often reveal that many of our congregations have a decidedly inward focus, and are missing the revolution of social networking which is happening all around them. Inevitably, as all human systems do, there is a gravitational pull to deal with that which feels most urgent, whether that is exploring the move to two services (due to a lack of space), or wondering why there are so many Sunday visitors who don’t come back. Many of the answers to these questions, which are often framed as problems, indicate a need for leaders to grow their skill base in understanding how communities are created, sustained and nurtured through the use of technology.

You may ask how social networking and the use of on-line connections can serve to deepen what you offer in addressing worship and space needs. Those congregational leaders who have taken the time to go deeper, and to think of networked solutions, find that innovative and responsive answers do emerge. What is most important is that the immersion into the social network stratosphere inevitably serves the greater purpose of growing Unitarian Universalism.

When your worship team thinks beyond what is offered solely face-to-face on a Sunday morning, and boldly imagines worship that is being live-streamed and offered virtually to your community and the greater world, a new horizon emerges. Those networked leaders become engaged in creating and finding new videos which express the values that we hold so dear; those networked leaders find ways for viewers to find ways to connect in face to face meet up opportunities with other UUs in your community, and, of critical importance, the networked worship experiences speak in a resounding and relational way with youth, young adults and beyond.

When our MidAmerica team and board were boldly imagining the creation of a MidAmerica Region (where congregations cover an expanse from the Dakotas, to the Plains, to the Ohio Valley, and extend northwards to the UP of Michigan) the distances and cultural differences seemed overwhelming. By holding to a vision course, which can be expressed that “we are better together,” we then expanded our understanding of the virtual skills we needed to help make this happen. For example, in expanding to a Regional Assembly beyond the former district assembly model, we knew that there must be a virtual way to network and connect MA leaders. In that vein, we offered the first multi-site regional assembly in 2014 with live streaming and multi-site voting. Clusters of congregations met together and virtually connected with folks in each of the four sites; and folks brought their comments to live discussions with our Board. We found a way to grow a bigger vision, and to enhance our networked consciousness so that we could embrace and invite in all who sought to take part.

As an example of some super resources of 21st century UU leaders who have embraced new ways of being networked, check out the MidAmerica congregations who are live-streaming and archiving their worship so that they can be connected beyond those inside their building on any given day.

About the Author

Nancy Combs-Morgan

Nancy Combs-Morgan has been immersed in Unitarian Universalist faith development for 26+ years, including 6 as a Director of Religious Education, and 20 years on UUA district and regional staff.

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