I had the privilege of being part of the Blessed team at the Greenbelt Festival this year as part of my placement with Fr Simon Rundell (I am half way through my training for the priesthood at Cranmer Hall). One of the worship events we put on was a service entirely conducted through Twitter. This was an experiment to explore how worship can work online. Below is an analysis of how it went and some thoughts for doing something similar in the future.
An online service was conducted on Twitter on Sunday 25th August 2013 at 2pm during the Greenbelt Festival. Before conducting the service a discussion paper was produced outlining the idea, a script/liturgy was developed and adapted with input from a variety of people and the service was advertised via the Big Bible Project website and through various tweets.
The discussion paper stated:
“Other experiments have used social media as an adjunct to face-to-face worship: eliciting feedback in the midst of live worship, but this is only possible when there is a locus of physical sacred space. How might this look when placed entirely in the ether?”
So this was a service conducted entirely through twitter – with no face to face ‘live’ element involved.
The script was developed and tweets prepared by copying and pasting into Tweetdeck. One person tweeted the liturgy (Fr Simon) and four people retweeted and responded as and when appropriate to different tweets – either on the @tw_worship account or their own personal accounts. We decided to be all together using the contributors’ lounge at Greenbelt as we had a good power source and reliable wifi. It also helped to be able to discuss face to face the different needs of tweeters. We became aware of the risk of reaching our tweet limit (1000 tweets a day including retweets) about 10 minutes in so we started to reduce the number of times we retweeted others on the same twitter account.
A total of 544 tweets using the #gb40smw hashtag were sent over the life of the experiment, on the day of the service 494 tweets were sent. The @tw_worship account has 150 followers (although this can’t be a measure of how many took part).
@tw_worship survey results
- 18 people responded to the survey we sent out via twitter using SurveyMonkey, two thirds women, a third men.
- The age range of the participants was from 18 to 69 with the majority being in the 50-59 age range.
- Two thirds of the respondents tweeted from home, a third were at the Greenbelt Festival as they tweeted.
- Most respondents felt that they sometimes engaged with God and other tweeters through this experience.
Here are some of their responses:
“It felt very spiritual in a way I had not previously used twitter”
“I was a bit easily distracted – but sitting at my desk with work all around! And kept loving bits of music and then googling them looking for new resources! But – afterward – really felt I had connected – especially with God 🙂”
“It was a good experience – shame there weren’t more prayers to get a wide view of people’s concerns.”
“I wasn’t always clear about what was happening – maybe a good thing! But it was a great experience to share worship online live.”
- The least successful/effective part of the service seems to have been the links to external content – like audio and video items. Some of this was because people tweeted along whilst attending other events and so couldn’t play videos.
- Here are some more comments on the effectiveness of the service:
“At times it felt a little slow – at times I got a bit confused (ie when listening to a track and then looking at images – thought I’d got left behind, stopped the track and then realised I should still have it going #sillyme”
“The end of the service was best for me – felt it had got into a good rhythm so I stuck with it. However, I was expecting it to be shorter by about 15-20 mins and think that kind of timeframe might have worked better. Tricky tho a you got the balance so right in terms of leaving space and time for responses.”
“I think this was a bit too long for the content – there were long pauses between some elements.”
“I found the hashtag intrusive – though it was good to see others’ responses some of them were distracting. No one’s fault, guess this just didn’t work for me this time.”
“I found it irritating – maybe it is just me but making Twitter the main medium seemed gimmicky rather than the best choice to enable people to join in online.”
- Over half of respondents said they would take part in such a service again:
“First experience and would use it again I felt engaged and close to others. Initially found it by retweets.”
“Thanks! Good to be a part of it 😉”
“I would give it another go but don’t think it could ever replace being there [at Greenbelt]. Thanks for all the time, care, thought, prayer and attention that went into it. I can see that it was a lot of work.”
The service online was largely successful and provided people the opportunity to take part in an act of worship at the Greenbelt Festival whether physically present or not. One of the especially good reasons to conduct services online like this is because it enables people with illnesses or disabilities to partake fully.
Here are some suggestions for running something similar in the future:
- Having a team in the same room responding to tweets and managing the service (would suggest at least three people are needed)
- Using a hashtag and dedicated twitter account
- Tweeting pictures as well as text
To take out
- Tweeting links to video and audio clips on external sites was a bit too confusing for people or they were unable to view them because of their location
To include next time
- Plan the timings of the tweets beforehand so that the service sticks to a shorter timescale (1 hour is too long to concentrate on twitter)
- Create a page with instructions/service outline on a blog to direct people to if they are confused (also add this link to the Twitter account bio)
- Images with text on could be used effectively – and are likely to be shared more widely
Here are some of the tweets from the day: