What Sweden’s Social Experiment Can Teach The Church

NPR’s Ari Shapiro shared this fascinating story about Sweden’s social media experiment, Curators of Sweden.

“Every week, someone in Sweden is @Sweden: sole ruler of the world’s most democratic Twitter account.”

Patrick Kampmann is the brain behind the experiment. In his interview with NPR, Kampmann describes how he had hoped that the experiment would help disprove the stereotype that Swedes are perfect, superficial, and a bit boring. Over the last 3 years, almost 150 Swedes have stepped onto their nation’s Twitter stage and taken the microphone. The results are funny, a bit inappropriate at times, but ultimately very human—which is the point. One of my favorite tweets that Shaprio highlighted described Scandinavia as if it were a dysfunctional family:

Sweden would be the anxious hipster brother, always buying organic coffee and just harassing everybody else.

The experiment hasn’t been perfect. There have been a few controversial tweets but overall, it has largely been considered a success.

I couldn’t help but wonder what the Church could learn from this experiment.

In the same way that Kampann wanted to disprove the world’s superficial assumptions about Sweden, I want to see the Church use social media to break down preconceived ideas of what it means to be people of faith.

Here’s how I think that can happen:

1) Forget the Facebook bulletin board.

Your Facebook page is not meant to be a steady stream of your events, volunteer requests, and pleas for filling seats on Sunday mornings. If that is the only content you’re posting, then you’re just not trying. You have better stories to tell about how your service projects impact the community, how lives are being changed in your discipleship programs, and what your students are doing to serve in their schools. If you tell those stories, you’ll connect people to why your church exists and then people will understand why they should care about being a part of it.

2) Put your humanity on display.

The imperfection of the Church can be a holy thing. Use your social media as a stage to lift up the voices of your congregation, giving them a platform to share their thoughts, struggles, and faith journey. Don’t look for perfection but celebrate those who are choosing to live in the tension of the not yet, fighting to make things better when it’s easier to give up and walk away. Spend your time retweeting as many of your congregants as you can, sharing their faith perspectives. Ask 1 person a week to describe a recent revelation they’ve had or a question they are wrestling with. Regram inspirational pictures from your student’s Instagram accounts and ask them to explain it even more. Gather stories of why people choose your faith community into a series of blog posts. Use the voices of your congregation to show how God is at work in the humanity of your church.

3) Don’t be afraid of a little mess.

When you invite people to share their voice on your stage (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), you have to be willing host a variety of perspectives. The people in your congregation won’t agree on everything. They might not even agree with the staff about some things. So why should you pretend like they do? Use your platforms to create theological conversations, showing that you don’t expect people to check their brains at the door. If they disagree with a way your senior pastor interprets a passage of scripture, give them a chance to engage in dialogue about how they see it differently. When you’re covering a series of difficult topics, ask for their perspective and actually allow it to influence how you approach the conversation as a church.

To echo Kampann’s description of national branding, I would say that the church as personified through social media can sometimes feel as superficial as a fake dating profile. Let’s work to change that.

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