A Church in Flow tends to stay in Flow–and that’s bad.

Balancing Stock and Flow in church online engagement

One of my favorite blogs is back: FiveThirtyEight by Nate Silver. It’s got a little bit of everything: data, politics, religion, more data, and science. I can ignore the sports and be just fine.

One of the key concepts that Silver referenced in their new blog format is Snarkmarket’s concept of “stock and flow.”  Here it is:

There are two kinds of quantities in the world. Stock is a static value: money in the bank, or trees in the forest. Flow is a rate of change: fifteen dollars an hour, or three thousand toothpicks a day. Easy. Too easy.

But I think stock and flow is the master metaphor for media today. Here’s what I mean:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

I think the same concept can be applied to churches as they examine how to interact online.

Is your church creating flow?

Flow is the content that flows from your church to the social media networks and website usually over social media.

Sadly, there’s two lackluster forms of flow that are prevalent in church’s online presence:

  1. Same ol’ information. If your twitter feed is filled with “upcoming sermon” and “view our service” and reprints of the newsletter, that’s boring. Stop it. Especially the paper.li compilations. ARGH.
  2. Too much “skip-over” content. If your Facebook is all Scripture inspiration, big religious graphics, and cat videos (in church, of course), then make it more engaging. I know from my own experiments that cutesy stuff gets more likes, but it isn’t worth it.

If you have the above types of flow: please consider stopping. Because thankfully, there’s two tenets about flow that can help you do it better:

  1. Flow should be local FIRST: Post updates about your community, share joys and celebrations, comment about that dang streetlight, take silly pictures in your community. Local becomes global in a flow situation, so churches should lift up their communities using local references that will gain some traction over time.
  2. Flow should be global SECOND: Engaging content makes people want to read it, share it, and engage with it. Think with an eye for an outsider: what would they do next with your content. If you are constantly posting pro-LGBT news, do you pair it with faith statements from your church? If you are doing advocacy, do you offer up ways how strangers far away can help? By pairing content with action, you make what is local accessible to the global stage.

Churches should be masters of the flow: they meet weekly, there’s weekly new fresh liturgies or sermons (even if the hymns are moldy), and they have plenty of laity who could be trained to make flow work naturally. This is their game–step it up in the online arena.

But really: Is your church creating stock?

Stock, ultimately, is more important. Stock is the content that persists, that has “legs” and that people keep coming back to and engaging with.

Stock is usually pretty easy for a church to do. It’s less easy to categorize and make it accessible to people.

  • Sermons. Duh.
  • Sunday school studies: put your classroom handouts, notes, and perhaps a summary of the discussion online.
  • “Scripture of the week” conversations: invite laity and clergy to talk about this week’s scripture (can yield free stock for sermons, pastors!).
  • Give out free graphics, videos, and studies like open.lifechurch.tv

The point is to not make this content be dated or situational. Ask yourself two questions with every piece of stock: (1) what would a stranger do with it, (2) what will your own church do with it in 5 years. 

Finally, each pastor and church eventually notices a niche they hold: be it in an area of advocacy or mercy ministries, preaching, music, or something. If more content comes out in that stockpile (hey! Stock + pile!), then eventually people will turn to you for that stock. And then you’ve done well for the kingdom.

Case Study: Rachel Held Evans

rachel-held-evansI’d like to highlight an individual who is doing what a church should aspire to.

Rachel Held Evans is pretty close to the exemplar of the stock/flow balance. She’s a post-evangelical with an engaging twitter feed (flow). But she’s definitely more known for her blog (stock) for two reasons that relate to this conversation:

  1. RHE writes substantial blog entries–no one can make fun of my 1000+ word columns when they read hers all the time. Her posts are usually longer than sound bytes and require more careful reading than other blogs.
  2. RHE doesn’t date her blog entries–they could have been written yesterday or two years ago, and they seem relevant. Okay, she actually does date them, but the date is super small and not in the URL (like here at HX). So the stock actually doubles as flow. Amazing!

Plus she took all that flow and stock and made it into two books:

That’s some serious stock and paired with a constant rate of flow, she’s got the combination that many churches and religious bloggers ought to aspire to.

Your Turn

Your two questions for every blog post and social media update are:

  1. Is this stock?
  2. Is this flow?

Your turn: What stock are you making? And how are you engaging the flow from your ministry context? How are you handling the switch from flow to stock--or do you work in teams? Any other exemplars that you want to point to as great at this stock/flow balance?

Thanks for your comments!

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  1. Patrick Scriven says

    Great article Jeremy. I do have to say that it feels a bit long, but I’m only saying that so you know that I read it.

  2. says

    Superb post, Jeremy. Much of this we had already sensed around our social media ministry at St. Stephen UMC in greater Dallas (actually Mesquite, TX), but you put it into succinct words. My concepts for the church are clearer now. Many thanks!

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