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Extavagance UCC Considerations and Annotations

R. Peter Reimann
(Dated: November 3, 2013)



The UCC being an open and welcoming church, the Extravagance UCC community will be patterned after this model. Nobody can be prevented from joining Extravagance UCC but Extravagance UCC will be especially designed for people who cant or wont become members of UCC congregations or are unable to attend a local church regularly. Dening the audience is thus more of a strategic or marketing decision where and how Extravagance UCC is promoted than who may or will join. If someone signs up he/she may or may not be part of a predened target group. Speaking about target groups means visualizing people with no UCC church or ONA congregation in their vicinity with no progressive congregation with which to relate students who leave home for college with disabilities who cannot go to church with special needs who like the low-threshold aspect of online communication who commute / live in a dierent city than their family / partner, so Sunday morning is family time who live online

design of the community must meet the various needs of the community members. Therefore, the community must allow for a wide range of interactions and oer options due to the heterogeneous audience. Persons who cannot attend Sunday morning worship maybe because the distance to a local congregation is too far will be happy with an online service on a Sunday morning. People who attend a local congregation but need Extravagance UCC to give them a fuller Christian experience might need fellowship groups during the week. People who dont have time on Sunday mornings maybe because they have to work or want to spend time with their family and/or spouse because they live in a dierent city than their family/partner will need worship services during the week. People who live across various time zones might prefer asynchronous communication over real-time online meetings on a Sunday morning. It might be a prudent strategic decision to focus on selected groups of the predened target audience in the beginning because the needs are too dierent and the project might lose focus when all needs are addressed simultaneously. In a later stage, the needs of secondary or tertiary target groups can be addressed.


Membership and Commitment

There are various aspects and concepts of membership. When talking about membership one has to identify the aspect of membership that is being referred to in order to prevent misunderstandings.


Membership

who are US expatriates and live overseas who are LGBT seekers in other countries where there are no welcoming churches who have worked or studied in the US and are socialized in an American church or belong to ecumenical partner churches For some community members Extravagance UCC will supplement their church experience, for others it might be the only connection to a church or congregation. The Membership in the Extravagance UCC community has a technical aspect. Anyone who has an account on extravagance.ucc.org1 is a member of the online community. Accounts have to be created in order to make people identiable for interactions on the platform in contrast to non-signed-in persons or anonymous users who will only be able to view content but not to interact. Membership in Extravagance UCC can also be dened as a covenant with the community. Members who have


Of course, the actual domain name of Extravagance UCC still has to be agreed on

2 a still to be dened covenant relationship with Extravagance UCC must be distinguished from those who have registered on the website but have not made a commitment to Extravagance UCC. Members of Extravagance UCC will also dene for themselves what Extravagance UCC means for them. Drawing from the experience of in Germany which was planed as a church news portal with a Protestant online community and was later identied as church by its active members, one might expect that members of Extravagance UCC will experience their community as an online church and/or congregation. Traditionally, the marks of the church (notae ecclesiae) dene the church theologically.2 Unless one goes with a very strict Lutheran understanding, Extravagance UCC is a community that bears all the marks of a church and thus could be called an online church resp. an online congregation. Furthermore, the term online congregation is more catchy than geographically dispersed intentional community committed to living the UCC way. Therefore, Extravagance UCC will probably be referred to as online congregation.


Community Membership and Church Membership

Depending on the communitys design it may be prudent to dierentiate between those covenant members whose only church attendance is Extravagance UCC and those who are members of a local congregation but log onto Extravagance UCC to supplement their Christian experience. Can Extravagance UCC become the only place for some of its members where church membership is held? Has the willingness to support the community nancially to be taken into account with respect to membership? The Internet is full of lurkers, it can be expected that many people curiously log onto The low threshold of online communication makes it possible for people who would never knock on a churchs door to snoop around and explore the community. Will there be a gradual shift from getting to know the community to membership or are there dierent statuses of membership e.g. in analogy of novice and nun/monk in a monastic community?


ONLINE RELIGION OR RELIGION ONLINE A. Theological Understanding of the Internet


Membership and Ministry

In building up Extravagance UCC as an online community, the relationship between online and oine experience resp. environment has to be dened. The use of words is indicative of the underlying notions and how a project or community is dened. real virtual face-to-face computer-mediated oine online analog digital What theological understanding of the Internet is the basis which denes the interactions of Extravagance UCC. Is an online community lacking something compared to an oine community? Is computer-mediated communication less real than face-to-face communication? Should a virtual community be designed to lead people into contact with a location-based community? Is Extravagance UCC an online replication modeled after an o-line church experience or will Extravagance

Especially if Extravagance UCC oers pastoral care and online counseling, it is very likely to attract those who labor and are heavy laden(Mt 11,28), so one might also distinguish between those to whom the community is reaching out through its counseling ministry and those who sustain the community with their own involvement and ministry. One should be prepared that the Internet attracts people who will need a lot of special attention they cannot get elsewhere. Because there are no geographical restrictions to a persons movements, an open and welcoming community will be sought after without geographical limitations.


Community versus Church


Dening Extravagance UCC as a geographically dispersed intentional community committed to living the UCC way sets the framework for the planning of the community and its self-understanding. Extravagance UCC is a new and innovative way to build a Christian community online. As Extravagance UCC grows and is further developed, the understanding of what exactly Extravagance UCC is will probably change over time.

Augsburg Confession VII: Preaching of the Word and Administering the Sacraments. It is a discussion if the and means both criteria must be fullled or the fulllment of one criterion; the Belgic confession names church discipline as an additional mark; Westminster Confession of Faith: [the church] consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; the Cambridge Platform (Chapter II) uses covenant to describe the church as a a company of saints by calling, united into one body by a holy covenant, for the public worship of God, and the mutual edication of one another in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus.

3 UCC aim at being a new and genuine expressions of church in a digital environment? Is Extravagance UCC online religion or religion online?3 How do oine meetings of community members relate to the communitys online gathering? Will the community also use analog media (e.g. conference calls, mail correspondence)? Does the community need a physical space from which services are transmitted? What does this mean for sacraments in an online community? Which form does a genuine online liturgy take? How can a community sing as a virtual choir?4
C. Online Communication and Identity 1. Communication

Online communication can be real time (chats, videocasts) or asynchronous (forums, blogs etc.); it can be text-based, audio and video, many-to-many or one-tomany and one-to-one. The communitys look and feel and its spirit will greatly depend on the form of interactions which are supported by the communitys design (e.g. will preaching be a broadcast of the pastors sermon or a group chat with the pastor who is interacting with community members).




Digital Culture

What is the minimum information one has to oer during registration process? Is a valid email sucient? Can nicknames be chosen or is the real name compulsory? Will photos be shown as prole icon or can one choose a symbol as an icon? Will a members identity be veried before he/she is admitted to the community? How does a persons online identity link back to the oine world?

Using the paradigms of Niebuhrs book Christ and Culture can be helpful to determine Extravagance UCCs relation to digital culture.5 Will Extravagance UCC embrace digital culture and immerse itself in digital culture, e.g. the culture of easy sharing with one click, writing Twitter -like messages with very few characters, the expectation that services are free on the web, that one can easily opt-in or opt-out of anything? Or will Extravagance UCC set a counter example to digital culture, e.g. encourage to facilitate deep discussions, emphasize privacy over convenience, ask for a commitment before a service is oered? Dening this relationship will not only lead to forming a theological and ecclesiological understanding of the community (e.g. model it after the concept of a Benedictine monastic community that is separated from the mainstream of digital culture) but also give hints for the technical implementation of the community (e.g. embrace functionality from existing networks versus creating a separate infrastructure).



Due to recent events, privacy concerns have become more important. Privacy has a technical aspect (how can the communitys data be protected from intrusion) but is also an attitude. Which interactions shall be visible to the community? What is the default procedure, make interactions visible or keep them hidden if not shared explicitly? (e.g. Facebook thrives on communicating what ones friends do.) What should be kept private per se (e.g. the number of friends because it is humiliating to admit to have only very few friends)?



The Feed your Spirit section oers resources some of which Extravagance UCC. It has to content can be integrated into foster the community.

of the UCCs website6 could also be used for be discussed how this Extravagance UCC to

4 5

Cf. Christopher Helland: Online Religion as Lived Religion. Methodological Issues in the Study of Religious Participation on the Internet, volltextserver/5823/ Cf Eric Whitacres experiments with virtual music http:// Reimann, Ralf Peter, Quo vadis, Cyberchurch? in: Hudd, Barry und Reimann, Ralf Peter (Ed.), European Churches on the Internet: Challenges, Experiences and Visions, Jena 2004, 103 - 111.

If a physical location is needed to anchor Extravagance UCC and to broadcast midweek service from, synergies with Amistad Chapel could be explored.


and helps to save ones own resources but also means giving up control over ones users.

It is a fundamental decision if Extravagance UCC will be construed as a mash-up of existing social media platforms or if a customized stand-alone solution will be implemented. Of course, these two options can be combined, i.e. use certain features from existing social networks and integrate them into a customized software solution. The decision on the infrastructure should involve ecclesiolocigal, technical and nancial considerations.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Mash-ups



Some (free) web services have become quasi standards across the web. Using these services lowers the threshold for rst-time users who log on to a new site because they are already familiar with a certain technology. Services which are used across various platforms often add extra value to all sites which use them and makes sharing across platforms easier. For example, one could create a pdf-library of documents on owns own website or one can place all pdf documents on These documents are then available for anyone on Scribd, but they are also online on ones website website via a HTML-widget and on ones blog via a Scribd -plug-in; the additional value is that Scribd comes with a built-in pdf-viewer so no external pdf-reader needs to be opened. Using mash-ups for Extravagance UCC allows for a slim and lean infrastructure because third-party services are used. However, these services can only be integrated through APIs or widgets which are provided by third-party companies. Therefore mash-ups can only be customized according to the third-partys design; if the API or widget is updated, one has to make adaptions.

It is essential to dene the relationship of Extravagance UCC to the surrounding digital culture. If Extravagance UCC is viewed as an expression of a broader social media culture then its infrastructure should reect that. For example, using YouTube for live streaming makes the video-cast accessible to all web users. If Extravagance UCC is considered a fenced-o safe place for its members without contact to the broader web community then a video server whose content can only be viewed after registration would be the corresponding technical solution.


Risk Analysis

Using technology and web services that are provided for free bears risks. Often commercial services are maintained by advertising which might be inappropriate. Sometimes the business plan of start-up companies is to grow and then begin charging for their services or terminate certain services which are not protable. Using free services therefore bears an inherent risk because theses services cannot be controlled; however they allow to save nancial resources that can be spent for other purposes. Sometimes a paid-for premium service is oered; having a contract reduces the risk that such service is suspended because the company has an obligation to render the service. A paid-for service often guarantees a service level and oers support. Before starting to use free services the risk must be analyzed how Extravagance UCC can operate without that particular service and if a paid for service could give more control to Extravagance UCC. E.g. many communities and websites rely on Facebook or Twitter for the log-in. This makes access a lot easier


Content Management System with Community Features

Drupal ( is the leading Open Source content management system with community features which is widely used worldwide and in the US and oers both widgets for many social media platforms and specialized community functions as Drupal modules. In contrast to proprietary software, open source software can be used without licensing fees. Proprietary software solutions are also available for community platforms; however, many of those solutions are integrated into ERP systems and not aimed at non-prot organizations but suitable for larger companies. Small software houses often have their own proprietary platform. They often oer full service including customization, support, project management and hosting. However, the development of social media software is changing rapidly, and it is often not certain that a small company can keep up with the development of social media and update their product regularly and introduce new

5 features which have become common in the meantime. In case of business disagreements, one is tight to the software house because changing away from a proprietary software solution is costly. Therefore open source software which is backed up by an active community of software developers seems the best technological choice.

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