Google Wave as Group Sermon Preparation Tool

Emilie Bouvier, "Fertile Soil." (Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Two Harbors, MN)Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

In case you haven’t heard, Google Wave is the latest innovation by the company upon which many of us rely for most of our day.

It’s meant to combine email, social networking, file sharing, wiki/nings, and instant messaging. It’s still in “preview” stage — not even beta — and you can’t get on it without an invitation (which you can get if you find someone on Twitter giving them away).

I figured that a church would soon use Wave as an application for their life together, and, sure enough, I heard that Journey in Dallas used it last week. So I interviewed two members of their collaborative sermon group which they call their “Teaching Team:” Danielle Shroyer and Dale Carter.

How have you been working on the sermons collectively at Journey to this point?

Danielle: Well we’ve always collaborated on Sunday night planning. In the beginning, it was a few leaders who met at Starbucks. Over the years, it has become more and more open; that is, anyone in the community can come and be a part of Teaching Team, not just people in a leadership role. Usually we meet on Wednesday nights at Journey.

Dale: Teaching team really helps us in keeping our focus “community led”; meaning we want people to feel they have input as opposed to one person leading a “sermon.” You could almost look at it as a group of people plan the sermon (and other elements) and whoever is speaking that night is just the presenter of the ideas of the community.

And what led you to experiment with Wave?

Danielle: We had comments from a number of people who wanted to come on Wednesdays but for one reason or another simply couldn’t make it — they had kids at home and couldn’t get/justify a sitter, they had another meeting or class beforehand and couldn’t logistically get from point A to point B in a timely manner. Other weeks we just noticed that people were tired and yet another night out seemed too difficult to swing.

We thought Google Wave might address all of these issues, as well as possibly bring in a broader spectrum of voices. If being part of TT (Teaching Team) simply means logging into your computer from home for an hour, maybe more people might be willing to give it a shot. If someone has class at 7:30, they can still log into the Wave and give their two cents at 8:30 for everyone to see. I suggested we try out Wave and see how it worked, and Dale suggested that if it did work, we could possibly move to a schedule of meeting in person the first week of the month and sketching out the next four weeks, and then doing weekly Wave Teaching Teams the following weeks. That’s what we’re planning on trying next month.

When we’re at Journey, we spend a significant amount of the time chatting, running smack and telling each other stories. Even though these may not be “productive,” they actually help us figure out how to come at a particular topic in a way that feels very organic to Journey. I was worried about possibly losing that in Wave, but since we all spend the day G-chatting (Google instant messaging) with one another anyways, the witty sarcastic banter came along with us. (Case in point-last week Dale was running his smack by posting photos in the Wave and messing with font sizes.) I was actually surprised that Wave TT was not remotely different than usual.

Dale: It’s all business. No joking.

Danielle: It’s also great to have a physical representation of the conversation. Often we don’t take impeccable notes, and I’ll go home and try to write up something and get frustrated that I didn’t jot down that great question Z asked. Last week, I went back and read through the Wave a few times to reference things as I was typing everything up for Sunday

Dale: We found that, like most small groups, people were getting tired and it was hard to keep the momentum of a live weekly group. We are just trying out the Wave idea and so far it is great. We still hope to meet once a month in person to keep those live connections.

How did it work?

Danielle: It’s far less clunky, for one thing. The layout (even with the kinks they’re working on) is much better than a chat room, which can feel cluttered and less personal. Also, since much of our community runs on Google everything already – Google chat, Google docs, Google mail – it just makes sense to use Google Wave.

Dale: The best thing it has is how you can reply to any part of the wave. It’s not a linear conversation like a chat room would be. This way you can chat to the whole wave, but you can also go back and comment on an element earlier in the wave. This allows for thoughtful responses to purposeful questions or topics.

How did the sermon turn out?

Danielle: Well, you’ll have to ask them (!) but I think it went well! Of course, Teaching Team is not only about the sermon (which, during Advent, I actually do preach rather than lead a conversation like the majority of the time). One of the main things we do is plan the response. This week, we did a celebratory toast with water to the God who is the wellspring of salvation. So we spent a good deal of time last week trying to figure out how best to respond, and that’s where we landed.

Dale: Everything turned out well on Sunday. I think we are even more excited about Wave Teaching Team after the first one. We feel like we figured out some things. For example we probably erred on the side of treating it like a group chat. We know now that it will help if the person speaking presents a few main ideas up front to the Wave. Then we can dialogue with those ideas when we meet live on the Wave adding other ideas.

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