The Long Tail

What a change a few years makes. Take a look over the church landscape, say five years ago and today. It's completely different. The world has changed, and we had better keep up.

Churches used to be a place where one went to meet God, to worship and to listen to the Word. It was linear; you came in, sat down, listened, sang and prayed. While all of that is still true today, obviously, there is more to it. The church experience is immersive today. And I don't just mean the way there is video and better sound and slick posters and bulletins.

No, I'm talking about the way that we communicate with one another. In a nutshell, it's called social networking. Back in the day, most comminication was topical, that is, that it was centered around a particular subject. But now, people have replaced the topic. It's all about who we are, and what we think. Social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace have changed the way we approach information, and we have discovered something: that people are interesting.

We used to be defined by the company we kept. In internet parlance, by the groups we joined. Now we are defined by who we are. A couple of years ago it was the height of bravery to put your real name on the internet. Everyone had "screen names;" alter egos that hid who we really are. Now, we boldly put our names and addresses on our profile pages, pictures of ourselves instead of avatars, and divulge our deepest thoughts in blogs like this one. And as Lee Raney points out, this is a great time for Christians.

The church is slowly getting on the 2.0 bandwagon. Church websites used to be a page with an address, a bio of the pastor, maybe a calendar. Now, we can stream video, set up photo galleries, and sell worship CD's. We have come to the point where we can reach anyone, anywhere. This humble blog, in its first month of existance, has reached people in 21 states and 14 countries! (I'm apparently big in India and Australia, I have no idea why, but thanks!)

Marketers call it the "Long Tail." The concept has made Amazon what it is today. Traditional marketing says you sell the products most people want. That is represented by the left side of this diagram. (A power law curve for you math whizzes) That's the traditional church. But Amazon realized they can sell to niche buyers on the right as well. Instead of marketing a few products to a lot of people, they market a lot of products to everyone.

So we have an opportunity to reach more people, and give them exactly what they need. In church parlance, we call that evangelism. Now I know you've heard that word somewhere...

My point is this. Myspace may be a lot of things, and many of them not that good. But they did show us that the real fascination is people. People are cool. People have something to say. And people are who we reach out to, not topics.

Keep reaching.


  1. My fear about this new movement is that it is slowly becoming "People-centric," and not God-centric. You are so right, People are very, very interesting, but God should be more interesting. I wonder if, at my church, people are more interested in community than they are in Him.

  2. That's a good point. I consider it "good" if people are moving from church being a place that counts sheep to a place that cares who the sheep are. I consider it "bad" if that swings to the "whoever are, keep doing what you want" Oprah-like mentality. Thanks for the input!

  3. Michael- great post and thank you for the quote. The book "The Long Tail" influenced my thinking on some things- a great book!

    Jeremy's comment is a good one, but I think we have to be both. Jesus said loving God was the greatest commandment, but also said "and the second is like it", e.g., loving others as thyself. We can't just be hermits and love God, and we can't just have churches that are "country club" social groups. In both our churches, and also on Christian social networks, we must love God and love people. Both are very important aspects of the Christian life!

  4. A very significant bit of research on how adults come to faith demonstrates the importance of ongoing relationships. Since Web 2.0 is all about relationships, that seems like a good fit! Our resources at Internet Evangelism Day do encourage people to use the web for evangelism and relationship building.



  5. I was referred to this article by the Web Evangelism Bulletin and would love to have been able to read it. But white and blue text on a black background ... impenetrable!

  6. Sorry about that. Some folks find light lettering on a dark background easier on the eyes. Others prefer it the other way.

    If you email me (the link is on my profile) I will send you a copy in black on white formatting.


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