An unrealized technology for connecting unchurching believers in the real world


#1

In a previous post, I asked what technology you’re currently using to build community. (So, if you want to answer that question, please do so on that other post.) But it occurred to me: there are also some unrealized technologies I’m still waiting on that could be game-changers for us (or at least for me), if they ever come to fruition. In fact, there’s one in particular I wanted to tell you guys about.

Over seven years ago, Apple filed a patent for your iPhone to have the ability to scan for other nearby iPhones and make connections, based on user profiles. It’s called “ad-hoc networking” and it could have some huge advantages over internet-based social networking. Or, at least I should say: it could serve a very different purpose than many other current social networks.

For example, Facebook wants you to connect with people you know, regardless of location: from nearby friends, family, coworkers, and former classmates to those who live far away. Proximity isn’t a factor but real-world connection is. In fact, Facebook generally frowns upon you trying to connect with people you don’t know in real life.

Ad-hoc networking completely flips that model; instead of connecting with people you already know, regardless of how far away they are now, ad-hoc networking could allow you to connect with complete strangers whenever they come into close proximity. However, these connections would be far from random because all iPhones would carry users profiles and be constantly searching for other nearby profiles that reflect similar interests to your own.

Case in point: imagine you have an extremely niche hobby. For example, let’s say you’re a conlanger, someone who constructs made-up languages, like Klingon. (Hey, don’t knock it; Tolkien did it.) Now, try to imagine how unlikely it is you would ever run into fellow conlangers by accident through your day-to-day routine.

So, just think about how excited you would be to walk into a local bookstore and get a notification on your phone that says there’s someone nearby who shares your same hobby. (Furthermore, imagine you could send some messages back-and-forth before your decide whether or not to allow your phones to make a exchange the info for a real-world introduction.) Basically, this technology would make serendipity happen.

Hopefully, you can see where I’m going with this: as I’ve stated many times before, there are over 30 million unchurching believers (or “dones”) in the U.S. alone. Sure, I’d be naive if I thought all of them were looking to connect. But if only 10% wanted to connect, that’s still 3 million people wandering around out there, looking for one another, without any real-world rallying points.

Sure, we can always find others online. But this often lends itself to connections that function more like long-distance support groups than local communities. Yet, statistically speaking, 1 in every 10 people you pass on the street is a fellow “done”. So, could you imagine what could happen if we had the ability to create user profiles on our phones that helped connect us with other nearby dones? Hopefully, we’ll find out one day.


#2

Looks like there are a number of location based apps out there, plus FB has some features for finding people nearby. So the technology is there, it just needs to be applied to unchurching. The hard part is getting people signed up to the service so it is poplulated.

I’m still perplexed that 100 people joined an unchurching group for my area on meetup.com, but only 3 or 4 people ever actually met with us in person, despite setting up meetups all over town.

I even did surveys to the group for best times and locations, and folks still didn’t show. I also asked if people actually wanted to meet in person (which is the point of meetup.com) and many said yes. :man_shrugging:t2::man_shrugging:t2::man_shrugging:t2:

We can also just go old school and make shirts that say “Do you make up languages? Let’s chat!”

Or, “Are you done with church but love Jesus? Let’s chat!” :smiley:


#3

It’s true. There are a lot of location-based social networks and apps now. The problem is: they’re all mediated through various online platforms; so, a user has to manually check-in (or have some sort of auto-check-in feature enabled) in order for others to find their location in the real world.

Also, since all of these apps are third-party, and not native to the iPhone, they have to be downloaded, which is just one more barrier to entry. First, folks have to know these services even exist. Second, they have to burn a calorie to install them. And since there’s a multitude of options, it’s highly unlikely every iPhone user in any given location will be using the exact same app. And since each app probably only connects users within its own network, there will always be a lot of missed potential connections.

But if iPhones had a native feature that allowed for user profiles, these problems would instantly become non-issues: there’s no downloading, and no competing services. Not to mention, the iPhone could always prompt users to fill out their profile, lowering the barrier to entry and increasing the adoption rate. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure Apple cracked the code on using the iPhone as a low-power beacon awhile ago. So, honestly, I’m not sure what’s keeping this from happening. And I, for one, would love to try it!


#4

PS, I actually had the exact same thought with the whole t-shirt thing. In fact, I’m not sure whether you remember this or not, but I even offered unchurching t-shirts on my site for awhile. I was really hoping people would use them as conversation starters, for this very reason.

But I started with designs other than my “ask me about…” ideas because I thought most folks might not be bold enough to go the “ask me about…” route right out of the gate. However, I always meant to circle back around and make some of the “ask me about…” variety, even if they were just for myself to wear.

Maybe I’ll start a thread about this and see if anyone else wants some. Also, we could all chime in with ideas for t-shirt slogans (as long as folks are willing to “give away” an idea, rather than try to produce it themselves). That could be fun!


#5

Well, I was being a little extreme in my T-shirt examples for effect. But you can definitely make some interesting shirts that could start conversation. :smiley:


#6

Well, you know me, @jmlake. My bar for “extreme” is set pretty high! :wink:


#7

My Jitterbug doesn’t support aps - it can’t even manage the correct time. But for me, a t-short that self-identifies me as a “done” would probably be about as far as I could go. I’ll be interested in seeing how this works for you between now and the time internet censorship catches up with us.


#8

We don’t have our home church yet (planning on getting that going in the Spring), but we plan to use https://nextdoor.com (and its app) to try to connect with folks. We have used it to start 2 community bible studies and it has worked well! It connects you with people you know and don’t know based on Geographic location (you even have to prove it with a credit card!).