In our last blog post, we looked at how behaving like a media company can help academics and academic institutions solve their distribution problem, the problem of obscurity and lack of distribution channels. The media company model offers solutions to the issue of delivering content to an audience. But to take your platform to the next level, there is a second model that you should consider drawing on: church.
Church communities are purpose-driven, facilitate relationships, have routines and rituals, involve significant and substantial content, and aid in transformation and empowerment.
If you model your platform on a church community, your audience won’t just consume your content but actively engage with it in community with other audience members, as well as invite others into the community, giving you a chance to make an impact on more people in a deeper way.
Let’s take a closer look at some characteristics of church communities that can be applied to public scholarship.
A thriving church is not static or aimless, but mission-oriented; its members are striving toward common goals. Communities that inspire people to unite under a mission have staying power.
When you communicate clearly what you would like to change about the world, your work will resonate with an audience that cares about your mission and desires to learn more and be a part of the community. It can help to not only create content supporting your mission, but also include mission statements in your bios on social media, on your website, and any other distribution channels you use.
2. Interpersonal Relationships
Through small groups, service projects, and other activities, churches provide numerous opportunities for their members to foster deep interpersonal relationships. A healthy congregation is dynamic and continually added to, often by word-of-mouth invitations.
A public platform should likewise invite audience members to interact with each other and to bring new members to the fold.
Be like a pastor; be as available as you can to answer questions from your “congregation,” while setting boundaries and norms around how they can interact with you and how they should interact with each other. Don’t be afraid of explicitly asking for your audience to share your work to their friends, encouraging them to interact in the comments and on social media, and providing opportunities for them to meet each other by organizing online (or in person, depending on the demographics) gatherings.
3. Weekly Rhythm and Ritualized Practices
Participation in worship services, prayer meetings, communion, and other religious practices cultivate a sense of belonging. The longer someone is a part of the community, the more familiar the practices become, and the more a part of their identity those rituals become.
A successful public platform will bring audience members back on a regular basis and become a part of their daily or weekly routines. You want your audience to miss you if they don’t get your email notification, your social media post, your podcast episode, etc. Become a dependable feature in your audience’s lives that they can look forward to. Frequency and consistency is key.
4. Significant and Substantial Content
Church is about something that is both relevant and challenging to people. People come to church because they know they will learn something new or be reminded of something important. They also know that they need help reading and interpreting Scripture, a piece of content which, for a committed Christian, warrants lifelong study and discussion.
A platform will draw people in when it presents content that speaks to the practical, intellectual, and existential questions we have as human beings. In order to truly provide value, the content you distribute should foster curiosity, learning, and reflection in your audience.
5. Transformation and Empowerment
Church doesn’t just involve intellectual exercises; it is a place where people come to be transformed. A good church empowers its members to strive for godliness and find meaning in their lives.
Similarly, effective public scholarship is transformative and empowering. A platform that combines a clear mission, a positive community, ritualized practices, and challenging content can inspire and motivate the audience to live their lives in a way that is fulfilling and aligns with their values. This is what public scholarship should ultimately accomplish.