Digital Parish: The loneliness epidemic and building meaningful community with Charles Vogl

More from Pastoring in the Digital Parish

We're joined by Charles Vogl, author of "The Art of Community".

We discussed the need for intellectual, emotional, and action components in spiritual communities–no matter how they meet. Charles also emphasizes the importance of intimacy and vulnerability in creating meaningful digital experiences. We also look at the loneliness epidemic in America and how organizations can deliver on the three promises of community events to promote growth, connection, and freedom of choice.

The Episode

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Show Notes 

In this episode:

(00:00:00) "Digital ministry strategies discussed with Charles Vogel."

(00:04:13) Bridging the disconnection in society

(00:09:16) Promise of value creates community

(00:14:11) Remembering religion's value sets

(00:17:24) Three components for healthy spiritual communities

(00:21:24) The hard work of digital community-building

(00:25:58) Missed opportunity to connect at events

(00:30:48) Three promises: choice, connection, growth

(00:33:40) Sponsor: Safer Sanctuaries - comprehensive abuse prevention resource

(00:38:00) Misunderstood breakouts lead to toxic situations

(00:41:07) Podcast wrap-up, resources mentioned

This session is made available by:

Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities is a new and comprehensive resource that continues the tradition of Safe Sanctuaries ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedures.
To learn more go to or call 800-972-0433

Relevant links:

Related sessions of Pastoring in the Digital Parish


Ryan Dunn [00:00:00]:

This is Pastoring in the Digital Parish, your resource and point of connection for building digital ministry strategy and bringing your congregation into the digital age. Hi there. My name is Ryan Dunn. I'm the proctor for this podcast, which seeks to be the digital ministry class that you just didn't get in seminary. Last season, we did an episode outlining ten recommended books for digital ministers. One of our most frequently recommended books is called The Art of Community, and it's by Charles Vogel, and it provides seven principles for nurturing well connected and meaningful communities. And that book was released in 2016. And as you know, the world was just a little bit different back then, both politically and also in terms of the ways in which we come together in community. We weren't quite so digitally dependent in those days, if you'll remember. So I thought it would be cool to revisit the things that Charles wrote about with Charles and see what updates he had for the art of community post pandemic and how he sees his principles translating into digital spaces. So in this session, we discussed the need for intellectual, emotional and action components in spiritual communities, no matter how they meet. And Charles also emphasizes the importance of intimacy and vulnerability in creating meaningful digital experiences. And here Charles delivers some cautionary warnings about building digital communities, notably that it takes longer to build intimacy in the digital realm. Though if you've listened to other episodes of this podcast, then you've likely heard me opine that the big benefit of digital is that it allows us the access to invest in being with people. It's 24/7. Anyways, we also look at the loneliness epidemic in America and how organizations can deliver on the three promises of community events to promote growth, connection, and freedom of choice. Before we get to this very interesting conversation with Charles Vogl, let me tell you about another key factor for forming community safety for the most vulnerable, safer sanctuaries Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities is a new and comprehensive resource that continues the tradition of safe, sanctuaries ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedures. So to learn more, go to or just give them a call. 809 720433. All right, let's get to know a little bit about our adjunct professor for this session, Charles Vogl. Charles is an advisor, a speaker, and the author of three books, including the international bestseller that we've already talked about, the Art of Community. Drawing on 3000 years of spiritual traditions, charles teaches the wisdom and principles to build deep community and resilient relationships that foster innovation and integrity within organizations like Church. The holds an MDiv from Yale, where he studied spiritual traditions, ethics and business as a Jesse Ball Dupont Foundation scholar, his work is used to advise and develop leadership and programs worldwide within organizations including Airbnb and LinkedIn and Twitch and Amazon and Wayfair, the USRB. So much more. So let's get talking to Charles Vogel next. Charles, it's fun piecing together a bio for you because you've lived into so many different roles. So you're an author. You've been a filmmaker. It sounds like if I'm piecing this together right, you were involved in campus ministry at some point, and there was time in the Peace Corps. So I just love to know what role are you trying out right now that you're excited about?

Charles Vogl [00:04:13]:

Well, it's a very exciting time for my work, unfortunately. The reason it's exciting for me is there's a lot of pain out there. So at this particular place in my life, and if you ask, we can talk about how I got here. I'm working with organizations that reach out to me to help develop leadership, to get better at connecting the people that are important to them. The organizations around shared values and purpose and overwhelming that's organizations that care about either some kind of performance. It may not necessarily be commercial, but they need to be successful at high stakes activities. And obviously, when teams more connected, that's important. And then when I'm approached by people in education, there's a deep concern about the disconnection among students, administrators, and faculty and parents all throughout the education system. And we can talk specifically about the pain there. And the reason I say it's unfortunate that it's exciting for me is that we are now living in what the research undeniably reveals to be the loneliest era of American history. And we've been on a very steady decline of connection now since at least the 90s, when Robert Putnam out of Harvard wrote a book called Bullying Alone Alarming Americans that we are losing our connection. And just this season, as you and I are talking now, our current Surgeon General, Vivic Murthy, is on a media tour sharing that for his office loneliness. The loneliness epidemic is the number one priority for his office because of its threat to the health, to America at several different layers. So it's very exciting for me to have something to say and make a difference when there's so much pain. I wish it were different.

Ryan Dunn [00:06:07]:

Yeah. But we understand where you're coming from and saying that you're able to add something proactive and helpful into these conversations about loneliness. What are some of the symptoms that are being proclaimed about this epidemic of online?

Charles Vogl [00:06:25]:

Well, I'll just interpret your question when you say, what are the symptoms? Unfortunately, I looked at the latest research because I'm writing a paper right now, and the latest research indicates ryan, believe it or not, half of Americans do not have four friends. And that sounds bad. It's actually much worse than that, Ryan. 49% of Americans have three friends or less. About one in six of Americans has no friends. The specific numbers are 13% of Americans have no friends, and 15% of American men have no friends. So when you and I go into anywhere and I know we were talking about ministry, you and I, earlier, if we go into any room of people who darkened the door of a house of worship, we're not far off. If we pointed half of those people and they do not have four friends to call upon if they get a bad diagnosis or they need to move or they need a ride. And that's just half America. And then my understanding is less than 15% of Americans have ten friends or more. Right. So if you live in a city and you move cities for a job, you may not even have had ten friends in the old city, and then you have less friends in the new city. And that has profound implications on a number of number of things in our lives, but certainly one of them is our resilience to respond to change, work change, economic change, political change, like whatever it is.

Ryan Dunn [00:08:01]:

Yeah, that sets the table for what we need to do, both in ministry and just in community building in general and being able to draw people together. There is, in fact, a real need for that in the community building work that you've done. Especially recently, you've used words like branding, which can be offsetting for some reason to people within the ministry world or the church world. So can you help us take some of the fear out of branding and just understanding why it's so important for building community?

Charles Vogl [00:08:37]:

So I'm glad you asked specifically for this reason, and let's be really clear, Ryan, I am not a marketer. I have never been a marketer. I don't pretend to be a marketer. When I talk about brand, I'm talking about something very specific. And that is simply the promise an identifiable organization makes. If I join a dragonboat society, their brand is a promise that if I get involved with them, I'll meet people who race dragon boats and I'll find an opportunity to race dragon boats. It's as simple as that.

Ryan Dunn [00:09:12]:

That's very specific. Are you actually involved in?

Charles Vogl [00:09:16]:

Well, I'm Asian American, I live in the East Bay, and we have dragonboat society in the area. A lot of Asians have moved to Northern California. And I know that when the book first came out, my book was embraced by a community there that was coming together around shared values and purpose in the area. But my point is, it has nothing to do with selling more stuff. Now, obviously, if we have a promise of value, people hopefully will find us because they want the thing. And if it's a ministry context, if you're trying to find a ministry that speaks to families with young kids who want to be educated in a certain faith tradition, then there better be a promise of value there. Otherwise you're not going to find them and you're certainly not going to stay. Right? And most organizations art promising some kind of value whether they know it or not, right? And if you haven't named it or even thought through, then you're hoping you get lucky when the people you're looking for hear about you or show up. And that's all I mean by a brand. In my work and then my work, we use the term community very specifically and that is a group of people who share mutual concern for one another. And Ryan, if there's a group of people and you don't share concern with them, you're probably not in a community with them. And we could talk more detail about what communities have, shared values, shared purpose. Usually people are growing together in some way, but nonetheless the foundation is hey, do you care about each other? So when talk about brand community, all we're talking about is some organization that promises value and that can be ministerial, right? Not all ministries minister in the same way to everybody. And if they try, good luck with that. And then are the people involved in your ministry finding experiences that are leading them to create the relationships where they care about other people in that ministry? And are those experiences helping them understand that people care about them? And unfortunately, Ryan, as I literally travel the country talking about this, I find that people are spending a lot of time and a lot of money trying to create a lot of experiences that don't deliver any of that. And it's unfortunately because they're often trying to brag figuratively or literally how many people showed up to get pizza. And focusing on how many people came to get pizza is very different than when Ryan showed up. Did he find the things that let him understand there are people who care about what he cares about and will care about him or does care about Ryan at some level?

Ryan Dunn [00:12:06]:

Yeah, that is very helpful because we tend to graft onto this idea in church world that our brand is well related to kind of the power numbers as you talked about. We are the big church. We are the church with X and X kind of worship. Whereas what you're really talking about is what kind of relationship value do you offer to people. So we might want to define ourselves in terms of saying something like we are the church who Charles for this neighborhood? Or does it seem like that's on the right track?

Charles Vogl [00:12:47]:

Neighborhood churches have a long history that goes back, I'm guessing at least 1000 years, maybe actually meaningfully more than 1000 years. So I'm not knocking that. I think when I talk to ministers, usually they're focusing on speaking to some kind of demographic. I have friends who literally have billionaires in Connecticut in their ministries and my church is in East Oakland, California. And I promise you those ministries look very, very different, as they ought to. And it'd be pretty silly to say, well, our church is for everybody. Is it? Those programs work in East Oakland and they're going to work in western Connecticut the same. It's just ridiculous. Right? So there's some, if you will, boundary of who we're seeking to participate and that can be self selected but nonetheless there's a boundary.

Ryan Dunn [00:13:42]:

Well, let's talk about that a little bit in setting up boundaries because we are resistant oftentimes within churches because we don't want to feel exclusionary and we hear that that is one of the gripes that people have about the spiritual, not the spirit, but the religious world in general. Right. Is that it's very firm as to who's in and who is out. So when you're talking about boundaries, is that what you're trying to define?

Charles Vogl [00:14:11]:

I think it's just the opposite. I think there's denial about who's in and who's out. And my favorite thinker about the failure of 20th century American religious landscape failing to serve at least Gen X. And down is then at Butler Bass. And one of the things that she says is there's a value set in the ministries that were formed in the 20th century that just don't apply. We'll say broadly Ryan in the 21st century and one of those is righteousness and fairness and I think some, not some there's a broad swath of American Christianity that says we know what is right full stop. And in a world that's changing as fast as ours is in cultures that are so cosmopolitan as certainly our mega cities are now in places where what was considered fair and honest commercial practice in 1980s that people would be embarrassed to admit they're participating in now, right. I think that doesn't hold water anymore. And so if there's this pretension that says we know who's in and who's not by the standard and then people don't fit and you say oh, but we're for everybody, well now it's very confusing. And with that said, my understanding is whenever we start a ministry, there is some vision of how we want to enrich people's lives. If they spend time with us and by the way they spend time with us and they have no interest in enriching their lives that way, then they really shouldn't be there. Said differently, Ryan so I have a young son and I'm member of Church in East Oakland and we are participating in the parents group. If Ryan, if you show up and you don't have kids and you're there to get real estate leads for your real estate business, this is not the place for you to be. It's not a matter of saying, well, maybe Ryan will get better if he hangs out with us. Well, I'm showing up as a parent who got through a pandemic and a two income family in in a rapid inflationary environment, right. And I don't really want Ryan to show up and be pitching me real estate leads when I'm coming to meet my point. Is there's a boundary there's some point where Ryan should not be coming to those sessions.

Ryan Dunn [00:16:36]:

All right, perfect.

Charles Vogl [00:16:37]:

Is that helpful?

Ryan Dunn [00:16:39]:

Absolutely. Yeah, it's very valuable. We talked a little bit about the audience that we're speaking to here. In a sense you've been surprised that you haven't had more of an interaction within the religious community around these principles of community building. And it's surprising to me as well because as you've just in toned, you speak the language, it's there. Let's dive into that language a little bit. Talk to us about theories like head, hand and heart. What does that have to do with community building?

Charles Vogl [00:17:24]:

Well, that's a more advanced idea, Ryan, which we can dive in. I just don't want to leave people behind. Okay. I believe I read it. Wayne Teasedale wrote in The Mystic Heart in the 1990s about this idea and I'm certain it's coming from older source material from him. But this is where I encountered this description in one way. We can describe some through lines. When we look at very, very old spiritual traditions that have stayed together for hundreds and in many cases over a thousand years, we notice there art activities that speak to the head, hand and heart. What I mean is there's the intellectual stuff and we could say in ministry like you need to know the canonical works, you need to know the relevant theologies, you need to know the relative histories and maybe even you need to be able to speak on the debates around those. And if you can't, you don't know enough about the community to participate fully or have perspective. Fair enough. There also needs to be the emotional component, the heart component. It can't just be a bunch of people debating third century theology and how right or wrong were the crusades. That is not a healthy ministry or spiritual community. So we need to look what is going on here that's speaking to the emotional needs and experiences of participants. You know, Ryan, music is a big part of that, right? Music, certainly liturgy brings a lot of emotion, other things, including music. But certainly that's a role that music brings and then the hand, there needs to be an opportunity to take action. In fact, I already referenced Dana Butler bass once. One of the things the referenced is missing or there's not enough of it in 21st century American religion is action. We are not okay. Just watching, showing up on, be it a Sunday or a Wednesday evening and watching someone do a liturgy ain't going to cut it in broad strokes. And you know this Ryan. Ministry, parishioners or participants, they need to do something together, cook a meal together, go do a service project together, go walk a mountain to do something together. And so when we have a fairly mature community, we have people showing up, we know why we're showing up, we know why we want to grow together. We have a general sense of in what ways people want to grow. Right? We need to be looking at what we're inviting people to do and make sure we're inviting them to do things that cover all three. And what I often see is ministers get stuck in what they feel good in. So it's all head or virtually all head, or maybe they really like the music and it's all music, which is great, but at some point it's just empty fun time. Or they say, let's go volunteer and do mission projects. But it's not rooted in the theology or rooted in a cosmological understanding on what makes mission projects worth doing and how are we doing this in a way that isn't just extending more colonial power, patting ourselves on the back on a two week vacation, declaring ourselves good and then leaving the very orphans we've declared and need. So my point is, in a mature way of shepherding community, all three of those areas need attention, okay?

Ryan Dunn [00:20:47]:

Where we sit in much of church practice right now when it comes to ministry and digital spaces, that we get stuck on one particular aspect, just like you talked about, that we might be locked in, like, oh, we can teach people things online, but we can't engage them in the hand or heart practices. So are there ways that you've seen some digital communities coalesce around all three practices? Are there ways that they are engaging people not just in the informatic kind of headway, but also in the hand practice and engaging in the heart?

Charles Vogl [00:21:24]:

So I have anecdotes here and there, Ryan, but let me just say, broadly speaking, I think people in broad strokes, people who art trying to bring together communities either entirely online or almost entirely online, are largely failing. And there's a lot of smoke and mirrors out there. There's a lot of bragging how great it is, and the experience is not that great. And I know this is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way because they want to go brag about it. But let me just give you some numbers of the research shares us and, like, why I'm saying that. So we know that it takes, I'm going to say, dozens of hours to make a friend. I won't give you a specific number because I'm certain there's a bell curve there, and I didn't make this up. My favorite research on this researcher on the subject is Marissa King, who until very recently was at Yale School of Management, and she's now moving to Wharton. So we know it takes dozens of hours. We also know that it takes five times as much time to build that relationship digitally mediated. So you and me, Ryan, over video calls are going to take five times that time. Make that friendship that if we went camping for one day and a night together. Okay, here's also true, Ryan, is if I invite you to my home for dinner from 06:00 to online o'clock on a Friday, you might say yes. You might even enjoy it, you might even want to come back. But if I say, ryan, hey, let's get on a video call this Friday from 06:00 to 09:00, you're going to laugh out loud. And the reason is because that's not fun.

Ryan Dunn [00:23:00]:

So do you see then within these developing communities that you've working with, are they using digital in addendum to kind of the embodied presence?

Charles Vogl [00:23:12]:

Yes, if they're doing anything well, then the digital is about creating connections between in person experiences.

Ryan Dunn [00:23:23]:


Charles Vogl [00:23:24]:

And I'll just share one of the ideas I share widely to new people who are following my work. We know that people connect in what we call intimate experiences. And for the purposes of programming, that means groups of five or smaller. And sure enough, Ryan, when you go to a big concert or you go to a wedding, you don't find yourself actually talking to nine people at a time. And if you did, after 2 hours, that'd be exhausting. What really happens is you find five people or less to have an intimate conversation. And the same rules apply online. So that if I have a group of 24 or even 100 and I want them more connected, I need to create a series of experiences. We call them campfire experiences in my teaching because they simulate a campfire like conversation that have some characteristics that are intimate. And if I can create those within a frequency and I can create a container where there can be possibly vulnerable conversations, we start getting those friendships. And as I mentioned earlier, it takes time.

Ryan Dunn [00:24:34]:

Yeah. Okay. And it sounds like intimacy in terms of, well, maybe this is where we go back to the boundary thing, but a created sense of intimacy through a boundary of kind of limiting the participants.

Charles Vogl [00:24:49]:

Well, we need to understand, and this is important, we as participants need to perceive that there's shared value and purpose. And maybe the value is help other parents raise healthy families in a world upended by a pandemic. Like that totally counts. But if somebody shows up and they're just maybe they have kids, but they're really here to build their real estate leads, they're not sharing the value of the gathering. Right. And the reason I say perceive, Ryan, is it may be that we're surrounded by people who share our values and purpose, but we don't get the data that tells us that. So let me give you an example. Let's pretend you show up at a conference. You got kids, ryan yes. Okay. Let's pretend 15 year old son, fantastic. A teenager. You show up at a conference and you're going to hear the world's greatest speaker on raising healthy teenagers in an era where we know social media is toxic. Okay? And let's pretend you drove an hour to get there, got there early. The would be late, and you're in the third row and you're 20 minutes early.

Ryan Dunn [00:25:53]:

Okay. I'm invested though. I'm in. You're in.

Charles Vogl [00:25:58]:

And let's pretend there are 40 other people who got there early and you're all sitting around with your phones open reading the paper. You're not getting any data from them, that they share your value and purpose, even though you might spend the better part of an hour in that building surrounded by people who care about this subject, are willing to drive and find parking and invest the time to get better at this. And if we as an organizer organization had made that experience so that you connected with them and level to understand that, boom, your level of perception, of connection would have gone up, even though it's the same people in the same room. And that's what I find at a lot of ministerial events. They're really good at setting up the coffee. They're really good about putting out the pastries, they're really good about making sure there's enough napkins. But the experience of it is equivalent of you in a room surrounded by people who share your vows and purpose and there's no context to let you understand, oh, these art the people I want to be around.

Ryan Dunn [00:27:00]:

Yeah. And that speaks to me on a personal level and that the experience that you just described is terrifying to me, even though I'm a leader in the church, right. But there's nothing more pressure packed for me than that moment on, say, a Sunday morning when it is just what you described. Like I'm going to stand around with people who I know on some level and drink some coffee, but without that called attention.

Charles Vogl [00:27:28]:

Thing, Ryan, is we can learn these things. And that's why I do this work. And the fact that we know that there's pain out there and I'm sure you know, because you're a ministry, people don't accidentally find the out, find themselves in a house of worship when they could be watching Netflix or reading the New York Times, right. Something inspired them to be there. And the fact that they're showing up, you're around them, and it's terrifying to you is an indication that there's a lot of learning we can do so that we can be that catalyst to tap into all those things that brought those people to stand in that room with us because none of them are here by accident.

Ryan Dunn [00:28:11]:

Well, so in that particular situation, what might be step one to be that catalyst?

Charles Vogl [00:28:18]:

So I'm happy to mention things Ryan here. I just don't want to treat this like it's a series of tips, right?

Ryan Dunn [00:28:24]:


Charles Vogl [00:28:24]:

Raising kids, right? Oh, how do you get kids to go to bed on time? How do you get kids to not get drunk on Fridays? Right? Look, we can talk about that, but let's not treat it simply. And the great thing about having this time with you is we want others to know there art ways to learn this and they can go deeper. But I'll just give you one idea that I can't believe isn't everywhere. Name tags, Ryan. They're almost free and almost everyone I know knows their name. But if you're a minister or it's your second time at a program and you know, you've shown up on Sunday or Wednesday night right, or Saturday evening, and now the names of the first twelve people you met are on their chest. We've really lowered the bar, and yet I find a lot of resistance to put the Dang name tag on. In fact, I had a conversation this week with a pastor of my church that said, seriously, now that the pandemic has ended and we're trying to build up attendance after closing our doors for a couple of years, what's it going to take to get name tags on? Right? Seriously. So that would be like the lowest bar of entry. Another one is your ministry needs to know who are the elders in the program. And elders just means people who are more familiar with the program, who understand the values and the purpose of it, and they have the ability to welcome people in. Right. If I show up to your ministry next week, I don't know people, I don't know what you do, I don't know the history. I clearly don't have that power. I certainly don't have that authority. So you're going to want to have elders that are not just you, Ryan, who understand. Part of my role as an elder is to be the gatekeeper into this community. And if we look at very old communities in spiritual traditions, there are always several rings of seniority, and the rings aren't there to snob out the lower ring.

Ryan Dunn [00:30:30]:

Yeah. I do want to unpack that word gatekeeper a little bit and that you're not meaning like, hey, there's somebody who is literally trying to keep people without of the gate, but the gatekeeper is more of a person of hospitality.

Charles Vogl [00:30:40]:

Okay, well, the gatekeeper helps people cross the gate to be connected.

Ryan Dunn [00:30:47]:


Charles Vogl [00:30:48]:

And so in that room where you're paralyzed, if you know there are five of you and you have name tags on everybody else's name tags on, and you're aware people are showing up because they understand this thing is happening here, it's for parents. Right. Then when you engage, there is a conversation you can have with everyone that helps them understand that you see that they arrived, you understand what inspired them to show up otherwise in the wrong place. Right. And that you understand that they want to grow in some way. Because for every community event to be successful, we have to deliver on three promises. And these three promises exist. Whether you know it or say it at all. Three promises are there. You have to deliver them. The first one is there needs to be freedom of choice. Or said differently, people need to have the opportunity to say, no, no, I don't want to come to your service. No, I don't want to come to your. Talk, no, I don't want to meet other parents. The second one is we need to be able to have an experience where I can connect with other people and we can go deeper in that if you like. But what that means it isn't, is listen to this guy talk, watch this video, say what you think is your interpretation of this canonical work. Those aren't bad things, they're just not delivering on promise to. And we talked a little bit about campfire experiences. A campfire experiences is one place where you're going to get that the opportunity to connect it. And the third one is we have to grow in some way, we want to grow or said differently, the experience help us be the person we want to be, right? So when I go to my church, I want to be in a community of people who are seeking out relationships that are non transactional. Because when you're generous with people in your church, it's not because you did the calculation and said, oh, it's come back to me, look, I'm winning this one. I want to be connected with other families that want to be supportive in a darn tough time in America, in a particularly tough time in the East Bay of San Francisco area where I live, right? And I want to be a support to other people, including families that are getting through this as well. So if you invite me to a place where I have an intimate experience and we can talk about that, and I can learn what they're struggling with and say, well, gee, I can give you the ride, well, I can lend you the gear, well, we can watch the kids you're allowing me to grow into being that parent, right? And all three have to be delivered all the time. And we could experiment, you and me, what happens when we don't deliver in one of those and you see that it's a really lousy experience?

Ryan Dunn [00:33:40]:

I'm going to jump in here with a reminder that this season of Pastoring in the Digital Parish is being sponsored by a group that takes community building seriously. Safer Sanctuaries safer Sanctuaries Nurturing Trust Within Faith Communities is a new and comprehensive resource that continues the tradition of Safe Sanctuaries ministry by building on the trusted policies and procedures that have got in churches for over the past 25 years. This resource contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, psychological insights about abuse and abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction which is really important age level specific guidance, and step by step instructions on how to develop, revise, update and implement an abuse prevention plan in your church or organization. For Christians, resisting evil and doing justice are ways that we live and serve Jesus Christ. Safer Sanctuaries provides help to do just that by framing this work as a life giving, community enhancing and proactive endeavor. It enables communities to be empowered and flourish as they develop and implement policies and procedures that make everyone safer. To learn more, go to or call 809 720433, check them out, and build a little more care and safety into your into your community. And now let's get back to other principles of community building with Charles Vogel. So I'm imagining the ways that that digital ministry can be a supplement to these promises, especially in my purview. The first two promises there, that it is a way to I would have to review what the first promise was.

Charles Vogl [00:35:34]:

Freedom to say no.

Ryan Dunn [00:35:35]:

That's it? Yeah. Essentially is coercion.

Charles Vogl [00:35:40]:

So as soon as we're coercing people to participate in our ministry, we failed.

Ryan Dunn [00:35:45]:

Yeah. Okay. So within the digital ministry realm, then we are able to let people know who we art in their space. And that is a way to inform them enough of whether they want to say yes to participating or no to communicating, to participating. And then with the second promise of providing that sense of valuable connection, I'm wondering if we can flesh out a little bit more growth there in that. Are there ways where you've seen some communities use digital implements that have provided space for those campfire gatherings or just even to connect in that kind of small group way?

Charles Vogl [00:36:30]:

Yeah. So when I advise organizations that want to use digital platforms, what we have to put in place is a cadence of experiences where people understand why they're showing up again, not being coursed, and they have a general sense of what's bringing people together, because that's the value part. Not just, my boss told me to be here, or I was told, if I don't show up, I won't be a team player, like, whatever. And then fairly quickly, we need to break everyone up into groups no bigger than five. And quite frankly, groups of two and three are fantastic. And then we need to make those breakouts long enough that they can become comfortable with one another to then generate the kind of conversations that they're not having when they have to manage a greater number of relationships. And I'll just give you an example. I talked to a major tech company you've totally heard of that's, very famous, and it was during the pandemic, and they reached out to me because they were trying to bring together their teams, and they said, oh, we're doing that. We're putting people on hour long video calls in groups of 15. And Ryan, you're an adult, and you have a computer. You've never been on a video call with 15 people and thought, gee, I can't wait to stay longer on this. It's never happened.

Ryan Dunn [00:37:54]:

And in my experience, somebody who's a fairly type B personality, I would disappear.

Charles Vogl [00:37:59]:

Exactly right.

Ryan Dunn [00:38:00]:


Charles Vogl [00:38:00]:

Exactly right. So they have some of the idea, they have, like, inkling of it, but they're not actually understanding how these things work to then actually execute in a way. And so what it is is toxic. People like you, Ryan art like, I never want to do this again. I'm out of here. And then, of course, the people who are creating it like, well, gee, it didn't work. We tried it. I'll give you another example. I'm a member of a group of religion scholars, I'll call them, and they knew vaguely that breakouts were a good idea. And so I'm not making this up, Ryan. They put us in breakouts of 2 minutes. And the reason they did that was they were so focused on making sure that the smart talkie people would have time to talk, that that's the time that was left out for breakouts, and they technically had breakouts. Ryan with people like you and me who have all these questions and all these perspectives and all these curiosities, 2 minutes is enough time to do anything because they didn't understand what the breakout was for.

Ryan Dunn [00:39:01]:

Yeah, I can find out your name and what your family life is like in 2 minutes, and that's about it, maybe.

Charles Vogl [00:39:08]:

And then people like me, if I know I got 2 minutes, there's three of us on a call. I do some quick napkin math and I'm like, oh, we each have less than a minute. I'm going to say largely nothing because I know it's pointless. And so you're just now wasting all of our time. And there needs to be a cadence, Ryan, because as I mentioned earlier, we know it just takes more time. So you can't say, we tried it, we did it on Thursday. Check. Right. There needs to be a series.

Ryan Dunn [00:39:37]:


Charles Vogl [00:39:37]:

And if you do make it fun, by the way, all this has to be fun, otherwise people won't come back. If you make it fun and you give people that intimate experience and the know what the values are bringing to other people on the call, well, now you have a shot at success.

Ryan Dunn [00:39:55]:

All right.

Charles Vogl [00:39:56]:


Ryan Dunn [00:39:57]:

Well, thank you for tying that together for us, Charles. So for folks who do want to engage with you a little bit more, where is a good entry point to get in touch with you, to follow along with what you're doing?

Charles Vogl [00:40:11]:

Yeah, to get in touch with me, I have a website. It's Charles o g and on that site you'll find several articles I've written that are much shorter than the books. They're easy to access and can be contacted. You can also see some of the programs my team offers and the if the subject interests you. My first book is entitled The Art of Community seven Principles for Belonging. And it's everywhere books are sold. And that book was specifically inspired in part by my study of many spiritual traditions and how well and how long they are able to bind people together around shared values and purpose, often through very, very threatening times. And all the lessons that stood out to me that are relevant to our time, I think, continue to be relevant as I distilled them.

Ryan Dunn [00:41:07]:

Yeah. And the reason that we're having this conversation today, even, is that so many members of our audience found that particular book helpful in their practice of ministry. So thank you for the book. Thank you for giving this time to clarify some of that stuff for us as well and to apply it directly to our ministry here. Thank you so much. That's going to put a wrap on this session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish. If you want to check out the aforementioned episode recommended Reads for Digital Ministers. That's called Recommended Books for Digital Ministry success. It came out in February of 2023. And another good episode to follow up on this one is called Navigating the Digital Reformation. Ryan Panzer was our adjunct professor for that one, and that session dove into building meaningful practice in the digital culture. Again, I'm Ryan Dunn. I'd like to thank, the online destination for leaders throughout the United Methodist Church. The make this podcast possible and of course, the host, our website, where you can find more online resources for ministry. Also, I want to thank Safer Sanctuaries for their support. Again. Safer Sanctuaries Nurturing Trust Within Faith Community is a new and comprehensive resource that continues the tradition of safe sanctuary's ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedures. This resource contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age level specific guidance, and step by step instructions on how to develop, revise, update, and implement an abuse prevention plan. Hey, if you want to connect with the Pastoring in the Digital Parish community, check check out our Pastoring in the Digital Parish group on Facebook. And you can also send me questions and ideas for future sessions at [email protected]. Another session comes next week. Excited for that. In the meantime, peace to you.

On this episode

Charles Vogl

Charles Vogl is an adviser, speaker, and the author of three books, including the international bestseller The Art of Community. Drawing on three thousand years of spiritual traditions, Charles teaches the wisdom and principles to build deep community and resilient relationships that foster innovation and integrity within organizations and around the world. He holds an M.Div. from Yale, where he studied spiritual traditions, ethics, and business as a Jesse Ball duPont Foundation scholar. His work is used to advise and develop leadership and programs worldwide within organizations including Airbnb, LinkedIn, Twitch, Amazon, ServiceNow,, Wayfair and the US Army.

Ryan Dunn, co-host and producer of the Compass Podcast

Our proctor/host is the Rev. Ryan Dunn, a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan manages the digital brand presence of Rethink Church, co-hosts and produces the Compass Podcast, manages his personal brand, and obsesses with finding ways to offer new expression of grace.


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