Today I’m posting an interview I did with Brad Russell. Brad runs FaithVillage.
Frank Viola: What is FaithVillage.com and why did you build the site? In other words, what is your vision for it?
Brad Russell: At its core, we think of FaithVillage as a social network for faith experiences. Our vision is to gather an online community of thought-shapers, artists, church leaders and cause advocates who want to share their gifts for the inspiration of others. We think there hasn’t been a really compelling place for Christians to gather online without all the distractions, security issues and commercialization of so many other channels. We’re all about creating a compelling space where faith can be freely sparked, challenged, focused and shared.
We do this by offering a free social networking platform for members, groups, churches and organizations to connect and share their ideas. Our flexible privacy settings make ours both an open and closed platform, useful for building community inside groups or engaging the broader world. We’re also gathering a content community of contributors and partners, a network that currently includes over 500 bloggers, writers, churches and organizations. As a non-profit media enterprise, our vision is centered on nurturing spiritual growth and practical service to the church and world. This frees us from getting too proprietary or profit-driven, enabling us to create the first truly shared platform.
Frank Viola: Why did you name it FaithVillage?
Brad Russell: From the first spark of the vision over four years ago, the value of community was at the core. We were attracted to the idea of a virtual brick and mortar community as the online embodiment of this relational value. We also knew that on the content side we wanted to create a site that delivered convenient access to a wide range of content themes without burying them in layers of navigation.
The village idea provided a metaphor for the visual interface using buildings as content channels. We think the village creates a fun and more human way of exploring our community. We also have some long-term ideas about establishing a daily rhythm to our site that feels more like a human community going through a spiritually-informed day than like the “casino living” of the globalized Internet where there is no sense of time or work-rest rhythm. Again, the virtual village lends itself to that vision.
Frank Viola: If someone reading this interview uses Facebook, what would they gain by joining FaithVillage also? In other words, what are the benefits of FaithVillage over Facebook? List them for us.
Brad Russell: Facebook is great for a lot of interactions, but not for everything. If it was all that, we would not have Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and more. We all know the experience of self-editing on Facebook because of the diversity of our friend circles. There are data security issues and distractions that aren’t very faith-friendly. The volume of messaging and advertising creates a kind of frenetic environment and the increasing pressure for profitability means more commercialization that disrupts communication. There is also no easy way for churches or organizations to manage their multiple groups and pages inside Facebook.
The bigger issue, though, is that sacred conversation deserves sacred space. We champion the cause of faith in the public sphere but there’s a good reason why believers gather together in physical space to worship, learn, serve and create art.
Context shapes conversation and we think matters of faith benefit from a faith-supportive online community.
Frank Viola: How long has FaithVillage been up and how many members do you have already?
Brad Russell: FaithVillage launched in beta on February 27, 2012. We’ve gathered a registered community of about 3,500 members and an unregistered community of about 35,000 monthly users. During the beta year we rolled out a number of new features, such as file sharing and event calendaring that we wanted to get in place before we made major efforts to reach out to churches and organizations. We anticipate substantial growth this year now that these are in place.
Frank Viola: What sort of incentives do you have for people to join FaithVillage?
Brad Russell: One of the recurring concerns we hear from Christian bloggers and others active in social media is how frustrating and disconcerting all the uncivil behavior can get. Haters and trolls abound on Facebook and most online media platforms. Because we so deeply value both community and civility, we are committed to moderating interactions and empowering all of our users to help us keep the conduct respectful and Christ-like.
Frank Viola: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Faith Village?
Brad Russell: Our next big news is that soon we will be opening an online bookstore called FaithVillage Books. The bookstore is integrated with the Spring Arbor catalogue and will provide an easy-to-use, competitively priced, uncluttered shopping experience for Christian books. FaithVillagers will be able to discover new authors and resources through our content and reviews and then conveniently click through to buy them in the village as well. Proceeds obviously support the sustainability of our non-profit platform that benefits all of us.