Formspring is a website that was launched at the end of 2009. The idea is that people will send you questions anonymously to your Formspring account and you will post the answers on your public page. The site also links to Facebook and Twitter, so your followers on these sites will see what questions you are answering.
I first came across Formspring when I saw several comic book professionals that I follow on Twitter using the site to interact with their fans. People would send these pros questions and everyone would get to benefit from the answers. As an Australian comic fan, this was great. It gave me access to these writers and artists that I wouldn’t normally have as I can’t make it to any comic book conventions in the US. I can ask them questions as well as hear the answers to other people’s questions.
It got me thinking. How can Formspring be used for Christian ministry?
Have you ever been at a conference or been part of a church where the speaker has taken questions from the audience via SMS? Formspring can take this to the next level.
Pastors can set up a Formspring page for their church. Congregation members are given the address where they can post their questions. The pastor is able to thoughtfully think through the questions before posting the answers for everyone to see. The same thing could work for Christian authors, thinkers, preachers etc.
There are several advantages and disadvantages to using Formspring.
On the positive side:
- People are able to ask things that they may not want to ask face to face. Questions about topics such as sex can be embarrassing to ask in person, so asking them online without your name attached may be more appealing.
- Same goes with questions about controversial areas of doctrine. You may have a question about what’s being taught at church, but don’t want to look like a heretic for asking. Putting the answer online gives the pastor a chance to clearly articulate a position without negatively branding someone merely for being curious.
- Your able to take your time to answer. Instead of coming up with a response off the top of your head, you can give a reasoned, thought out answer in your own time.
- You can choose which questions you answer and which ones you ignore. Very helpful if you’re getting questions that are inflammatory or stupid.
- The audience is wider than a room full of people. Because my Formspring is connected to my Facebook, Twitter, and website, I get a large pool of people not only asking me questions, but also reading the answers.
- Posting answer on Formspring has led to great discussions as people discuss the issues brought up. These discussions have happened both on the comments section of the Facebook posting and in real life as people have come up to me at church to talk about my answers.
On the negative side:
- Because the questions are anonymous, it’s much harder to know the question behind the question. Without knowing who the person is, their background, and why they’re asking the question, it’s not easy to give them an appropriate answer. Sometimes a question can have more than one answer, depending on who is asking the question.
- Sometimes the questions can be unclear or lacking enough information. There’s no means to communicate with the questioner to get them to clarify what they mean.
- It would be really helpful to have the ability to comment on answers. The conversations that I’ve been having in the comments section on Facebook should really be happening on Formspring. It would give people an opportunity to interact with the answers.
- The site still has a few bugs in it. Sometimes it can take a fair while before answers are published and notification for pending questions in your inbox aren’t always sent.
Overall, I believe that Formspring is a site worth exploring for ministry purposes. If you’re a pastor, author or Christian speaker, you should consider trialing the site. To check out some of the questions I’ve been answering on Formspring, check out my page. Have you used Formspring? What did you use it for and how did you find the experience?
Have you found any Christian ministries that use the site?
No, I haven’t. Everyone that I have asked in Christian tech/social media circles came up blank when I asked them.
I’ve also been thinking how Formspring could be used for teachers. I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on that
What type of use would you think teachers could use it for. Are you thinking in the classroom?
Yeah, thinking for the class teacher. Students could submit questions they had, either on course material or related material. The ability to ignore questions would help keep it relevant. I’m unsure if the anonymity would have any benefit or not.
Formspring have changed their site layout etc in the last couple of days. It’s a massive improvement. Much more user friendly
I’m not sure if formspring in the classroom would have any benefit over just asking the teacher questions, at least in primary schools. Maybe more so in secondary christian studies classrooms?
I’ve only just come across Formspring in the last few months because alot of my teenagers at youth group are using it (and it comes up on my Facebook home page).
I ignored it for ages because I couldn’t be bothered clicking the link (height of laziness??) but when I did finally go there I was a little mortified at some of the questions I found on their Formspring pages… There were some great questions that were being asked about Christianity, faith, suffering and general life questions, but there were also alot of overly sexualised questions from God-knows-who like “would you touch my dick?” type questions as well as very inflammatory “why are you such a [insert insult here]?” type questions too…
To the credit of my teenagers, they often answered wisely and not grotesquely, but the fact the question was there on public display has made me question how helpful Formspring is. I’m not sure if they are able to delete the inappropriate questions although I imagine you can, but I wonder if it being there on public display is really helpful for others who stumble across it? I know that Christians cop this sort of verbal persecution at school, work, where ever, but is it worse to have what is said written down and kept as permanent public record for others?
I’d like to hear your thoughts on this Joel.
Mike: Questions only appear on the public page if you answer them. So for a question like that to appear on a young person’s page, it means they’ve chosen to answer it. It is possible to delete the question without anyone ever knowing you received it. So the bigger question there is about young people discerning what they make public.