Intentionally Inclusive: Meet Socality Founder Scott Bakken
There wasn’t a name that existed to describe the connecting of people locally and globally while equipping them in their talents and mobilizing them outside the church walls to take their faith into action for community development and impact. So Scott Bakken created his own word: Socality. Simply, it’s a social community for all eternity. For this visionary, the idea came out of his own need for belonging—having just moved continents and expecting his first baby with his wife. But unlike many ideas that go from a thought to an actual movement, this story only points to God. Running his own marketing company, Bakken Productions, Bakken wasn’t sure he’d have the bandwidth to take on Socality, but God kept nudging him with Scripture. And in two short years, and 75 countries later, people are connecting daily and lives are transforming. Still strictly running on a volunteer basis, Bakken talks with Risen about launching this online community.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen magazine
Risen Magazine: You didn’t go to church until you were sixteen years old. What was life like before that and what prompted you to attend your first service?
Scott Bakken: I grew up in Saskatchewan [Canada] in kind of a small city. I came from a home where my parents weren’t together. My mom and my dad got along, and still get along, but they just weren’t great married. I have two brothers and a sister and life was just very simple and quiet. I loved school, I loved people, I wasn’t a rebellious kid, and I didn’t party. I always kind of believed in God, but when I was sixteen [there was a defining moment].
It was a Friday morning and I was getting ready for school in my room and I felt this huge impression in my heart to go to church. I knew I needed something, I knew I needed more, I didn’t understand it, but I knew I would find it at church. I felt overwhelmed and I picked up a book that was lying in the corner of my room that a friend had given me, and I started reading it that morning trying to figure out what was happening inside of me. It [showed] the Scripture that says, “I am the vine; you are the branches… apart from me you can do nothing [John 15.5].” I wrote that down, I put it in my pocket and walked around all day thinking about that. I called my friend and said [to him] that I needed to come to church on Sunday.
So I went on Sunday and I heard the pastor speak and it didn’t really translate to my life, but I said, “I’m coming back next Sunday.” I went the next Sunday and heard, “If you want to accept Christ into your heart, come to the front.” I looked at my friend and said, “That’s me. I need to do this.” I walked up to the front and said the prayer, but I still didn’t fully understand about the commitment. I didn’t understand the [Christian] language at that point. From there, I just made it my business to go to church every Sunday, go to youth group on Fridays, get a Bible I could read and I just really dove in. There was no turning back. I always tell people that God found me. No one had to preach to me. I have experienced God, so I can’t deny His existence.
RM: Your relationship with the Lord continued to grow and then after high school you spent several years traveling on mission trips. What perspective did this give you about people around the world?
SB: When I graduated I felt like I wanted to travel and do missions. So I did three years of traveling ministry where we went into high schools across Canada, America and Europe. We would do motivational presentations and then we would invite the students to a second half on a Friday evening that would be Gospel-focused. It was an incredible experience and because we worked in teams I learned a lot about leadership, flexibility and teamwork. Culturally, when I went to Europe, it really opened my eyes to see there is a whole world of diverse people who are all living what they think is normal. They are living life as they know it, but it is completely opposite to how you live your life. It matured me as an individual and as a believer.
RM: What then went into the decision to move from Canada to Australia to study and be part of Hillsong church in Sydney? What are they getting right when it comes to community?
SB: After my time in missions I worked as a worship pastor at a church in Calgary for two years. I got married in 2002 and I had always wanted to go to Hillsong and participate, but I didn’t think it would be able to happen. It was now 2003 and my wife called me one day and said, “I just feel like you should go to Hillsong College.” So we prayed about it and we felt like the Lord said we should move in January of 2005. I resigned as worship pastor and just prepared over the next year-and-a-half to go. We sold everything we had and arrived in Australia on January 17, 2005. It felt a little upside down to us because when our friends were buying condos and having kids, we were moving to a different country and going to college. But we ended up spending six years there. We got really involved in the worship and were part of the core and I sang on the worship team. My wife ended up studying at another university in Australia.
What Hillsong is getting right is that they definitely understand community for this generation. I think they are on the forefront of setting the trend when it comes to routine. Their strong point is in understanding the pulse of the current generation and being able to communicate to those who need to hear about Christ.
RM: After six years in Australia what was the catalyst for you to return home and how does founding Socality fit into the equation?
SB: We decided to leave because when my wife graduated, we felt our season there had come to a close and it was time to come home. Not for any specific call or reason, other then that we wanted to start a family and be near our family. We had great opportunities there and good relationships, but once again we were doing the opposite and instead of staying we were leaving. We packed up and moved back to Canada which was a shock for us, having to leave the warm beaches of Australia and return to cold Canada when we hadn’t seen snow in six years.
A big difference we found was that everyone in Australia is always out and having conversations and it’s very lively, where in Calgary, everyone hibernates and stays home. So I felt a bit like a fish out of water and instantly noticed it was harder to find community because people were responding to life differently. So for the first year I was really lost and that was unlike me.
Social media was growing and I started to go out to the mountains and take pictures of these images created by God and post them on Instagram. I started to connect with other individuals taking beautiful photos and talking about their faith. And I thought it was interesting that I was alone in this space, but yet connecting with other people in such a different way. I’m connecting with them over my phone on Instagram. Then I thought I wonder if we could create a space where people could connect locally because I needed local community. How could I find people like me? I began connecting locally with others and started to find a community. I started finding my rhythm and finding my place. But then I also saw all these people connecting globally. I saw the global window evolving on social media.
We are impressed everywhere we go. People are looking for more than that now. They are looking for authentic community.
So the concept of Socality was that if I can have followers, and you can have followers, and we are saying the same thing that Jesus Christ is Lord, why don’t we join our influence for good, and share our story locally and globally together. This was the beginning stages when I didn’t even have the name, I just had the concept. It was the idea of having a website, sharing people’s stories and also hosting events meant to bring people together in the same space and time.
In 2013, I had the concept and then just started talking to people on Instagram and would then get pointed to different individuals. I had six months of FaceTime, Skype and phone calls sharing the vision. I have to be honest in the fact that I was looking for community, the idea was in my heart, but I really said to God, “I don’t want to be the person to do this.” I didn’t want to labor. I have a family, we had our daughter by that point, and I just wanted to focus [on his family, not a new business]. But I said, “God if you are in it, then I will do it.” I felt that every day a conversation would happen where I could see very clearly God was pushing me towards it. I decided to keep walking forward.
Come November of 2013, it was clear to launch, but I still needed a name. I pulled out my laptop and was looking around for domain ideas and nothing was really popping up to capture the spirit of it. I decided I was just going to have to make up a name. I gave myself permission to write any word that came to mind that described what I was trying to accomplish without thinking, just writing. I ended up writing, a social community all for eternity. I stopped and I looked at that, and I looked at the phrasing, and I put it all together into one: a social community all for eternity – socality. I thought it was different, but I wasn’t sure if it was cool. I slept on it all through the night and the name just went over and over and over in my head and when I woke up I said, “That’s the name.”
I introduced that name to all the people I had spoken to and on January 4, 2014, we began to drop the hashtag [#socality] and use it in our personal feeds. People were intrigued and it drove a lot of traffic to our landing page and people started signing up for our newsletter. Then on January 19, we told everyone at 12:00 to post #IAmAtSocality.
There were only a couple hundred people in the database that said they would participate, but that day we had over 10,000 people post #IAmAtSocality. It spread like wildfire and even though some people didn’t know what the word meant it resonated with them in their minds and hearts. We had over 75 countries sign up for our newsletter that day. Jesus is the underlying force in this whole movement. Literally, I was in my pajamas with my laptop and everyone kept emailing asking how to get involved? And I thought, “Oh my gosh. I just thought we’d do a little something with a website and now we really got to figure this out.” [Laughter] So we always look at that as our launch date and from then on my family’s life has been upside down.
RM: In just about two years since your launch you already have 75 countries represented within the community, why are people responding so passionately?
SB: I think a few things. Social media is an adult’s playground and it’s definitely full of Internet trolls, bullies, and downright opinionated people. We have committed to use Socality as a space of belonging; every one matters and your story matters. What we have said first and foremost; you belong before you believe. We are committed to showing people that God loves them. Everyone is an influencer. How are you living your life locally and how are you connecting globally? It has translated because it’s different. It’s not a church, but it is the church. Another thing that has drawn people in is intrigue and that we are intentionally inclusive. We are intentionally inclusive in everything we do, in everything we say, in every experience we have, everybody can come. That does not mean that we validate lifestyles, rather we are creating a space where people can find the light. From there, their own personal walk is up to them. How they walk that out and how they work that out is up to them. We don’t tell people how to live; we just show them how to love.
RM: It kind of sounds like Christianity at purest form showing love to others. Because you created the name, others can’t place preconceived ideas on you which in turn allows you to define what you are about. So then how have you seen a shift or viewpoints altered of those who had a negative view of Christians?
SB: I think the church – and I love the church – but for so long has been, come to us. Their answer has been better lights, better performances, better music and the mindset of let’s impress the people. But the truth is that’s done. Culture does not need to be impressed. We are impressed everywhere we go. People are looking for more than that now. They are looking for authentic community, they are looking for sincere conversations, and they are looking to belong. I think what Socality says is instead of come to us and we’ll put on a show for you, we are going to come to you. We’re going to be in your space. We’re going to be in your coffee shop, we’re going to be on your phone, we’re going to be wherever you live.
We are going to have these conversations and go into the world like Christ commanded. We have chosen to connect on common ground just as you would connect with someone that has your same style or frequents your same shops. Like attracts like; and it’s the same thing with the Gospel. If you can walk on the streets and connect with others that have common ground – you might not share the same faith yet – but at least you know you both like the same things and you can begin a conversation. What we find is that we actually don’t have to share our faith because people ask us first. We start on common ground and say, “Let’s be friends first.” What we find is people know you have the pulpit in you. People know where to run. It’s the day I got saved; I knew where to go. We just open the door and create spaces. Then people ask, “Tell me about your faith. What do you believe?” So we are going back to the basics of going into the world.
I think we need to understand that following God has joy and reward, but it often involves sacrifice.
RM: It such an interesting time to be a Christian, with school shootings targeting believers and ISIS beheading those who refuse to renounce Jesus. What does this say about our society? It seems we need to support each other more than ever.
SB: I think there something like 1.1 billion Christians in the world which is one-sixth of the earth. I remember the movie A Bug’s Life and I always explain Socality like this: there were all the little ants and there were like eight grasshoppers. The grasshoppers were dominating the ants for so long. But the ants looked around and realized how big they were – they were in the hundreds of thousands. Even though they were little, they were strong together. Now I know that it is just a cartoon, but the concept is completely right.
So when we as Christians say, “Hey there are 1.1 billion of us that all believe the same thing and we are actually strong,” when we gather together for purpose, not protest, the world shrinks back and you diminish the power of those trying to outdo you. Jesus prayed in John 17:21 that we would all be one in the Father. That prayer is our mandate. We have prayers, but God had a prayer, that we would be one. Why does God want us to be one? Because of power. There is power in His Word, there is power in reaching people, and there is power when we come together. If there is a time that we need to be standing together, it’s now. People are literally laying their lives down for Christ. With Socality we want to stand together in unity. Let’s show the world we are strong together and our mission is loud. We are going to change this world by acts of kindness and showing the generosity of Christ. You are not doing this alone you have a whole community behind you. I think we have been distracted, and it’s the Bible. Love God, love people.
RM: You thought of this idea, you thought it would be needed, but you didn’t really want to be the one to execute it. So what advice can you share about stepping into what God has asked us to do?
SB: It’s true. And it still is true I don’t want to do this. [Laughter] I just want to honor God and I just want to live my life for Christ. The day I accepted Him and I started walking with Him, I just want to serve Christ even if it is difficult. For me the whole window leading up to the launch was hard and when we got to the date, a few hours before I said, “I’m going to cancel. I’m going to email everybody on the database and say forget it we’re not doing this.” It was the fear of failure, and the whole fear of “what if.” I’m putting myself out there and my family out there and this is a huge thing. And the Scripture came over me [that says] “…if the man puts his hand to the plow and looks back then he is not fit for service in the Kingdom of God.” [Luke 9:62] And it was then and there I knew, I can’t look back.
There is only one way and it is forward. God has called me and He has told me that He is in this. But it was that Scripture to be honest so I said we’re doing it. And ever since then there have been so many blessings. But it has not been easy. Our family has struggled and we put every ounce of finances into this and we still believe God will come through. Myself, and the team, all are one hundred percent volunteers. We work full time jobs and then give 20-30 hours to Socality each week. But as my advice, I would say to first ask yourself, “What is God calling you to do, not what do you want to do.” Because your agenda is your agenda and God’s agenda probably doesn’t look like yours at all [laughter].
It will be in line with your gifting, for sure, but it is going to mean that you have to be bold. You might have to say things you don’t want to say or go places that are uncomfortable, and it’s going to mean that you have to deny yourself. What you are called to do and what you want to do may be two different things, but if God called you, then there is only one direction and that is forward, and He will be with you. There will be provision, but it probably won’t be easy. It definitely wasn’t easy for Jesus. Even the night before He died He didn’t want to go to the cross. But He did, because it was the will of the Father. I think we need to understand that following God has joy and reward, but it often involves sacrifice.